Cayman Arts Festival finding its stride

The Cayman Arts Festival has been bringing talented musicians to Grand Cayman since 2004. There have been many challenges over the years, but now with a new management structure, its cofounder Glen Inanga thinks the festival is on more solid ground than ever. 

 

In February 2012, Grand Cayman will once again come alive with the sound of music as performers from many different countries converge for the biannual Cayman Arts Festival. 

Keeping the festival going for the past eight years hasn’t been easy, but significant changes made in the organising structure of the event have allowed the Cayman Arts Festival cofounders to concentrate on what they do best: arrange for top quality musical artists to perform right here in Cayman. 

One of those cofounders, Glen Inanga, said a big improvement over previous years has been the addition of a board of directors and Festival Manager Simon Harvey, who have not only been able to offer valuable additional viewpoints to the planning and execution of events, but have also taken some of the workload off Inanga and the cofounder, Jennifer Micallef 

“The festival shouldn’t depend just on us,” Inanga said in an interview in September. “I had to find a way of downloading some of what was in my head.” 

Harvey came on board as volunteer just before the 2010 event took place and was willing to expand his role. Inanga said he’s a good fit for the festival. 

“He loves classical music. He loves the arts. He loves singing. He’s even played the oboe. And having been a CEO of a company in New Zealand, he had all the right qualities for us,” Inanga said. 

 

Challenges  

The Cayman Arts Festival was first held in 2004 and then every two years since then. The goal for many years now has been to make the festival an annual event, but raising funding for the event to happen yearly has proven too difficult. 

Momentum has been a problem in the past. By having the event only every two years, any momentum gained after an event was lost during the long hiatus afterward. To try and keep the momentum going, the mini-Festival was introduced this year, as well as periodic events called Music on the Menu – one-night musical performances combined with dinner at a restaurant. 

Although the Music on the Menu events usually featured local artists, on 1 September Inanga – who lives in Cayman and teaches at the University College of the Cayman Islands – was joined by world-class violist Eliesha Nelson of the Cleveland Orchestra. The event was sold out. 

But the Music on the Menu events don’t make much money, Inanga said. This latest one made about $1,700, and the money goes to the Cayman Youth Choir Fund, not to the Cayman Arts Festival.  

“We do them really to keep the momentum going.” 

However, the Cayman Arts Festival needs funding, too. The nonprofit festival runs on a very tight budget and this has created serious concern in the past because it’s been difficult to get top-quality performers without knowing how much funding the festival would be able to raise. 

“It’s kind of like the chicken and the egg,” Inanga said. “We can’t necessarily know who can play here until we know the budget and we can’t get people to support the festival until we know who will perform. It’s kind of a tricky model to work with.” 

Although there are general sponsors, the festival needs event sponsors to underwrite the appearance fees, airfares and hotel charges. These sponsorships run $10,000 – $20,000 each, Inanga said. 

“These are the ones who make the events happen,” he said,  

Once, in 2008, the Festival was unable to find a sponsor for one of the events. Instead of cancelling it, they let it run anyway.  

However, there was a shortage from the general fund to cover costs and Inanga said he had to scramble to raise some more money to get the bills paid in the months after the event. 

“It was a real eye-opener for me,” he said. 

2008 was also the year that a garden opera – La bohème – was performed on the lawn at Pedro/St. James Castle. Although Inanga agrees that bringing an opera troupe to perform in Cayman was one of the high points of the festival to date, it was expensive. Since that time, the world economy has plummeted and sponsorship money for the arts is hard to come by. He pointed out that worldwide orchestras are struggling to keep afloat. 

“The money is just not out there,” he said. “So it’s no surprise here in Cayman that it’s been a challenge.” 

But the festival has still been able to find corporate sponsors for its events since 2008. 

“We found people don’t have as much money to put on an opera, but still enough to put on something really respectable.” 

 

Education  

While Inanga takes care of the artistic direction here, his cofounder Micallef is busy finding talent abroad. 

“She lives in Malta but she travels a lot,” Inanga said, adding that Micallef recently had a baby daughter and is also adjusting to the demands of motherhood. 

Inanga says there’s no shortage of artists wanting to perform at the Cayman Arts Festival. 

“We get so many people asking to perform here, or asking to come back,” he said. “It’s nice to know that people respect the festival, and the jurisdiction.” 

Still, booking the artists can be difficult, especially when the festival is working with a unknown budget. 

“Most artists need to be booked one to two years in advance,” he said. 

In addition, Inanga said the Cayman Arts Festival is very specific on the kind of performer it wants and that it has to be the right fit. 

“Our primary charter is education,” he said. “If education comes first, we have to make sure the people coming are not only comfortable with that, but are also willing and able to fulfil that mandate.” 

Performers coming here will visit schools and interact with students in other ways, helping to instil in them an appreciation of the arts. 

Inanga said the educational component to the festival is vital to sponsors, as well. 

“Most won’t sponsor unless they can see that their funds are going into education,” he said. 

Some of the festival events themselves are also designed to engage children, and youth choirs from abroad have performed in the past. 2012 will be no different, with a final ‘Youth Extravaganza’ choral event that will feature as many as 200 children signing. Another event – Blues in the Church – will feature a performance from students at New York’s Julliard School, as well as from the University College of the Cayman Islands Choir. 

 

The future  

The difference Harvey and the board have made has been evident already this year during the mini-Cayman Arts Festival called ‘Extra 2011’ in March and then during the one-night Music on the Menu event in September. More importantly, however, the planning for the 2012 Cayman Arts Festival is farther advanced at this stage of the year than it ever had been before. That improvement has a lot to do with funding. 

As of mid-September, sponsors were already secured for four out of six events planned for the 2012 festival. Inanga said he was confident the additional two sponsors would be secured. 

“This is the best we’ve been in terms of getting sponsors on board,” he said. “Now we’re at a stage where we’re a lot further ahead in raising funds. That’s directly related to the new structure we have for putting together the festival.” 

Although there’s still some pressure to get sponsors on board before the printing deadline for the event programme, Inanga said he’s pleased to be in such good shape so soon. 

“That panic isn’t there like it has been in the past,” he said. 

Going forward, though, Inanga would like to see a new model, where sponsors commit to three-years sponsorships. This model he believes would not only be better for sponsors, but better for the Festival organisers, as they would have a better idea of how much money they could commit to performers. 

The ultimate goal of Inanga and Micallef is to make the Cayman Arts Festival an annual event, no longer holding ‘mini-Festival’ in odd years as it did this year.  

Inanga believes the Cayman Arts Festival will get there. 

“We’re really proud that after all these years, despite the many challenges, we’ve gone from strength to strength and got support from both the business community and the local community,” he said. 

Cayman Arts

Cayman Arts Festival artistic director Glen Inanga performed with Grammy-nominated violist Eliesha Nelson at the Music on the Menu event at Luca Restaurant on 1 September.

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