Of late, some of my most enjoyed design work has been for the caribbean contemporary arts publication, ARC Magazine.
They're a publication that impresses me over and over with the calibre of artists they feature. Artists I would have never known about otherwise. Remarkable artists like Blue Curry (Bahamas), Christopher Cozier (Trinidad & Tobago), Robin Clare (Jamaica/Australia), Sharon Moise (St. Lucia), Sheena Rose (Barbados), John Cox and so many more unique conceptual thinkers and creators.
As impressive perhaps is the magazine itself which has amassed nearly 43,000 fans on Facebook. A platform that seems to serve this region's communication needs quite effectively — many of the artists also a part of this growing network.
Contemporary Arts in Trinidad
A small case study — Trinidad has no government policies for the development of contemporary art. Generally, much of our cultural existence it feels, still remains the same as it was in the 60s — nationalistic and hopeful.
TT is a small and mercenary society where -- unlike some other Caribbean territories -- official culture institutions are weak, there is no tradition of private philanthropy, and no wealthy expat/tourist population to support the arts.
A small number of artists and teachers, however, defy the trend by pushing for a broader view and bringing the contemporary art world to our islands — underneath it all.
Alice Yard, which writer/editor Nicholas Laughlin co-founded with artist Christopher Cozier and architect Sean Leonard, is one such example. Others in the Caribbean include Fresh Milk (Barbados), Groundation Grenada (Grenada), NLS (Jamaica) and Popop Studio (Bahamas).
Labeled as informal spaces, these impromptu places for art talk, workshops, and exchange, nurture budding talent through regional and global collaboration and the development of curatorial practice, as well as challenging and offering opportunities to young artists, after graduating, who are often teachers by day, due to the difficult and expensive nature of keeping a studio and making a living as an independent artist in the Caribbean.
These art spaces, most importantly, are starting to fill a huge cultural gap. Writer Mieke Kooistra describes this gap in his essay about art in Sri Lanka, which applies similarly to Trinidad:
The huge cultural gap between the Westernized elite and the Sinhalese-speaking majority perpetuates a strange marriage of arrogance and parochialism. While the former holds dual passports that opens doors to foreign universities, the latter enters the local schools; their disadvantage deepens through the fact they do not speak a globally understood language, have never traveled and are likely to be taught by teachers who are employed for their seniority rather than their skill.
—Mieke Kooistra (ArtAsiaPacific, 2011)
At Alice Yard, these worlds seem to merge, and gratefully so. My last Douen Islands project showed me how crucial the sometimes enigmatic Alice Yard is to the creative community, bridging writers and visual artists alongside musicians, academics, some who 'eat ah food' some unemployed, and other gainfully. As crucial as pan yards and Savannah spaces. These spaces are all microcosms of our diversity, where people meet and find connection through shared interest and not loss. Alice Yard's open and tolerant vision and a willingness to take creative risks pushes the arts and society forward, in spite of any local hoopla — intersecting with ARC Magazine, quite serendipitously.
Back at ARC Magazine
My first paid gig when I moved home to Trinidad in 2012, was with Fresh Milk. They had put a call out for a graphic designer via ARC's Facebook page, and I happily responded. This was while I was still in New York.
Before returning home, I paid a visit to the International Centre of Photography, and purchased all the remaining issues of ARC Magazine, which were on sale and the cashier very encouraging. My 5-hour flight home opened my eyes to artists like Radcliffe Roye (Jamaica/USA), Florine Demosthene (Haiti), Robert Charlotte (Martinique), Simone Padmore (Barbados), Olivia McGilchrist (Jamaica), so many...
This week, ARC made the sad announcement that they will be temporarily suspending their PRINTED editions due to challenges around funding. As is the case with so many print magazines in this digital age.
The community however is alive and kicking, and ARC Magazine grows stronger everyday with every Alice Yard and Fresh Milk and graduating art student. Derek Walcott once said:
This region is already, but is going to become increasingly phenomenal in terms of its output. Somebody is going to take into account the presence of Hindi...all of the other different dialects that are there. The West Indian genius is still too small. It is not complex enough. You don’t know anything about Indian epic. You should, I should. You don’t know anything about Chinese epic. But that’s what you have. That’s your heritage. So your heritage is immense. It is immense. And it’s incomparable because of the variety of what your sources are...
ARC Magazine seems poised and up early, ready for the morning catch. Thank you Mr. Walcott. Thank you ARC.