Arts & Culture

Arts & Culture

By Rachael Barrett

Jamaica has long been known as a cultural powerhouse, a small island that’s cultural impact on the rest of the world through music, sport, food and island culture far outweighs its size. Whilst visitors come for the sun, sea, sand and reggae vibes, the visual and performing arts have also captured the attention of scholars and aesthetes who appreciate the island’s dance, theatre and visual art offerings ­­— from the formal stage in Kingston to studios on the coast. I often refer to Kingston as “the New York City of the Caribbean,” as most visitors don’t fully understand that this is a dynamic urban centre and not just the beachfront oasis they may have come to expect all of Jamaica to look like. Come take a turn through Jamaica’s current contemporary art scene to get a sense of what the Caribbean’s coolest creatives are up to.

Regarded as one of the best restaurants in Kingston for its Caribbean fusion menu and beautiful courtyard ambience, the stage at Redbones features a rotating roster of jazz and reggae musicians, dub poets, and an eclectic assemblage of internationally sourced entertainment with a Caribbean feel, whilst the small gallery at the front hosts a roving menu of exhibitions by local and visiting craftsmen and artists.

National Gallery of Jamaica
On the last Sunday of every month, the National Gallery of Jamaica (NGJ), the oldest national fine arts institution in the Caribbean located on the waterfront in downtown Kingston, remains open for extended hours and features special entertainment incorporating emerging musicians, free tours, dance and theatre performances, book launches and films. The NGJ remains a central point of access for visitors and locals to learn about Jamaica’s rich visual arts tradition from the permanent collection that chronicles the island’s visual arts history from colonial times to present day but also serves as an active source of educational programming and means of connecting with the broader Caribbean art community. According to Executive Director Veerle Poupeye, “Our blog and social media use has also increased our reach into the young adult population and has also allowed us to reach the Jamaican Diaspora more effectively, at least virtually.”

Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts
On the last Tuesday evening of every month, the Jamaica Poetry Society convenes at the amphitheatre at Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts in Kingston, highlighting a featured poet and allowing novices to step up to the open mic. An intimate experience well attended by heavy hitters within the local literary circles, the college also features a weekly Thursday lunchtime concert series featuring live music from their pool of the Caribbean’s hottest upcoming talent.

Contemporary Art Galleries and Private Auctions
Private auctions and exhibitions of artwork also pop up from time to time, but for seasoned collectors and novices looking to take a piece of local culture back with them, even local pros like private dealer and Caribbean art collector Susanne Fredricks note that there has been a shift in both the infrastructure for art in Jamaica as well as the market itself. “Commercial galleries have closed their doors or downsized…,” she states. “[However] sales of mainstream representational works are sustained, and the secondary market is still quite vibrant… Artists are increasingly faced with difficulty showing their work and, therefore, nurturing new buyers and collectors.”

Bearing in mind the landscape is tricky to navigate, a number of charities and foundations stage auctions of work throughout the year; and, in general, the newspapers and concierge at the hotel front desk are perhaps the best bets to check on what may be happening whilst you’re in town!

From time to time, dealers like Fredricks also stage pop-up exhibitions of work from contemporary artists. Spaces like the Hi-Qo Art & Framing Gallery and Decor VIII in Kingston, the Gallery of West Indian Art in Montego Bay, the Harmony Hall gallery in Ocho Rios and to the east the Portland Art Gallery in the old Port Antonio Railway Station are good places to look for burgeoning local talent.