Heartbeat of the City – Jamaica Observer

Andrea Dempster Chung (William Richards) of Kingston Creative

The following is an edited version of a speech given by Andrea Dempster Chung, co-founder and executive director of local arts organization Kingston Creative, at the recent opening of an exhibition by Jamaican artist Laura Facey.

WHILE researching places in downtown Kingston, Laura spotted Ormsby Memorial Hall and found that although the building was falling into disrepair, the light, the risers and the height of the ceiling created a backdrop perfect for her new show.

Over the years Ormsby Hall has played host to public meetings, debates and musical recitals, particularly in the late 1930s. It is adjacent to St Michael and All Angels Anglican Church and was the site important social and cultural events of the time. Poetry readings and performances could be seen and heard at Ormsby Hall. Until 2010, it was the home of Ormsby Primary School, and Jamaicans who have traveled the world performing in theater got their first taste of the arts as children on this same stage.

Why locate this exhibition in the city center?

Downtown Kingston was home to numerous art galleries on Harbor Street and, further in memory, hosted the Great Exhibition of 1891. After receiving some 302,831 visitors, attendance was estimated to be higher than of any previous exhibition in Europe. or America. Similar to the Venice Biennale, countries like Canada paid Jamaica to have pavilions in Kingston where they exhibited their cultural assets. America, England, Scotland, Sweden, Switzerland, Greece, France, Norway, Germany, Belgium, Holland and even Russia were all represented, right here in Kingston . It’s safe to say that Downtown is no stranger to art and culture.

And Laura Facey is no stranger to downtown Kingston, or using her art for social transformation. She was one of the supporting figures behind Melinda Brown in founding Roktowa, the artist collective, residency space (and we might add “cultural movement”) that was located on Pechon Street, which created so many opportunities for grassroots artists in the community. Artists are natural activists, and we can see the intentional placement of Facey’s work in the ruins of a historic building as a bold statement about reclaiming our heritage, preserving our architecture, and remembering history. heritage and grandeur of our old town.

This is Laura’s first solo exhibition since 2013. Over the past nine years, Laura has participated in group exhibitions and biennials. Over the past two years, she has produced a body of sculpted work in guango, mahogany, lychee, cedar and lignum vitae. Laura and her team have created a trilogy of installations for visitors to explore, browse and touch.

Guide Their Way Home is the commemorative part of the trilogy. It honors what came before while paving the way for the current transformation. Three Graces are powerful, determined and unified, representing the gathering of women for these times. What kind of women were they? Artists? Activists? Healers? Land of Look Behind, the sanctuary part of the trilogy, is Laura’s tribute to Cockpit Country. The work “represents a journey through a place that grips us with its impenetrable mass and offers sanctuary to anyone who wishes to find it”.

Kingston Creative is a registered non-profit organization with the grand vision that Kingston is the creative capital of the Caribbean. Our mission is to empower creative people and use art for social and economic transformation. As a country with a highly creative population – and arguably the most cultural soft power per square mile – we believe the arts can be a catalyst for attracting visitors, creating jobs and opportunities, achieving sustainable national development and transforming downtown Kingston. Our mission is centered on both people and place.

And downtown Kingston is where we belong. It is the oldest district of the capital, with great bones, a musical history like no other and a particular vibration that can only be experienced. It is also full of architectural treasures like Ormsby Hall that time has forgotten. Downtown is surrounded by marginalized communities notorious for political divisions, poverty and crime. This stigma, however, is not the entire Kingston story. There is a rich cultural and historical narrative in every community that needs to be understood, embraced and shared. Sadly, many people, especially our young people, know only the dilapidated streets and the ever-present legacy of violence. They yearn to escape and have no idea how Kingston began and developed, and as such it is almost impossible for them to imagine what it may become.

The path to follow

For us to move forward, everyone needs to be aligned with the possibility of what Kingston was, what it already is, and what we want it to become in the future. Do we want it to be a segregated city again with first and second class citizens? Do we want the vibrant cultural life that our elders describe? Do we want opportunities for a few to create wealth or do we want to create opportunities for everyone?

Kingston Creative uses culture and art as a lever for the balanced and inclusive transformation of the city and the development of the country. As an artist-led organization, we believe we can no longer sit idly by and bemoan the state of the city – we need to use what we have to build what we want to see.

Over the past five years, we have quietly and methodically reached out to communities, trained and empowered creatives, developed the murals and infrastructure of an arts district, launched a creative hub, and enlisted the business/business community. owners in partnerships for the city. development.

Our vision for downtown includes safety, commerce, beauty, restoration, good governance and infrastructure. With the support of our partners TEF, BID, DBJ; diaspora donors; and others from the local private and public sector, we develop murals that strategically link two iconic art institutions – the National Gallery of Jamaica to museums. We host artwalk street festivals that bring the streets and visitors to life in downtown bars, restaurants, communities and new hotels. Our vision includes tours of cultural communities — tours led not by large corporations, but by people from the communities. It includes employment, growth and entrepreneurial opportunities for talented artists and creatives, especially those in the downtown Kingston community.

We see making Kingston the creative capital of the Caribbean a process, not a project. We engage in a multi-year process of collaboration, advocacy, engagement, learning, research, investment, social entrepreneurship and support for necessary state coordination and policy development as we work to realize the vision.

Leading artists

It should be noted that artists are at the forefront of this movement; playing and animating the streets for the art walk, telling our new stories around corners, painting new possibilities on the cracked and crumbling walls of narrow lanes and choosing to stage their exhibitions in historic downtown spaces like Ormsby Lobby.

But we need to be more numerous to embark. Landowners and business owners should renovate, but protect the heritage facade of their buildings in order to maintain the integrity of the streetscape and the collective value of the Arts District. If we rent buildings to artists and creators for studios, galleries, performance and retail spaces, it will bring cultural life back to the city. We must intentionally release the potential trapped within the blocks of abandoned warehouses, historic buildings and commercial properties.

Finally, our government must build on Kingston and facilitate these civil society and private sector efforts. They can lead by example by putting in place the infrastructure, civil works, policies, regulatory frameworks and financial incentives necessary to make all of this possible and, above all, sustainable in the long term.

This exhibition is exactly the type of artist-led activism we need to see from the creative community to highlight the vision of a vibrant downtown Kingston arts district. If you come to Rae Town and check out this exhibit, you’ll be one step closer to seeing new possibilities for what a transformed downtown Kingston could really be.

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