Kingston has a tourist problem. Well, the problem is that the city doesn’t actually have any tourists, thanks to the violence afflicting its inner city communities and a lack of promotion. Yet one of these communities is gradually attracting hundreds of curious visitors based upon the work by a group of artists who got together to help transform the visual environment and brighten the lives of residents.
Fleet Street, and particularly its large abandoned warehouse, is where Paint Jamaica’s has concentrated since launching in 2014. Holy Family Primary School must be the best-painted building in the country, while the Life Yard vegetarian restaurant is also on the street.
Now the collective, led by self-described French traveler Marianna Farag, is rolling out a new push to continue beautifying the community, a few pots of paint at a time (thanks Berger Paints). Monthly a new mural will be released and all of us can jump in a car, drive downtown and take a look. Marianna:
We’re going to stick to Fleet Street because that is the heart & soul of the project and where the community has so gratefully opened their walls to us. We started something magical on that street and we want to start working outwards from it and be real creative with the space. For the first month of May we are working with an incredible set of artists: the one & only Taj Francis and the phenomenal Mark Samuels and Samantha Hay who will work on a collaboration together.
It has literally become one of the largest street art spaces in the Caribbean – if not THE largest. What was once a marginalised community has now attracted over 200 visitors from 30+ countries. It has shed light on the community and triggered a positive curiosity. It has showed that beauty can also be found in downtown Kingston and that was exactly our purpose: uplift through art. There has largely been very good reception to the project and we know the community wants to see more, so we’re keeping our promise!
Paint Jamaica has initiated community tourism and it always feels surreal to go down to Fleet St now and see foreigners and locals alike get curious about the neighbourhood. I remember when we first spent time on Fleet St no one really knew of it and few dared to explore.
Last time I was there I came across a foreigner who spent 3 weeks volunteering with the incredible Life Yard family. It’s also surreal to see things in the press and reading that some tourists think Fleet St is the “best thing to see in Jamaica”. Can you imagine?!?!
We will continue to work with our extended family: Life Yard. Many of us continue to go down to Fleet St on a regular basis and the community knows us. But the big thanks really goes to Life Yard for trusting us and helping us. We are going to also try to get local artists and continue to get the children involved in the painting process.
At the end of the day this project is about believing in one another and empowerment. If you have a good idea and even more so one that can bring positive change, by all means go ahead and do it. We are capable of so much more then we think.
What society dubs “inner city communities” has resulted in a negative stigmatisation, but if you are able to go beyond the labels you are in for a wonderful life-changing surprise.