The Patrons of the Arts Foundation (POTAF) (formerly The Patrons of Queen’s Hall) is providing financial support for pannists to attend the University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT).
POTAF chairman Brian Wood said the initiative, in collaboration with UTT, is now in its 12th year and is geared towards further cementing Trinidad and Tobago’s position as the leading location globally for advanced studies of the steelpan.
Wood said, “UTT is the home of the most immersive steelpan study experience in the world. The steelpan and its music are the quintessential manifestations of the spirit, ingenuity and culture of Trinidad and Tobago, our gift to the world and arguably the Caribbean’s most globally recognised symbol.”
Wood added, “Candidates for the bursary will have the opportunity to perform to a global audience as part of the bursary requirements in their final elimination event. The final selection of winners will be done at a globally televised show to be held in late September. Thereafter, they will become part of a vibrant and diverse academic community at UTT.”
Despite the many advancements in the arts sector, Wood said, the steelpan continues to be plagued by a general inability to sustain itself and increasing incidents of loss of intellectual property. “As a consequence, we have set our vision on sustaining our artistic traditions, legacy, and heritage for future generations,” Wood said.
Woods said POTAF is also working to develop a fund for the arts. “We are also working with a financial institution to develop an endowment fund for the arts. Our goal is to establish a financial institution that will attract funding from both local and international sources, provide the highest level of transparency and accountability, and ultimately become self-financing in the long term. Achieving sustainability and preserving artistic heritage is a national task,” Wood said.
Octavia Noel, deputy chairman of POTAF and chair of the bursary committee, said the POTAF was established 34 years ago with a mandate to support the enhancement, maintenance and general development of Queen’s Hall.
“Today, the organisation has shifted its focus from the support of only one performance space in Trinidad and Tobago and has rebranded itself to embrace a wider national mandate aimed at supporting all aspects of art and culture in Trinidad and Tobago,” Noel said.
Noel said POTAF’s emphasis has been on nurturing and training young, talented individuals to achieve their highest potential in their chosen genre. “Central to the vision of the POTAF is the desire to foster and promote excellence and professionalism in all genres of the performing arts. Projects and policies, therefore, are all supported by a vision that seeks to secure our artistic traditions, legacy, and heritage for our future generations,” Noel said.
She added, “Over the years, some of our strategic planning embraced the stimulation of private participation and contributions to support our projects by way of sponsorship and donations; the creation of pathways to development, by the introduction of programmes that expose young people to structured artistic activity; the Theatre Camp for children ages seven to 13 years, and the POTAF artistic bursaries, for the support of studies leading to tertiary education in the arts, are examples of two of our flagship initiatives,” Noel said.
Noel said a third initiative is being developed to begin in January 2023. “We are currently developing a digital platform to support the secondary school visual and performing arts (VAPA) curriculum across the Caribbean, which will curate and make available such material, first in Trinidad and Tobago, and later, across the region,” Noel said.
Mia Gormandy-Benjamin, assistant professor of Steelpan Music with UTT and CEO of PanNotation Ltd and artistic director of the Trinidad All Stars Steel Orchestra, said access to the bursary can not only change lives but also advance the steelpan market. “When I was first approached by the POTAF to discuss the possibility of a bursary for steelpan students at UTT, I was relieved and optimistic about the opportunities this could bring for many citizens of Trinidad and Tobago,” Gormandy-Benjamin said.
She added, “I am aware of some young pannists with raw talent who may have difficulty accessing the proper training to develop into professional musicians that can be successful in an international market. With a bursary such as this, access to professional training and global networking has become attainable, and this access can not only change the lives of the awardees but can also advance the trajectory of our steelpan market,” she said.
Astra-Lynn Noel, captain of the Lydian Steel Orchestra and music teacher at Bishop Anstey, said the steelpan has experienced noteworthy recognition that this country should be proud of. “The recent international buzz about the steelpan, the recent Google Doodle, the celebrations of World Steelpan Day, and the month of August declared Steelband Month by Pan Trinbago with exciting nationwide activities planned are certainly very complimentary circumstances at a time when POTAF, in collaboration with UTT, is offering a generous artistic bursary to encourage and support students in the study of the steelpan.”
She added, “As a pannist myself in the Lydian Steel—a group formed by the late Pat Bishop to perform difficult classical masterworks precisely because the players could read music—I have seen first-hand and cannot overstate the value of functional music literacy for pannists.
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