Image

We are socialized in St Vincent, as in other places, to find an area of practice in which we stake claim to recognition, money, influence and/or fame. When several weeks ago our small team began painting a wall in a depressingly dull area of Kingstown, we didn’t foresee that this simple action would unexpectedly bring some, if not all, of the above.

 Image

My love for working on a large scale started many years ago when returning after 3 years in Japan, I installed displays in Issey Miyake’s two London store windows, and subsequently designed sets for theatre productions. In 1997, I produced a 60ft mural and two restaurant ceilings for the Canouan Resort Development. Mural projects with students include several walls at Community College, in schools and the Kingstown hospital in the past ten years. In that period we had many discussions about painting one in Kingstown. So when the Ministry of Tourism approached me about this project in March 2012, it was quickly incorporated into the Mural Arts elective course of the Fine Arts Associate Degree programme.

The course enables students to  experience how the arts can transform urban spaces. With this mural we intended to connect our islanders through an appreciation of their natural heritage. We hoped it would encourage locals and visitors to journey to the sites and experience the energy of nature that is so often overlooked. One of the learning outcomes for students is the acquisition of skills to generate income through creative entrepreneurship and collaboration.

 Image

Kithesha at Black Point Tunnel

The project started in May 2012 with trips to the various locations depicted in the mural (see May 2012 posts) but the painting phase was delayed due to my illness last year. Of all the ongoing projects I fought to regain my health for, this mural project was one of two that I determined to continue.  After a considerable amount of preparation and coordination during the busy exam period, the students and I at last confronted the wall to begin the final stage of the project last May.

 Image

Initially, as we were scaling up and drawing out the design we were heckled about women  (sorry Sean!) climbing scaffolding, how long we are taking, and comments that revealed a lack of confidence in our ability – “I hope I am going to see something good.” “All ya better not mess up the wall”. I had to explain many times that the project was part of an educational course, where students are learning certain technical skills, and asked people to be patient.

ImageThe young artists review progress at the end of the day

But when the colour work started, all negative comments and doubts about our abilities were gone. The huge wave of public appreciation took us aback.

As we progressed with the painting, the wall began to stake its claim on the hearts of islanders. It proved to be a great social leveler. All passers by now proclaim their love of it, and thus their love of their natural heritage.

Image

For the entire day, day after day, positive comments were directed at us from the cartmen, government officials, civil servants, business people, vendors, artists, sanitation workers, students, visitors from the Grenadines, truck drivers, taxi drivers, stevedores, residents of the area- all embraced our work with appreciation expressed in different ways.

 Some looked on for hours at a time. Many beeped as they drove by shouting out “ Good job. Good job!!”. Some brought their families out to watch us at work.

From returning Vincentians ….Image

Image

to the Snow Cone Man….

…the mural triggered a flow of positive energy waiting to be expressed. Local residents could be seen directing visitors through the painting. This was more than compensation for all the interruptions, the heat, the pollution and noise!! We marveled together at the exceptional experience of seeing continuous smiles and hearing encouragement all day long!

Image

Endless photos were taken by onlookers and passers-by

Image

One day, after a midday break when the sun was too hot to work, I returned to the wall and saw that the youths had written ‘TIPS” on a bucket. They had started to collect change to pay for their transportation to and from town. We then began to ask everyone who stopped to take photos to make a donation, explaining that we were working voluntarily. Once again we were amazed by the positive response and generosity reflecting sincere appreciation for what we were doing.

Image

 Towards the final deadline I was at the wall from 6am-6pm as some of us worked obsessively to finish. Carnival weekend offered a welcome break from daily traffic, I was painting on Monday when the revelers were coming and going. They appreciated the mural as an added dimension to the festivities!

Image

There have been so many outcomes from this project. Already the youths have been offered paid work, and have undertaken commissions as a result. We have responses from the private sector interested in sponsoring future projects. The mural promises to become a place to visit in itself, it stands poised to redefine not only the space in which it stands, but also the meaning of arts and the role of young artists in our society.

Image

Sean at Owia Salt Pond

This project proved what I knew in my heart- that all Vincies love art: some of the public have now been educated in the amount of time it takes to produce quality work. They are encouraging, they are excited, inspired; they are generous and easily uplifted by authentic artwork that articulates what is in our hearts. It gains their respect.

Image

Olivia in Vermont Nature Trail

Through simply painting creatively, with no rewards in mind other than to uplift our community, we earned all that most people hanker for in the society.

And yet the arts are presently overlooked and desperately underfunded in the education system. The struggle that has taken place to develop the visual and technical skills necessary to work on such a project with a group of youths has its own story. It is not simply a matter of ‘talent’ nor is it an overnight accomplishment. It is one of faith, of perseverance, a sustained work ethic, of belief in the youths, of determination and strength in the face of being repeatedly dismissed and marginalised. It is the story of creative action in (post-) colonial Caribbean society.

Mum and Aiks

I have known all my life about the transformational power of creativity. I know it is healing. I know that in its various forms, creativity can address the pressing psycho/social/economic challenges we have. I know it can liberate the hearts and minds of the youths.

 Image

This mural is a manifestation of that faith and testimony, through our collective experience, to the transformational power of creativity in St. Vincent.

 Image

The incredible CYAM team on the Wall:

L-R Alexandra Mascoll, Olivia Stephens, Chante Ferdinand, Sean Roache, Joy Celestine, Kithesha James, Lee-Andra Thompson, Aiko Roudette (not in photo).

Abundant thanks to the residents and businesspersons in the area, passers by and onlookers who have supported us all along and continue to appreciate and protect the wall. It belongs to you.

Within a few weeks, an empty wall passed unnoticed in an unappealing area has transformed into a place where people love to be, get inspired, express themselves, feel joy and pride in their island heritage and its creative resource, where visitors imagine St. Vincent as a glorious place – surely the process that lead to that transformation is worthy of serious consideration as an instrument of community repair throughout our islands.

Image

 Our Living Heritage

CYAM thanks the GOV/SVG Ministry of Tourism and the following Sponsors:-

Sea Operations SVG Ltd for the loan of the scaffolding; Sailors Wilderness Tours; SVG Port Authority; Invest SVG; C,D, Veira Ltd; Save-a-Lot Supermarket; Corea’s Hazell’s;  C.K Greaves & Co. Ltd.; National Insurance Services; St Vincent Sales and Services (NAPA); Quality Paints  & Supplies Ltd.; Eastern Caribbean Metals/Plastic Industries Ltd.; Browne’s Hardware Supplies Ltd.; BMC Agencies Ltd.; TMM (St. Vincent) Ltd.;Gunsam Investment Ltd.; SVG Tourism Authority.

Advertisements