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JIS News

Projects dedicated to the arts and culture in Jamaica are set to benefit from grant funding valued at $200 million through the Culture, Health, Arts, Sports and Education (CHASE) Fund.
Speaking with JIS News, Chief Executive Officer of the CHASE Fund, Billy Heaven, notes that the CHASE Fund represents the first real attempt to provide sustainable funding to the arts and culture sector. “Prior to CHASE, there was really nothing else out there that the sector could look to for developmental funds,” he points out.
According to Mr. Heaven, last year was a very good year for the arts and culture sector as the organization disbursed the highest amount of funds to support various projects in the sector since it was established in 2003. However, he indicates that the overwhelming demand for funding poses a huge challenge for the organization.
“Last year we received requests valuing $1.5 billion of which we were only able to allocate $156 million so you can see the challenge that we face in satisfying the number of requests,” he points out.
To help alleviate this problem, the CEO indicates that the Fund forges strategic partnerships with entities both in the public and private sectors, with a view to bring about more meaningful projects as well as a more effective way of disbursement.
During the 2005/2006 operating year, the Fund approved some 77 projects covering the performing arts; visual arts; literary works; libraries and archives; museums; media, film and music; craft; heritage; historic sites and monuments and sponsorships.
According to Mr. Heaven, the bulk of the funds were used to finance performing arts-related projects. Some 21 such projects were approved valued at more than $23 million, while a total of $1.2 million was granted to the Jamaica Performing Arts Olympics Programme to underwrite the cost for workshops and auditions islandwide, as well as for airline tickets to the World Championship of Performing Arts in the United States.
Youth Opportunities Unlimited, a non-government organization, which provides mentorship for high school students, also received funding to assist with drama and music education and the establishment of cultural groups in corporate area communities.
The Jamaica Cultural Development Commission (JCDC) Mento Music and Traditional Folk Forms Development Programme also received funding to facilitate training courses on traditional folk forms as well as to publish a book entitled ‘Our Folk Forms’. In the area of literary works, the CEO reports that CHASE approved grants amounting to some $23 million for 13 projects during the last operating year. These include funding for the production of a biography on Jamaica’s second Prime Minister, the late Sir Donald Sangster; ‘Justice Delayed’- a publication on the life of national hero, Marcus Garvey by Ken Jones and a ‘History of Cricket in Jamaica’ by Arnold Bertram.
“We have done quite a number of publications with the hope that they will encourage people to read and also to read more local materials. One of the things that we have to try and emphasize in Jamaica is to get people to read more widely,” Mr. Heaven suggests.
The Fund, he says, is also a major sponsor of the Calabash International Literary Festival, the only annual literary festival in the English-speaking Caribbean. “This is a significant cultural event in Jamaica and we are in our fifth year of funding this festival,” the CEO points out.
The CHASE Fund is also keen on providing financial assistance to projects that seek to improve the state of the nation’s libraries, archives and documentation facilities. “One of our first projects was to equip all branch libraries across Jamaica with internet service so that the man or woman in rural Jamaica who cannot afford a computer may go to a library nearby and access information and children can use it to do their home work,” he informs.
As it relates to libraries and archives, the CHASE Fund approved grants of $23 million for seven projects last year, including the digitization of historical documents on former Prime Minister of Jamaica, Edward Seaga. The Jamaica Library Service also received financial support to upgrade the islandwide library network, while the University of the West Indies received funding towards purchasing equipment for the preservation of the library’s archival materials. The CEO also explains that his organization has a track record in restoring and maintaining museums and historical sites. Citing examples, he notes, “we have upgraded the facilities at the Hanover Historical Society, the Port Maria Civic Centre and we also did some work at the Chinese Historical Museum.”
Additionally, the Falmouth Heritage Renewal Project recently benefited from an allocation of $6 million to restore several of the historic buildings in that town.
Highlighting the diversity of the projects to which the organization provides financial support, the CEO informs, “we have a policy where we want to spread right across the ethnic boundaries. We do not want to concentrate on one particular area and as such, we have funded to a great extent, the Indian culture in Jamaica.”
“One year, we did the Diwali-Festival of Lights and this year we assisted with their Indian Arrival Day celebration marking the 162nd anniversary of the arrival of the East Indians in Jamaica,” he tells JIS News.
According to Mr. Heaven, because a lot of Jamaica’s traditions and heritage are no longer in the limelight, the rich heritage that the country has is going unnoticed. This, he says, is as a result of how people are socialized in today’s Jamaica where socialization is influenced to a great extent by the television which portrays images and lifestyles from other areas besides Jamaica.
“If we can bring this back [tradition] to their attention through school programmes where children have an opportunity to go to the various museums and historical sites and become involved in the arts, the children will have a better awareness and a better understanding and appreciation for their culture,” he opines.
Acknowledging that the local film industry has tremendous growth potential, Mr. Heaven states that his organization was making significant contribution to the sector.
Recently, CHASE approved more than $2 million towards the production of a feature length movie ‘Room for Rent’ which was written and produced by Ginger Knight. Financial assistance was also granted for ‘Roots of Black Hair in Jamaica’ a documentary highlighting attitude to black hair and its versatility by Kimala Bennett.
The CHASE Fund has also assisted a number of persons to travel overseas to further their education in the areas of music, fine arts, dance and filmmaking. Additionally, a number of high schools also benefited from funding to construct music rooms and acquire musical equipment.
Commenting on the projects that the organization has supported over the years, Mr. Heaven says with satisfaction that all the projects have been a success. “We have never had a failure. We have had delays and reworks because sometimes things may happen to the principals or the promoters, but generally, we have not had a failure,” he boasts.
“We have a good mix where we try to bring the youth into focus and not just adults who are established. Even at the institutional level, we have a good mix of institutions that are highlighting different forms of culture and of the arts as well,” he notes.
Giving the criteria for funding, Mr. Heaven says that arts and cultural projects submitted for financial assistance will have to satisfy one of the objectives of the CHASE Fund. “When we begin to evaluate a request, the first thing we look at is whether or not the project satisfies the objectives of the Fund. If it satisfies at least one of the objectives we will continue with our processing. If it does not then we would write a letter of regret saying that it does not satisfy our objectives and hence we are unable to provide funding,” he explains. The list of objectives is posted on the CHASE website at www.chase.org.jm.
Continuing, he notes, “we then go through a very refined process of selection and then we will have to place it (the project) into one of the 10 categories because we have to maintain a balance. We have to also maintain a balance between individuals and institutions and more importantly, between locations as well.”
According to the CEO, CHASE has funded projects in all 14 parishes; however, some parishes may have more projects than others. CHASE is a public sector company established by the government in 2002 to receive, manage and to consolidate the funds from the gaming industry. The organization began operating in 2003. CHASE is required to disburse funds to culture, arts, sports, health and education. Approximately 40 per cent of the funds disbursed by CHASE is allocated to sports development while the second highest allocation represents 25 per cent to early childhood education. Some 20 per cent is earmarked each year for health-related projects while the arts and culture sector receives 15 per cent.
Since its inception, the Fund has received $3.1 billion from the gaming industry and has disbursed some $521 million to 320 arts and culture projects.