July 20, 2012
The Committee for the Upliftment of the Mentally Ill (CUMI) Children’s programme provides support for the children of the mentally ill, who themselves struggle with emotional and psychological issues. The CUMI organizers work along with various schools, the children’s coordinator and the psychologist, to find the appropriate supportive mechanism along with the best learning tools, so that each child is afforded the opportunity to realize his or her full potential. One beneficiary of this programme is Ottoa Wilson, whose story is quite inspiring.
Promoting the visual arts for the betterment of society is Ottoa Wilson’s dream. A recent graduate of the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts, Ottoa’s appreciation of the aesthetic value of art is trumped by what she sees as its positive socio-political spin-offs and she is intent on making this her life’s mission.
Ottoa is the epitome of the art of living fully and positively and it is her own story that has been the major inspiration for a lifetime of artistic exploration and expressions. Having endured a less than perfect childhood, the determined and passionate 23-year-old is now bent on using those negative experiences as fodder for positively impacting others through her art, which most recently got rave reviews during the College’s graduation exhibition.
As a child, Ottoa entered the Montego Bay-based, JMMB-supported CUMI programme with a history of mental and physical abuse as well as a learning disorder. Despite the challenges she faced at home, the CUMI Children’s Programme provided her with the necessary physical, emotional and psychological support to nurture her natural affinity for art and to pursue her dream of attending the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts.
Joy Crooks, a member of the CUMI administration, remembers Ottoa well and speaks highly of her. “I met Ottoa in 2006 when she attended Mount Alvernia High School. She was having some problems and her counsellor recommended us to assist her with the social, mental and spiritual support needed and with the help of her psychologist and her own will, she overcame personal issues and was able to focus on visualising her goals in life. She has always been driven by art and her illustrations of the world were often strong and symbolic.”
“CUMI assisted me through difficult times with encouragement and upliftment,” Ottoa reminisces. “They were my rock and believed in me. I am immensely grateful for their support. JMMB was also a major help. They funded my education and ensured my health expenses were taken care of so that I could pursue my education.”
Today, she is the proud holder of a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from that institution and thanks art for saving her.
“Art is a great healer. When I was going through my childhood challenges, art was the place I could turn to, to constructively let go of the hurts. I could articulate my emotions through art and that was a good thing for me. It was therefore an easy decision for me to pursue art as a career. It was a less complicated job choice.”
She leans towards painting, but is not limited to that area. After her first year of college, she was exposed to areas of Visual Arts. However, she focused on Painting with a minor in Ceramics. She has a great respect for local artists but is particularly fond of those local and international artists whose art reflect a revolutionary stance and helps persons to understand the deeper issues in society.
Coming from this background and with such strong influences in the art world, this socially conscious young woman strongly believes that art has a great role to play in helping to heal the nation and, by marrying her first degree in Fine Arts to a Masters in Social Work which she next hopes to pursue, Ottoa hopes to create an art-centric refuge for the most vulnerable in society.
“I want to position art – the practice of it and the accessibility of it – as the voice through which the disadvantaged and vulnerable in society can find a positive place to express themselves. I want to connect art to social development and it is my dream to own a gallery which will impact community development and help others. For me, a career in the arts is not just about making money; it’s about bringing about change to the socio-political landscape and creating a better standard of living for all.”
To enable this process, the Montegonian believes that corporate Jamaica and the government need to play more proactive roles in fully promoting art. “I don’t think businesses or the government are investing in this area as much as they should, certainly not as much as in other ‘traditional’ career choices. There needs to be more publicity and awareness so the general public knows more and better appreciates the arts. There needs to be a paradigm shift in attitudes and behaviours where the government needs to start supporting it more and the media needs to promote it more. There are such amazing physical, emotional and mental benefits of art and we need to ensure the general public has access to it.”
Despite what she sees as this lack of full public and government support, she is quick to encourage young students who may be drawn to the arts but who are discouraged by the thought of becoming ‘struggling artists’.
“Don’t give up on your dream. You’re probably being told there’s no future in becoming an artist. Yes, the options are limited in Jamaica for artists, but always pursue your passions.”