It is easily, one of the City’s. Make that the Country’s Best Kept Secrets – The Revival of Downtown Kingston, physically, in terms of the rebuilding of the crumbling infrastructure, and culturally, in terms of a deliberate and progressive move to reposition the old rundown inner-city, into a wholesome Jamaican experience, using the talent and human resources of the feeder communities, to rebuild the city and make it a cultural and artistic haven.
Fact is, say downtown Kingston in any other social setting and the response is likely to be one of frowns, skepticism, and verbal warnings to avoid the place, as many harbour fear, of the locale, based on the national narrative, of the place is the principal seat of the criminal enterprise spreading its tentacles, across the Country.
While there might be some truth in the notion that Downtown Kingston is home to a criminal population, the same is true of most neighbourhoods across this land. But even more interesting, is that Downtown Kingston, despite its seediness and pop-down appearance, has been home to the biggest Market district, in the Caribbean, the feeder communities homes to artisans such as tailors, shoemakers, potters, and an army of hustlers, who eek out a living from the decay, garbage, and derelict surroundings that neglect over the years have caused.
There has been a cadre of Shoemakers that create some of the more stylish sandals, ever made, over there on Hanover Street and its neighbouring streets; there’s a well-known and talented Jeweler who operates outside of the Car-park in Justice Square; and a few legendary “Watering-Holes”, to be found in most nook and crannies, below the clock, as it were.
Generally speaking, amidst signs of obvious decay and dereliction, there has always been life. In recent times, however, there have been some heroic attempts to stop the decay and social and political hemorrhaging of the community and to repopulate it with hope, opportunity, and industry. And these efforts have been paying off.
Downtown Kingston is booming again, and it is spearheaded by the indomitable Andrea Dempster-Young, and a team of devoted people, dedicated to the vision of transforming the Old decrepit city, into a place of hope, where dreams can spring again, and the hope for a better future, can make stillborn, criminal ventures, once thought to be the only avenue out of a life of deprivation and institutional brutality, by the state by its agents, who seem to be perpetually at war, with those they are sworn to serve and protect.
And this ray of hope and beacon of light comes from the initiative started a few years ago, which was birthed to breathe new life into the old city, using the natural synergies of Art, Music, and Food, to rekindle interest in the City of Kingston, and for my word, how, they have been growing!!
Dubbed Kingston Creative, this is the name given to the collaboration behind the drive to reposition the decadence and hopelessness that was once the social and cultural identity of the inner-city, to forge a new reality of interdependence and mutual support, that rises to the benefit of all concerned, and not just those involved in business and commerce to the detriment of the residents.
The Central and Local Government bodies, aware of the importance of the initiative, have also thrown their support behind the initiative and so we now have a possible “Boardwalk”, extending from the bottom Of King Street, winding its way out to Harbour View; to complement the steps being taken by Mayor Williams, to retake sections of the old city, and reincorporate them into the new, by creating Pedestrian only zones, designed to facilitate the expansion and continued development of the Kingston Creative, and it Art Walk Initiative, – a rich cultural program that is reclaiming old and abandoned buildings, using their facade as canvasses for the Talented artists who now transforms these derelict buildings into repositories of cultural, historical and contemporary beauty, as the backdrop to a city, long in the clutches of decay, but only now emerging, from a period of despondency, into a creative and industrious focus.
Art Walk, is a by-product, an off-shoot of Kingston Creative, that sees talented artists lending their creativity, to the transformation of the city, by creating Murals, of Cultural, Musical, and Folk icons, as pillars of inspiration, to communities and people, condemned by their address, and their humanity overlooked, excepting when its time the Political manipulators seek to exploit them as necessary fodder to grease the wheels of the warped sense of ‘democracy’ as voters, enforcers or enablers, to maintain the undemocratic status quo.
The beauty of Kingston Creative, will become its undoing, as it promotes liberation from dependency, and this, we know is the achilles heels of the Politics, so sooner rather than later, the Politician will come to see this as trespassing on his turf.
Until that time however, we celebrate the vision driving the concept of taking the opportunities to the people, instead of piously, asking the people to pull themselves up, by their own boot-strings. And with its multi-fanged approach, Art walk and the Kingston Creative, is a blue-print, that should be replicated in our major towns and villages, by including the people in any initiative designed and or created to address the systemic decline of urban and or rural town centres and their role as meeting-places; cultural centres, where communities vent, and people bond.
Well the current template for the Kingston Creative, is that on the last Sunday of each month, the Society host a Cultural extravaganza, where the public is invited to visit, the host community, by taking a guided tour, of the communities, enjoy the beautiful Murals, immerse ones’self in the musical offerings and sample the culinary offerings, and the cultural pot-pouri, that is de regueur.
Well, last Sunday, August 27th, the last Sunday in the Month of August, did not disappoint as the Art walk team as curators and coordinates, did a fantastic job, in curating an invaluable experience for those who took the Walk.
There was the book-signing by celebrated Author and Millitant Activist, Muta Baruka, who was doing yeoman’s duties, as apart from his book-signing duties at the I-nation, mobile book store, and we are talking a fabulous library of books here, including such offerings as The Writings and Teachings of Marcus Garvey; the Obeah Bible (One of my faves) by L W DeLaurence; The Original MacAbees Bible; the Egyptian Book of The Dead; the works of Miss Louise Bennet Coverley; The double offering of the First And Second Poems by the indefatigable Mutabaruka; the works of Joan-Andrea Hutchinson; and several other works of literary acclaim, no doubt the intellectually and racially retarded Governor of Florida, Ron De Santis, would find objectionable and worthy of his banned book lists, due to their illumoinating content and historical narrative. Were on sale in a ‘shit-hole country’ on open streets and nary a police in sight to Police literary offerings.
And the day’s fferings did not stop with a treasure trove of fabulous literary offerings as there was the culinary Street-food on offering; a cultural culinary offering that included: Street-food and some eclectic offerings such as Japanese Sushi; Vegan Patties; Vegetarian Patties; the ever present Jerk Poultry; And some awesome Pastries that included tarts, mini-puddings, cakes, biscuits and some traditional Goodies, that all amde for a fabulous culinary treat.
But, it was August and the Sun was up in his feelings so the Sun was pelting, causing many to seek refuge in the corner Cafe, formerly known as Swiss Stores – An Air-Conditioned marvel, boasting an inhouse Artist, conducting live demonstrations; Icy Cold Redstripes; and some fabulous trinkets; plus some tasty dishes. And with a family sized Television broadcasting the World Championships live, y’all know, this was the place to be and then some.
At least for a time to escape the heat,. But with the fabulously talented Chinna Smith, out launching his latest Collab, hosted by Mutabaruka, y’all know there was no missing the promised musical treat.
And what a treat it was. Music from the Nyah Binghi order of Rastafari, that proved a musical treat for the mind and soul, as guests simply rocked to the music, in celebration of life and its bounties, in a setting that could have been a music festival anywhere in the World, but was at the corner of Rum- and Water Lanes, intersecting with Hanover Street, the community residents adding an awesome flavour of naturalness to the occasion, that will be long remembered for its unfiltered musical niceness.
And if that was not enough, there was Merritone Music, down the lane, playing its signature music, and hosting guests to domino games; some culinary treats and relaxed company, sans the drama and challenges of the music now celebrated by the young…
It was a melting pot of fabulous sashimi and culinary adventures, that boiled down to a simply marvvelous family fun day, and then some! With among the notables spotted enjoying the various offerings were: Cultural Maeven and Social and Human Rights Activist Yvonne McCalla-Sobers; Celebrated dub-poet and Activist Mutabaruka and wife Jackie Amba Cohen-Hope; celebrated Actor, Alwyn Scott, his wife, Social Activist and Banker, Donna Duncan-Scott and their daughters; the charming Marcia Taylor Sibblies; the lovely Ann-marie Bonner; the graceful Carleen Gardener; he absolutely lovely Ziggy Golding; Realtor and socialite Lisa Marzouca; celebrated singer and HR Consultant, Carl Bliss; recording artist and singer Mary Issacs; the one-time Pin-up idol, and former top-flight model, Tony Munroe and his fabulous Wife, Heather Munroe; his son, Daniel Munroe, also out; also spotted the absolutely Charming Marjorie Guy; Knolly Moses; celebrated videographer Jose Walton; Siblings, and sisters of the Haute Fabulissimo Order, Karen and Michelle Neita; Confectioner Extraordinaire Vilya Thomas; Jeanette Campbell; one-time top-flight Financial Journalist Al Edwards, squiring his two beautiful young daughters out for a day of artistic and creative endeavours; the absolutely beautiful Romi Toyloy and her son, head-turner Zurich Hentley; Inhouse Artist Conroy Green and his companion, Pierre Sobers; and several others, and we have a few Shots, to prove it!