“Chance favours the prepared mind.”
These are the words of famous French microbiologist Louis Pasteur, who believed that luck is perhaps nothing more than hard work meeting opportunity. Arts alumna Penelope Hynam (’67 BA Hons, English) agrees: opportunity is something you create. “You can be shy and retiring, and passive as you like, but life is short. I’ve always seen the needs out there, and tried to fill those needs.”
A childhood spent in different schools around the Caribbean and North America instilled in Hynam a sense of self-reliance and a deep curiosity that found its natural expression in the arts. “There’s that old question about whether you are supposed to be getting an education or getting training,” says Hynam. “What is happening in the world today is caused by ignorance, and not having enough knowledge about people and cultures. If you come from a little tiny town in Alberta, if you come from a city somewhere in Canada, and you take an arts degree, it broadens your mind. You have an opportunity to really learn something about the world.”
With a degree in English and Drama, Hynam embarked on a 25-year career in film, television and arts administration, starting “at the bottom” at CBC and CityTV in Toronto. Armed with an eye for underserved communities, Hynam spearheaded the Toronto chapter of Women in Film and Television (WIFTI), serving as president for two years. WIFTI is a global network dedicated to advancing and acknowledging women working in all areas of film, video, and other screen-based media.
After returning to Barbados in 1992, Hynam had to reinvent herself. “There wasn’t much happening in the film world in Barbados. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to make a living. So I changed careers to the next level of interest, which was heritage conservation.”
Hynam’s ability to continuously envision opportunity led her to the Barbados National Trust. Under Hynam’s stewardship, several historic sites were restored, including the George Washington House in Bridgetown. “As executive director of the National Trust, I had to deal with a board of directors — mostly men — so you have to assert yourself. Not only as a woman, but as someone whose opinions count.”
During this period, Hynam’s love of film reasserted itself. She produced the award-winning documentary drama George Washington in Barbados, and served as founding president of the Barbados Film and Video Association.
“If you come from a little tiny town in Alberta, if you come from a city somewhere in Canada, and you take an arts degree, it broadens your mind. You have an opportunity to really learn something about the world.”
Now managing director of Sea Weaver Productions, Hynam is working on a number of documentaries, including a 13-part series called Growing Up Caribbean. “The biggest problem here is raising money for films. We don’t have Canada Council grants, Arts Council grants. We have very few places to raise money for making films, so that’s the big battle. Here you are a creative person and what you have to be is a business person. It’s a difficult combination.”
However, it’s a challenge Hynam not only understands but embraces. “There were many things I wanted to do, and I thought I had to try to fit them all in,” laughs Hynam. “I’ve always believed you live for 70, 80 years — why stick to one career?”