The late Arden Clarke and his wife Jeanette Layne – Clarke, both fierce nationalists, creative writers and arts activists first conceptualised the idea of a national arts festival in the 70s, during the early dawn of Barbados’ nation-building period. This was an exciting and critical time for those involved in the arts and culture, as the island had just achieved Independence from Great Britain in 1966 and there was great interest in mobilising the local creative community to explore national cultural identity. Later conversations and subsequent committees with devoted cultural workers and fellow creatives such as Jean Holder, Cynthia Wilson, Elombe Mottley, Nigel Harper, Virgina Seely, Arthur Atkinson, Janice Millington among others- stewarded by the Father of Independence, the Right Excellent Errol Walton Barrow, saw the emergence of the very first National Independence Festival of Creative Arts (NIFCA) in November 1973, which sought to unearth and develop the rich talent that Barbadians had deeply nestled within.
Traditionally, schools and community-based organizations were the main target markets and the response from across all elements of society was tremendous, with packed audiences every night filling the hall at the Ursuline Convent- NIFCA’s venue for the first few years. The disciplines showcased in these early times were dance, drama & speech, fine arts, literary arts and music; over time culinary arts, craft, photography and film were added. Four decades later, the Barbadian society has evolved from that early folk tradition with more arts-based organisations, institutions and groups emerging on the landscape contributing to the development of aesthetic diversity and interest across the spectrum of the arts.
Barbados’ best talent is not in any way limited, every year new groups emerge and the festival sees entrants from the traditional targets as well as performing arts schools, community groups, church organizations and penal institutions. Entrants continually return to NIFCA annually and use the period between each festival as a time of growth and development with their artform .
Within recent years globalization has grown to be a dominant force in shaping the arts in Barbados with new forms and expressions emerging that speak to wider issues, such as climate change, the Black Lives Matter movement etc. With the developmental agenda of NIFCA at the forefront, participants benefit from exploring innovation while receiving expert coaching and feedback from experienced tutors across the disciplines, who are themselves practitioners.
NIFCA today, encourages artists to look at the innovations in the world but still tell the story of who we are and what makes us unique as Barbadian people. The festival provides a massive platform for persons in different art forms to showcase their skills, express themselves and share in a community of likeminded individuals. Work displayed at the festival continues to highlight social, economic and environmental issues in a form that can be easily digested by the audiences that attend.
Gold, silver and bronze awards of achievement, top amateur awards named after local cultural icons and, in recent times, awards for entries by semi professionals and professionals, the highest being the Governor General’s Award of Excellence are all up for grabs at this cultural extravaganza.
NIFCA continues to shape Barbados’ cultural personality by way of awareness and promoting activities which culminate to form the essence of the festival. As the slogan so aptly states “The Tradition of Excellence Continues”.