Years ago, a close friend scolded me for pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in English Literature. He felt that literature was no longer relevant in the 21st century and suggested that business and science would be ideal pursuits if I really want to be successful. However, with little science and no business background, I embraced the arts.
There were times when a feeling of inferiority perpetually overwhelmed me, especially amid dwindling numbers of students in the humanities. It seemed like everyone was doing business or science and no one cared about the arts in Antigua. But thank God, somebody remembered it and came up with the acronym STEAM. The focus was not solely on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), but also on the arts.
In today’s YouthZone, we head over to the sister isle. The microscope is on Allyson R Trunzer—a scholar, collaborator, engager, and an artist. Rooted in Barbuda through her mother’s side (the Burton and George families), Allyson spent her early childhood in Barbuda.
From a young age, she wanted to pursue dance through the lens of education and entrepreneurship. Her first formal dance class was with Miss Veron Stoute who travelled from Antigua to Barbuda to conduct rehearsals in the late 1990s. Allyson returned to Canada where she became more involved in the arts at the pre-professional level through programmes at Wexford Collegiate School for the Arts.
“There, I built confidence and self-esteem in a supportive environment of peers and teachers, who affirmed that I needed to continue the art form. Wanting to provide future students with similar experiences and expand my technical knowledge and abilities, I chose to study at Ballet Creole (Toronto, Canada),” Allyson said.
“It offered versatile training (contemporary ballet, Dunham, African dance) that could be applied to demographics within Toronto, and the Caribbean,” she added.
Her artistic career flourished after she completed programmes in Canada and the US, funded by the Ontario Arts Council. Allyson worked as a dance and theatre performer, choreographer, performing arts educator, programme planner, and director in Canada, the US and the Caribbean.
She is currently completing her Bachelor’s of Science (Hons) in public health, Bachelor of Arts in dance and minor in psychology from Shenandoah University under generous sponsorship and scholarships.
“There are actually millions of dollars in funding available for emerging and established professionals in the arts and humanities; it just requires a different, and sometimes longer process to access it,” Allyson stated.
“Additionally, there are many jobs within the arts sector that are demanding depending on location and specialty. Digital arts and media are a growing industry, among many other focuses. We’re also finding the integration of arts with other fields as well, for greater reach to target audiences,” she posited.
Highlighting its tremendous benefits, Allyson asserted that the arts (at any level of pursuit) can improve physical, emotional, social, spiritual, mental, cognitive health and wellbeing, and support developmental and healing processes.
“I’ve witnessed the arts change individuals and communities, using a medium of connection and expression, making genuine, positive impact. Countless youth shift to finding focus, discipline, and passion, because the arts provide them with this structure. Among communities, there is a true sense of relatability, inclusivity, and union of humankind that arts practices facilitate,” she said.
Allyson appealed for more persons to invest their time and efforts into after-school programmes such as sports, STEM and the arts. She described time as “one of the most valuable gifts one can give.”
Underscoring that mentorship is often overlooked, Allyson noted that individual positive guidance could change the trajectory of youth lives. “I often see those of more privileged statuses having greater access to diverse programming, however, there is a need for equity to create lasting, positive change,” she said.
Some potential questions to reflect on, according to Allyson, may include: “What allotted time can I give? Do I have a particular skill or passion that I can share with others? What resources or networks do I have access to that can make it work?”
In July 2023, the third season of BECOMING Barbuda will air. The self-development programme designed for Barbudan youth aged 11-17 was founded in 2020 by Catie Kohler, Cleo Isaac, and Allyson.
It is generously supported by the Coco Point Fund, Barbuda Ocean Club, and Paradise Found, as well as countless community patrons who are committed to co-creating positive change among youth.
The three-week camp focuses on building self-worth, self-esteem, self-identity, and exploring different aspects of health and wellbeing. The arts will be used as a tool for engagement and application, guiding campers through different workshops in music, dance, theatre, media and visual arts, woodworking, fashion, and more. The programme culminates with a “Final Showcase” that will celebrate the work of the campers in the community.
Kudos to Allyson and her team in Barbuda. They understand the never-ending relevance of the arts whose exposure improves youth’s confidence and academic performance, and develops many positive skills and capacities valued by leaders and employers. These include persistence, collaboration, motivation, creative thinking, and problem solving.