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Jun 2, 2017

The History of the Festival of the Arts

The national festival of arts concluded earlier this week. Golden performances from across the country converged at the Bliss Center for the Performing Arts to showcase the best of the best for 2017 in dance, drama and song. As that event concluded, the second annual Vernon Leslie Memorial Lecture took place at the Bliss. It was organized by the University of the West Indies Open Campus and the National Institute of Culture and History and looked at the retrospective of the festival of arts. The Festival was initiated by Vernon Leslie and later became the premier arts festival in the Caribbean.  At today’s opening, icons in the expressive arts industry went down memory lane, providing historical details. News Five’s Duane Moody reports.


Duane Moody, Reporting

Festival of Arts: A Historical Perspective is the theme for this year’s annual Vernon Leslie Memorial Lecture. The topic focuses on pre-independence, the revival and where we are now in the creative arts industry.  Over the years, the various genres of the creative arts; primarily dance, song, music and drama have evolved and been incorporated into the school curriculum. It is only fitting that the lecture covers this topic because Vernon Leslie was the first Belizean resident tutor in the Extramural Department before the UWI Open Campus was formed.


Kim Vasquez, Institute of Creative Arts

“He made history as the first Belizean to graduate from the University of the West Indies. Upon his return Mister Leslie enrolled in a pharmacy course at the Belize City Hospital in which he became a certified pharmacist. In 1956, Vernon began his career with the University of the West Indies by becoming the first Belizean resident tutor in the department of extramural affairs. As a resident tutor from 1956 to 1979, Vernon Leslie directed and guided the Belize National Festival of Arts in Belize since the department sponsored the event.”


The first festival of arts was held at Harvey Hall in 1953, which was located where the Wesley Church on Albert Street now sits. The festival was the biggest and most important cultural event in Belize. It grew from its modest beginnings and is recognized as one of the most prestigious and the longest running festival within the Caribbean. Just before the 1981 Independence, the festival went dormant until 1992 when it was revived by Beverly Smith-Lopez. Since 2003, NICH in collaboration with the Ministry of Education have carried on the legacy of the festival. Leroy Green has been instrumental in this taking the creative arts into the preschool, primary, secondary and even a competition between teaching staff.


Leroy Green

Leroy Green, Curriculum Officer in Expressive Arts, Ministry of Education

“For the past four to five years, we have been working on creating a new expressive arts curriculum for primary schools. It is finished the first draft; I’ve just got to go over it and make correction. Along with that, we all know that in Belize you can’t go out to any store and by a music book or an art book. So along with that, we also wrote and produced art drama, dance and music handbook for teachers. And we hope that that will be ready for September of this year.”


Hipolito Bautista is an economist by profession, but he has a passion for theatre. He says he did acting in the festival of arts in 1969, considered the Golden Era of Drama. Bautista says that theatre is not what it used to be. Every play should have a little bit of dancing, music and acting in it.


Hipolito Bautista

Hipolito Bautista, Dramatist

“I was recognized for having some talent and I was sent to study at Michigan State University where I learned the mechanics of professional acting and I must say that that was an eye-opener for me because subsequent to that, I went to study at the University of the West Indies for a degree in economics and I took part in the festival of arts and became the first Belizean to win the best actor award at the University of the West Indies. I learn to tap dance at Michigan State University; not many people would realize that, but I do know how to tap dance. I learn how to do ballet. Imagine me, I had to put on my leotards and tights and so on and skipping across the stage and doing circles without getting dizzy. It’s something that awakens all the creative juices in your body.”


Bautista says that there is more to be done to introduce creative arts into the secondary and tertiary education levels. Duane Moody for News Five.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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