For decades Downtown Kingston Jamaica has wasted in the shadows, clothed in the rags left of its former glory. It seemed no one really knew what to do to revitalize the historic location, until Kingston Creative.
Kingston Creative is a non-profit organization that mixes creativity with vision to transform the city of Kingston, Jamaica into the creative capital of the Caribbean. It was founded in 2017 through the grit and determination of its three co-founders: Andrea Dempster-Chung, Allan Daisley, and Jennifer Bailey PhD.
Transformation of Kingston Jamaica into creative capital of Caribbean
Since its inception, Kingston Creative has envisaged Kingston Jamaica as the creative capital of the Caribbean and has engaged stakeholders – government, academia, and the private sector – around that vision. Kingston Creative aims to create an Art District and a Hub for creative entrepreneurs in pursuit of its vision.
Now part of the Global Cultural Districts Network, Kingston Creative has hosted over 50 different events aimed at breathing life back into downtown Kingston Jamaica.
Kingston Creative has spearheaded several cultural programmes aimed at revitalizing and strengthening the cultural identity of downtown Kingston: Artwalk, full of inspirational murals as a backdrop to vibrant performing artists, is a walking tour of art in the city; Meetup is a networking event for creatives.
As part of the celebration of Reggae Month, last February, Kingston Creative in partnership with Sounds of Pressure Foundation presented “Meet Us on Beat Street”, an event funded by the Jamaica Social Investment Fund and the European Union.
The Beat Street Artwalk is one in a series of events aimed at encouraging community tourism and developing Kingston’s emerging art district.
The Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF) has funded a new mural, by artist Errol Reid, depicting various Studio One musicians, and Tom Wong, who owned Tom the Great Sebastian, Jamaica’s first sound system.
Themed Meetup events are not only social spaces, but educational spaces as well: Creatives can learn skills to market, register their intellectual property (IP), and other soft skills needed to make it as a creative entrepreneur. In November 2020, the group also awarded 40 Caribbean artists a $500 USD Caribbean Arts Showcase Grant in order to promote the diversity of talent present within the Caribbean during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Such a push to transform the historic city into a thriving art metropolis is also being encouraged by government. Proving his dedication to this goal The Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett, announced in 2019 the Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF) will provide the initial funding of $25 million toward a Reggae Museum downtown.
It is refreshing to witness this investment considering the potential of both Downtown Kingston and the art community is historically neglected by the Jamaican government. Even within the hearts of the Jamaican people, the passion for reggae music has fallen asleep- but with this new museum, Kingston Creative’s ambition, and fresh new-wave reggae artists the passion may be roused once again.
Finally, there is renewed recognition of the infinite potential of reggae music to the economy. This comes on the heels of Kingston being declared a Creative City of Music by UNESCO in 2015, focusing attention on the city’s art and culture.
Such a declaration means, according to the UNESCO website, “The 246 cities which currently make up this network work together towards a common objective: placing creativity and cultural industries at the heart of their development plans at the local level and cooperating actively at the international level.”
Aside from government support, the private sector is also lending their green thumb to growing an art metropolis downtown. Blue Mahoe Capital Inc, a Jamaican-owned investment company based in Florida, donated JM$1 million dollars to Kingston Creative. Other companies have taken on a sponsorship role as well including Redstripe, Itopia Life, and the Spanish Court Hotel. These sponsors have been named specifically due to their connection with tourist’s expectations of a Jamaican vacation.
Aside from sea and sun, parties fuelled by Redstripe, engaging with marijuana products, and relaxation at a hotel are all part of the Jamaica package. Associating themselves with Kingston Creative and their efforts downtown is certainly an encouraging sign during this revitalization effort.
All stakeholders understand that Jamaican culture is a large part of the tourism product of the island.
Tourists aren’t content to just stay cooped up on the North coast inside the environment controlled all-inclusive hotel environment. They desire authenticity and engagement with the culture in a safe space.
As Kingston Jamaica, aims to position itself as a prime tourist destination, one must also take into account the benefits it has for the people. Many times tourist products are developed without true regard for the locals who sometimes suffer at the hands of these projects. Kingston Creative acknowledges this fact and takes great effort to educate the artists involved in their projects on ways to make their livelihood through art sustainable.
Engaging with the people and ensuring they have ways to achieve upward mobility is crucial to developing a stable economy. The revitalization of downtown Kingston Jamaica therefore should not come at a cost to the people, but by the hands of the people. Success for Downtown’s revitalization can therefore not be judged by the cosmetic fixes to the area, but by the benefits to the people who live, work, and raise families there.
Artists and downtown Kingston are kindred spirits after all. Their union, with the support of Kingston Creative and the blessing of the Government, is the key to unlocking the untapped economic potential in each.