Until a little over a decade ago, the University College of the Cayman Islands was a strictly academic institution, with no offerings in the arts. There was no music, no choir, no performing arts of any kind.
That began to change in 2007, when the school initiated first a choir, then a dance program and later a steel pan band. In the coming weeks, those groups will be performing in a series of events both on and off the campus of UCCI, now in its 45th year of operation.
UCCI Artistic Director MoniKa Lawrence said the fall schedule of events, among which are the school’s commencement exercise and the Xposition of the Arts Showcase, is a chance to showcase Cayman talent. That talent, she said, has become an expected part of the programme.
“We perform at so many places,” Lawrence said, “and the moment they say, “UCCI,” there is applause, because they recognize excellence.”
UCCI President and CEO Stacy McAfee said such programmes are an integral part of the university.
“The arts are a key element in providing a well-rounded educational experience for students at UCCI,” McAfee said. “They also help to spotlight the excellence that is UCCI by presenting high-quality performances that the Cayman community can engage in and enjoy.”
It took years to achieve that. Music professor Glen Inanga said when he came to UCCI in 2007, he found very little formal support for music either at the university or in the community.
“Cayman was at a place where people wanted to do music, but didn’t necessarily have the background,” he said.
Several years earlier, while still living in England, he had helped to establish the Cayman Arts Festival. Taking on a role at UCCI – initially he was just teaching music notation – was a way to build on that, he felt.
“I’m mainly interested in helping to drive up standards,” he said.
He and others established music programs in the government primary and high schools, which were meant to act as a pipeline, providing UCCI with students who had experience.
“I’m excited,” Inanga said of some of the young musicians starting their studies at the university. “I’ve gotten to the point where I can see the payoff from all that hard work.”
Lawrence, whose dance troupe has performed internationally in Jamaica, Barbados, and Trinidad, said she is always looking at ways to attract new students.
Once she gets them in the studio, she said, “They get hooked on it.”
Inanga, who holds a master’s degree in business administration, said it is sometimes hard to build a practical case for arts programmes, which don’t often lead directly to careers in the working world.
But, he added, “There’s some amazing experiential learning going on in the music room.”
He is convinced that UCCI will continue to provide a creative element on campus.
Lawrence said it is important for UCCI to do its part to strengthen the arts.
“Every community needs creativity,” she said. ” So many of the students here have special talents you don’t know about. If you don’t expose them to the music and the choir and dance, you don’t know who we have among us.”
That was never more evident to her, she said, than when, not long after its formation, the UCCI choir performed at a local event.
“The choir students went to the Rotary Christmas tree lighting,” she said. “They were immaculately dressed. People heard them perform and were saying, ‘Where are these singers from?’
“The students were so elated,” she added. “Their whole self-worth went up. You can’t take that away.”
If you would like to start your UCCI journey. Prospective students are encouraged to visit https://www.ucci.edu.ky/admissions for details on how to complete an application. You can also contact UCCI at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 1-345-623-8224. Operating hours are Monday – Thursday, 8:30 a.m. – 5 p.m. and Friday, 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.