Celebrating 30 years
 of cultural expression

The Cayman National Cultural Foundation – a “keeper of the flame” for generations of indigenous expression – is celebrating its 30th birthday.

When the CNCF blows out the candles on the cake, long-standing chiefs artistic director Henry Muttoo and board chairman Martyn Bould will themselves mark 55 years of combined stewardship, itself a remarkable testament to dedication and resolve.

While the 30th anniversary is not on the scale of the 25th, which, Muttoo says, was “a big affair,” marked by celebrations and a TV documentary. This latest milestone, however, indicates “we have managed to survive another five years, delivering much-needed programs and continuing to follow our mission despite some of the challenges working against us.”

While not elaborating on the challenges, Muttoo says the center has labored under budget constraints, and one guesses that five years of global recession have not been kind to arts organizations anywhere.

“[Our] total budget is approximately CI$1 million,” he says. “Of that amount, approximately two-thirds is a grant from government.

Arts organizations are often the first to suffer when money is tight and grants run dry. Making things harder is that Cayman is small, and government funds are limited.

However, there is “quite a lot of corporate support for the arts and culture in Cayman,” and the CNCF is grateful for the “many generous sponsorships from corporate Cayman,” Muttoo says.

“Over these 30 years the government has kept faith with us. We understand that when our grant is cut it is not simply a matter of non-appreciation, but an act of necessity,” he says.

“One day, perhaps, everyone will come to the realization that while food gives us life, art gives us something to live for. If our government grant was altogether cut, CNCF would close; the flame would die. And then what?

“People would survive, but they would be legless; they would have no understanding of what makes them who they are. They would become machines capable only of responding to a programmed brain. That is too frightening a scenario to contemplate,” he says.

Thirty years of CNCF activity means many residents “grew up with our work, which has covered every artistic discipline and cultural enactment – playwriting, painting, sculpture and drawing, dance, music, theatre, storytelling, literary publications, Cayfest (the National Festival of the Arts) and academic discourses in the fields of arts, culture and heritage, including the even older National Children’s Festival of the Arts,” Muttoo says.

Preserving Cayman’s culture

Chairman Bould adds to the list, answering skeptics of Cayman culture: “Look at the work of our artists, poets, authors, actors, musicians, dancers, storytellers etc., through many organizations that have now been able to promote their talent: Miss Lassie’s paintings, Swanky’s music, Al Ebanks’s sculpture, Bendel Hydes’s art, Leonard Dilbert’s poetry, Dance Unlimited’s dance, Miss Julia’s drumming, Cardinal DaCosta’s singing, Dave Martin’s Rundown, Frank McField’s plays, Roy Bodden’s writings, Radley Gurzong’s fiddle, the Quadrille performed by our youth groups,” and the list, he says, “can go on and on.”

Prolonged global debate regarding cultural diversity, he says, has taught him much: “We take very seriously the responsibility of ensuring the development of our culture as an essential component of social stability, whilst at the same time carefully assessing and delivering value for money to our generous private sponsors and benefactors, and to our government ministry which has steadfastly supported us over the past 30 years. We are in the business of culture and remain on the cutting edge of local, regional and international developments in our business.”

The last word belongs to Muttoo: “I would say CNCF has completely changed the meaning and understanding of culture for Caymanians. Be assured … lots was going on in Cayman before CNCF, but the organization must be credited, more than any individual or organization, for placing the arts, culture, heritage and creativity at the very center of the nation’s consciousness.”


CNCF artistic director Henry Muttoo, right, with managing director, wife Marcia.


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