Photography by Malaika Brooks-Smith-Lowe
‘I think it's an act of rebellion to be a whole person... It's an act of rebellion to show up as your whole self, and especially the parts that are complex, that are unfinished, that are vulnerable.’ - Courtney Martin
Two weeks before traveling to Tilting Axis: Within and Beyond the Caribbean - Shifting Models of Sustainability and Connectivity at the Fresh Milk Art Platform in Barbados, I listened to a podcast titled The Inner Life of Rebellion a conversation which included Courtney Martin. During my presentation at Tilting Axis, about the vision and work of Groundation Grenada, I shared the above quote by Martin. Her reflections on the power of being able to make progress even with full recognition that we are imperfect and always in-the-making resonated with me deeply. It is this kind of 'showing up' as a whole complex person that Groundation Grenada seeks to support. As an organization our aim is to create safe spaces for people in our communities to explore the fullness of their experiences and express themselves in an environment that honors our differences. Tilting Axis was a unique moment to connect with founders and directors of initiatives that similarly work to support and enhance the growth of the Caribbean's vast array of voices & creative visions.
Tilting Axis held from February 27-28, 2015 aimed to promote greater conversations and engagement between artists and professionals working within artist-led initiatives across the wider Caribbean region, build and redefine historical relationships with those in the North, and establish open dialogue with active networks emerging in the Global South.
The space that the organizers Fresh Milk Art Platform Inc., ARC Inc., Res Artis and Pérez Art Museum Miami were able to create was a rich opportunity for discussing challenges and envisioning collaborative solutions. They brought together several of the region’s arts initiatives to engage in face to face conversations. Also present were a number of professionals from outside the region interested in working with Caribbean-based initiatives such as Solange Farkas, founder and director of Videobrasil (Brazil), and N'Goné Fall, a founding member of the Dakar-based collective Gaw-Lab (Senegal). For a complete participant list and other details read the official post-conference press release (here).
There were many existing relationships and partnerships in the room and many possibilities for new collaborations discussed in formal sessions and during tea breaks. Technology has been an invaluable tool in facilitating the growth of what feels to me like a tangible movement in the region via the visual arts. Being in the same physical space as such a dynamic group of artists, curators, writers and organizers, and being able to have real conversations, was an invigorating experience. We all showed up as our full selves, open to discussing the complexities we are working with and through. It was an intergenerational setting with cross-pollination between organizations that were founded decades ago and seedling organizations that are now taking root and beginning to bloom.
We discussed existing resources such as Fresh Milk's Map: Caribbean Art Spaces and how we can further support by submitting suggestions about additional art spaces in the region that could be included on the map. During one discussion Amanda Colson, Director of The National Gallery of the Bahamas, made a point that made me laugh but held a lot of truth. She said, “I don’t want everyone to be an artist (I think that would kind of be a nightmare) but I want everybody to use the creative part of their brain. The gallery should be a creative think tank of the community”. National galleries and art museums can play a vital role in the incubation of a population that is innovative and expressive. In the past few years Amanda has played a pivotal role in shifting the demographic of people who visit the National Gallery of the Bahamas. Initially only 10% of visitors annually hailed from the Bahamas, now that figure is closer to 40%. Tobias Ostrander Chief Curator at the Perez Art Museum in Miami (PAMM) also made the point that, “The museum is a social space for critical thinking, for thinking about new possibilities for citizenship…”. Grenada doesn't have a national gallery or art museum and many would argue that we don't have the time nor the luxury to give the idea much thought. But these institutions, as well as artist-led initiatives and private galleries, are important for tourists, yes, but more significantly they are sites for creative engagement, the sharing of resources, and the growth of new ideas about what being a member of society today can look like. Where else do we vision ourselves anew if not in creative spaces?
There were a number of artists-led initiatives such as Ateliers89 (Aruba), NLS (Jamaica) and IBB (Curacao) that spoke about the artists residency programs they offer. They described the ways that their local and international artists-in-residence make full use of the support (and in some cases funding) that their programs offer. Being on both sides of residencies, as an artist and administrator, I've experienced the kind of energy that is exchanged between artists and the communities they are connecting with. In our relatively small Caribbean societies all opportunities for meaningful engagement should be nurtured and the thousands of typical tourists who move through isolated parts of countries are hardly feeding our hunger and curiosity about the world we inhabit. Artist residencies vary greatly as one quick search of Res Artis' list of residencies will reveal but overall they provide a refreshing model for engagement. For many artists who have attended creative art programs, the intimacy of those spaces stimulates growth and the development of supportive relationships and is often missed once the program is complete. Other artists have never had the luxury of an environment that supports their work. Artists residencies can serve this function for our creatives while bringing value to the community via skill-sharing etc.
There were many conversations about deepening the links between existing creative arts programs and initiatives regionally. How do we more effectively harness our collective energy to avoid burn out? How do we build a sustainable movement of creatives regionally? There were certainly many questions raised at Tilting Axis and a commitment by a number of participants to collectively work towards answers. In order to be more strategic about channeling our energy now that the conference is over, we chose to commit our organizations to working groups that can now begin to draft and spearhead action plans in relation to three specific areas: education, programming + exhibitions and artist movement + mobility. We are a group of highly-involved individuals and organizations, it seems though that we are all ready to find a more secure web of support to lift some of the weight off our shoulders. I think this working group model will set us up for success so that we can keep the momentum going by focusing on the areas that we can contribute to the most.