Wednesday, November 23, 2022

On Being an Artist in Western Jamaica

"You can't be a starving artist if you don't make art"

A few months ago, I entered the Jamaica Cultural Development's Visual Arts Competition for the first time. To my great surprise two week, I actually won 2 bronze medals. It was a most humbling experience especially when I went to the artist presentations in Montego Bay and Kingston and saw what a pantheon of talent I was fortunate to be amongst. An old friend from UWI, Mona Ms. Liz Toby received western Jamaica's gold medal for a fantastic piece that was most enlightening. She captured an important but lesser known figure and moment in Jamaica's history for Jamaica 60. She immaculately render Sir Harold Allen Jamaica's first black Minister of Finance, an independent politician, statesman, legislator, teacher, sportsman and business man. All this sudden surge of art, especially across the city (who do I need to bad up to get a mural contract) has me thinking of the power of art and public spaces. The impact of art cannot and should never be underestimated. It can help to heal our nation and move it forward. Music isn't the only inspiring art form.

Art Is a Weapon in the Battle of Ideas

Our city streets can be gloomy grey concrete-covered places; the genius of street art can transform everyday objects and situations into fun and playful social spaces. Therefore supporting arts and culture initiatives like the Fair Saturday or Saturday Bazaar movement like the city had back in the 80’s when I was a child only makes sense. It would allow our city to take advantage of a billion dollar industry that creates strong, vibrant communities, employs local workers, attracts tourism, and boosts local economic development. And what of MoBay Nite Out and the community Nite Out events? Those were the beginnings of a movement that could have given our city a serious boost and possibly alleviated this violent turn our city has taken while being an economic opportunity for artists. 

Summer in the city is marked by community gatherings and street dances, farmers’ markets plus a buzz of outdoor activities, especially Sumfest, Mobay Jerk Fest and the myriad of Fish Fries Bike Shows and parties like Yellow Diamond. In many places throughout the city such as the craft markets and the vending hubs need more robust help to prepare for the influx of tourists and foot traffic, so their stocks and inventory are big. In our city local arts and culture are should be on greater display. If the friendly city wants to recapture the air of friendliness then Montego Bay ought to seek to capture, harness and grow this energy year-round. One way to possibly do this is by starting or restarting a Saturday Bazaar to promote arts, culture and community giving this November. This could possibly be the makings of indigenous arts movement in the city. A Saturday Bazaar and MoBay Nite Out compounded by community nite outs, could spark the upturn in economic community life.


Art & Activism in the Age of Jamaican Independence

Artists living in Kingston have many advantages over artists abiding in small towns, isolated villages and even the second city of Montego Bay. Art galleries often are more commonplace in corporate area. There are also more opportunities for artists, such as residencies, art grants, art associations, art clubs, studio space and artist events. More artists in these locations means a better chance of of meeting other artists, gallery owners and curators. Of course, the biggest drawback of living in a smaller city or town is access to a larger group of regular art buyers and patrons.

Montego Bay is a tourism focused city. It's the sort of place where everyone kind of knows everyone — a town where, sometimes, I feel it's not the place for me, as small city life can have it's limitations. Don't get me wrong. I am the Montegonian and my city is a beautiful with appealing urban ambience. Rich red soil and rolling hills with rustic communities and garrisons that surround my life. It's also a city full of people that have been truly inspirational. Using my skills and Caribbean experience and injecting them into or projecting them onto modern media and design has always been my aim. Remixing and reinterpreting modern media and design ideas with Caribbean culture, ethos and cognitive elements are my personal dream. 


I like most artists dream to one day have a career as a practicing artist. Art is my escape. To be able to create artwork is a fantastic gift, and I want everyone to share it. Using art I can change the world, because awareness is the first step to change. Some people may think art is just for fun, but to me it is a whole lot more than painting a pretty picture. You can say so many things with your art. You can have a voice. I want to make a statement. I want to voice an opinion. I understand many people don't quite get my choosing to be an artist as one of my paths, among writing and journalism. When you live in a small city, where tourism dollars and scamming money is what tickles women's fancy and garners men's respect, being different isn't entirely accepted. To succeed in my dream I've had to work hard to show my friends and family that I can do it. Media and Art Mogul, Yannick's Montegonian Montage, second city coloured collage... How does it sound?

When people view my work, I feel so powerful, like someone is listening and reacting to my opinion. It drives me to continue voicing my opinion, hopefully to make a difference. I will continue to work hard to make my dream a reality. One day I hope to inspire other children from Montego Bay who dream of becoming professional artists. My greatest hope would be to make my city proud.

Abii Paris, Saba Art Gallery 

In terms of export value, arts and culture industries drive tourism. Arts travellers are ideal tourists, staying longer and spending more to search for genuine cultural experiences, and arts destinations grow local economies by attracting “cashy-er” foreign visitor spending. The percentage of international travellers including art gallery and museum visits on their trip grows yearly, and the share attending concerts, plays, and musicals is growing also. Montego Bay has a prolific host of artists and craft entrepreneurs. Artists such as Hilroy Bulgin, Elgo, Fernendez, Anthony Scott, myself Yannick Pessoa , Danii Noey, Paul-Dean Galimore, Jeffrey Samuels alongside the works of greats like Granville’s Errol Allen and Polish immigrant Michael Lester. I’d love to see tattoo artists in the same space with conventional artists as well as Reader Women or Obeah Man like the fortune tellers in North American Fairs. Craft entrepreneurs like Isis Harris of Isis Impressions, Kameilia Brown of Expressif Wear, Paula Hurlock of Indigo Soul, Hodges, Pablo Peirao Ras Manager of IzizI T-Shirts, Garfield Ustanny whose unique colourful crocus bags designs are unique and epic fashion statements, there is Nandi the Bow Queen and a host of others.

So whether as a means to advance the arts for their own sake, or to support local artists and local charities, or to grow economic prosperity by leveraging cultural assets, city leaders should explore the value of a Saturday Bazaar, MoBay and community Nite Outs —  if the city starts planning now and maybe we can paint a better picture of the city; A City of Heart, a City of Art! Leaders at the Municipal Corporation and Chambers of Commerce, can we come up with a work of heart?

When we think of resources, we don't always think about creating context for talent development. But that is my hope for the future of artist support and development, especially in small towns, and especially for our young creative people. So here are some thoughts on what that might look like for you if you are a leader in a small town, and interested in the same thing

Try not to make us feel guilty for not having the same historical memory of past initiatives as the more established artists and leaders in the community. Of course, let us know if something has been tried before, but don't shut us down completely even if the last time it was tried it was a failure. You might scare us away forever. Look at our enthusiasm as an asset, not a threat. And even if it sounds the same as something that's been done before, consider that it might actually be very, very different.

Set aside resources specifically for artists under 35.

If you're in a position to do so, consider creating a grant program, workshop or fellowship specifically for young artists in small communities. Find ways to help young artists find each other and incentivize collaboration, so that we can deepen our relationships with one another. We tend to stay committed to a place when we feel like we are part of something bigger.

Yes, we need jobs, economic development and vital services. But we also need the arts–they are the most powerful way to address violence, suicide and addictions. In art there are purpose and meaning; there’s imagination. Most depression and violence can be characterized as the closing of our imagination. What is art but the spirit in each of us to reshape our lives in the face of debilitating and often destructive circumstances? I’m convinced this is as compelling a concern for government and society to address as any other. Art has the power to transform, heal, progress, enrich, and even saves someones life. Without "Art"  the E'art'h would be just "eh"! Boring.... Selah