Kingston Creative Reimagines The City As A Creative Hub

The hustle and bustle of Kingston’s streets are made centrestage with Kingston Creative . Less than a year old and their events have already had a massively positive influence. The Kingston Creative is a monthly showcase of various artists, designers, creatives and sites within the city.

It’s co-founder, Andrea Dempster-Chung, is a Scottish-born entrepreneur of Jamaican descent whose started many business, including Bookophilia. Her colourful experience in the corporate realm afford her to hold executive roles at Digicel and GraceKennedy leading on HR, strategy and organizational development.

Dempster-Chung is now channelling her energy to ensure that Kingston Creative shows Jamaicans the beauty in their own backyard, or should I say, sidewalk. BASHY spoke with Dempster-Chung over email about how the initiative reimagines Kingston and amplifies creatives.

BASHY: What is Kingston Creative and how was it conceived?

Andrea Dempster-Chung: I travel quite a lot. I observed how other countries leverage their cultural assets to provide jobs, a unique tourism product and economic growth. Some of these cities and towns have absolutely nothing in comparison to the creative talent and assets of Kingston, but they are excellent at leveraging whatever little they do have - be it some ruins, history or a creative product, like glass-blowing, a regional dance, food, leatherwork, sometimes just a single flower like lavender - an entire economy is structured around it and their people benefit as a result. I felt strongly that if enough people share the vision, Kingston could be transformed through its powerful culture, the history and the creative talent of our people.

The project came together in February 2017 and I immediately reached out to Allan Daisley and Jennifer Bailey, two friends from university days at Georgia Tech in Atlanta.  They are both from the Caribbean and are passionate about innovation, entrepreneurship and the creative Industries. We became co-founders of Kingston Creative and here we are!

How was the idea for the walk conceived?

Literally on the back of a napkin in F&B Downtown! I was meeting up with Rozi Chung from Studio 174 and Ueli Bangerter from F&B to discuss the Kingston Creative concept, and they both expressed that they had wanted to do something to promote the arts in downtown for a long time. Having been on an Artwalk a few years ago with my brother Robert in the Design District in Miami, I thought that it would be a great event to bring people out to both locations. Ueli and Rozi were on board and the Kingston Creative Artwalk was born.

What kind of ideas are you aiming to disrupt with your initiative?

I don't know if I would say that Kingston Creative as an overall concept is disruptive. I think supporting creative people to showcase and earn, stimulating the economy, providing employment and making downtown into a safe, beautiful place that people feel proud to live in and would want to visit is a pretty widely accepted goal for all Jamaicans. There certainly hasn't been any opposition to these goals from private sector, government, NGO's or individual citizens.

The most "disruptive" thing that is happening is the repositioning of downtown as a "place to be", a part of the city that is alive after five - and this is being accomplished by everyone sharing their experiences digitally.

Having worked downtown for years, thrown parties there, participated in 5k Night Runs through the streets of downtown (shoutout to Digicel), I really don't have an ingrained fear of downtown. If we can transform the stigma that surrounds downtown and its residents, that will really be a game-changer.

 Photo provided by subject

Photo provided by subject

How frequently will the walks occur?

The Artwalk is just one of our art events. Currently we have three: the Artwalk, the Meetup and the Market St. We started the movement by launching events that would happen in an art district anywhere in the world and that bring people in - to get everyone thinking about the possibilities, really seeing and experiencing downtown as an art, entertainment and culture centre.

The events are monthly to start with but we hope that it will inspire others to host similar cultural events (night markets, Live music concerts, parties) so that eventually it wont just be that downtown is alive on the last weekend of the month, but you will have events happening every week.

What are some positive comments you've heard about the event?

The most powerful reactions were more than words - I have seen people actually moved to tears several times over the past seven months. Sometimes it’s people moved to tears by the power of the art performances themselves. Other times it’s the artist working away in a stigmatized community, who really doesn't believe that people will believe, and then they come and show all this love and support for what you are doing and it’s validating, but just overwhelming for them. Just showing up and visiting can mean so much. The experience of walking freely, without fear on the streets of downtown is also something that people love and you can see it on their faces.

What are your long term goals for this project?

The overarching goal is a tangible one: we will develop an art district and a creative entrepreneur hub within five to ten years. We want to support the effort to reposition Jamaica as a place that is actively investing in and developing its creative economy. We want to help to turn downtown Kingston into a focal point for arts tourism, thereby increasing local and visitor traffic to the capital and catalyzing growth in complementary areas including production, services, commerce and entertainment.

We want to nurture artists and creative entrepreneurs, build community and collaborate with others in a creative space. We want to help artists, artisans, creatives and entrepreneurs to develop their practice and showcase their work in a sustainable way. We also want to support creative entrepreneurs in starting up, incubating and building successful businesses with the potential to ‘go global’ and plan to do this through the hub. We want to regenerate the urban environment of downtown Kingston, using art to improve the space and engaging the community so that they can leverage their innate creativity, be a part of the creative development of downtown and build profitable businesses.

 Photo provided by subject

Photo provided by subject

How can people get involved?

At this point we need organizations to come on board and support what Kingston Creative is doing, and we are looking for both corporate and multilateral support to make the movement sustainable over the long haul. It will be interesting to see where the support for Downtown and for our creative talent really lies.

At an individual level, people can get involved by simply attending an event, by telling a friend and retweeting, liking and sharing on social media, or by registering as a volunteer.

How does something like the Kingston Creative Walk empower Kingstonians?

A movement like Kingston Creative empowers not just Kingstonians but all Jamaicans, by changing the narrative of crime, violence, ghettos and guns that exists. It empowers by documenting and valuing our creative talent and leveraging our under-utilized assets like the people, the waterfront, the Ward Theatre the National Gallery and our museums on East Street.

Kingston Creative also plans to empower creatives by providing practical business opportunities for training and development in the creative entrepreneur hub; to be employed as community tourism guides, to sell in the market, to be employed on creative projects like painting murals, and to start up their own complementary service businesses to benefit from the tourism industry that springs up around an art district. So there is economic empowerment but even more important to us is the social empowerment as Kingston Creative aims to consciously bridge the divide and remove the stigma around downtown, making it a cool place to go for entertainment art and cultural experiences. This rebranding of our capital city has benefits for the entire country.

What long lasting impact are you hoping to have?

The legacy of Kingston Creative is that all of us will have come together in unity and created a cultural change in our country. A movement like this not only strengthens the creative industry but encourages a different way of thinking and an appreciation of the creative talent that is authentically and undeniably Jamaican.

On a physical level, just in terms of the infrastructure of downtown, this would be a complete transformation in the look, feel, safety, visitor numbers and commerce. Hopefully other cities and towns—I'm thinking Falmouth, Black River, Treasure Beach—would follow suit and leverage their cultural assets (people, place and history) to stimulate the economy in their areas too.

This means that the next generation will have two things that they currently do not have: more opportunities to make a living from their creative talent and also a beautiful, clean, thriving capital city that they can walk in, day or night, that is synonymous around the globe for art and culture. Perhaps the day will come when people will be proud to say, I come from Trench Town, I come from Rae Town, I come from South Side, I come from Jones Town or I come from Tivoli Gardens. That would be enough for me.


Join the next Kingston Creative Walk this Friday, October 26th.
Details can be found on the flyers below.

This interview has been transcribed and edited for clarity.

A wise woman once said, "Man ah di least ah mi problem", and I felt that.