Forty-five years ago this month, this festival held its first finals at the Ursuline Convent and has continued annually ever since. Those of you who frequent the National Independence Festival of Creative Arts (NIFCA) would have often heard it said that it was originally conceptualised by the late Arden Clarke and Jeanette Layne-Clarke who were an integral part of the organising committee, but there were many other people who played a significant role in bringing it to life.
Some of the names are recognizable today as stalwarts and icons in the industry and according to Dr. Jean Holder who was the Chairman of the first committee in 1973, it included Virginia Seeley, Dance; Arthur Atkinson, Fine Arts; Ann Hewitt, Drama and Verse Speaking; Arden Clarke, Literary Arts; Janice Millington, Music; Cynthia Wilson, Organising Secretary and NIFCA’s first Producer. A few substitutions were later made, Joyce Daniel replaced Arthur Atkinson for Fine Arts; John Wickham replaced Arden Clarke for the Literary Arts; and Andrea Gollop, now Andrea Gollop-Greenidge replaced Ann Hewitt in Drama and Verse Speaking. Two other key resource persons were also mentioned, even though they did not form part of the committee but contributed significantly in every way they could – Esmay Wickham and Rosemary Wilkinson now Rosemary Neilands.
It was conceived to be a festival of artists for artists to showcase their talent to the wider population with the intention that NIFCA should not only be an entertainment vehicle for the arts, but also a development tool. Its content was supposed to demonstrate our cultural heritage and continue to shape our new cultural identity post independence, hence the reason for positioning the festival during the Independence season.
Cynthia Wilson and Dr. Jean Holder, its first producer and chairman remarked on their pleasure to see how it has grown and improved to become a part of our cultural DNA. NIFCA has become so ingrained in the Barbadian cultural landscape that you would be hard pressed to find an artist that has not crossed a NIFCA stage or been shaped by the festival in some way.
As we celebrated this 45th anniversary milestone, we harked back to its reason for being, a festival of artists, for artists taking us through the season with a fitting quote – ‘Next to excellence is the appreciation of it!’ We showed our appreciation for the many ‘stakeholders’ that have taken this journey with us, for the many lives that NIFCA has impacted, and for the practitioners across all disciplines that owe their careers and by extension their livelihoods to the recognition received on these national stages.