COVID-19 Arts grant supports creatives in 25 Caribbean countries

In early August, three non-profit organisations launched a new USD $320,000 COVID-19 emergency relief programme targeting artists, creatives and cultural practitioners across the Caribbean. This pioneering pan-Caribbean NGO partnership was led by the American Friends of Jamaica (AFJ), Kingston Creative and Fresh Milk, located in New York, Kingston and Bridgetown.

The programme was entitled ‘ CATAPULT ‘, and indeed it has served to propel creatives in the region forward.

Many creatives in the region, whether in the form of visual art, dance, music, writing, film, crafts or theatre have been affected severely by COVID-19. There is a real struggle to operate outside of the normal theatre spaces or to sell artwork when the busy local festivals have been halted by the pandemic that drove people across the globe into lockdown. The harsh truth is that for many creatives in small island developing states, this is their only way to make a living. Once their income is affected, it is not too long after that the economic realities and the mental health impacts also kick in.

The CATAPULT programme offers support, through six different areas where creatives can either receive cash or acquire key skills; including consultancy vouchers to build 40 e-commerce stores, digital training for creatives, grants to enable 100 artists to gain visibility online, a showcase of 40 Caribbean artists, 32 live discussions and 24 artist residencies. All of these options offered support in the form of US dollar cash stipends, vouchers for business services or free training. CATAPULT also has a wide geographical and linguistic reach as the awardees hail from 25 different countries and speak English, Spanish, Dutch and French. The grant opportunities were: Digital Creative TrainingCaribbean Creative OnlineCaribbean Artist ShowcaseConsultancy VouchersLockdown Virtual SalonStay Home Artist Residency

The response to the initial open call for these six areas was overwhelming. The programme was oversubscribed by 71 percent as 405 applications were received for a possible 236 places. A total of 215 people received grants and an additional 960 people registered for the free digital creative training offered in IP, digital marketing, e-commerce and accounting bringing the total number of beneficiaries to 1,175 and rising. Training is offered in multiple languages and workshops extend through November 2020.

Creatives across the Caribbean can still register for future digital creative workshops using the link: bit.ly/catapult-workshop .

It bears repeating that culture matters and post-COVID, the skills of collaboration and understanding how to successfully navigate the digital space are key to achieving success in this ‘new normal’. The Catapult Caribbean Arts Grant nurtures creatives whose work, income and ability to create has been adversely impacted by the pandemic and reaches creatives who have not received any form of COVID-19 relief from any other sources. Some COVID emergency support is directed only to registered businesses, which excludes many practitioners who may be very talented and successful but operate in an informal manner.

This grant bridges the gap and while compensating awardees for their work, the grant also encourages the creation and online dissemination of work that highlights issues related to culture, human rights, gender, LGBTQIA+, and climate justice which are critical themes for the Caribbean.

The public can now look forward to meeting creatives whose work will be shown online on the online platforms of AFJ, Kingston Creative and Fresh Milk. One of the primary goals that the partners set out to accomplish, was to nurture and encourage creatives affected by COVID-19, reigniting the dreams and hopes of artists and artisans by giving them a grant to produce work and a platform to showcase their work to a wide audience.

One awardee in the Lockdown Virtual Salons, Jonathan Arneman commented: ‘One of my goals in returning to the Caribbean last year was to delve deeper into the Caribbean art scene. I had plans for travel and collaboration and networking events, but all of those plans came to a halt due to the COVID-19 pandemic,’ he added, ‘being chosen for the CATAPULT LockDown Virtual Salon programme felt like a breath of fresh air because it allowed me to accomplish a goal I thought had been lost. It also made me feel seen. I know I should not need recognition of my work and my practice in order to feel validated but, the acceptance to the LVS Programme came in the midst of lots of rejection and the conversation left me feeling motivated and emboldened to continue to create.’

The programme also employs a number of arts professionals as jurors, critics and consultants to aid in executing the programme. One such art professional, Sara Shabaka commented, ‘I think the impact of these grants will be considerable, and we can expect to see a shift for the arts and our future here in the region. More artists might choose to stay in the Caribbean and create work out of the Caribbean, after understanding the global outreach and impact that digital connections can facilitate. As well, more funders might be inspired to provide grants to the creative sector, after seeing the output from the Catapult grants.’

She added, ‘It will definitely be an exciting time here and I anticipate a ripple effect across the art, design and architecture industries, with the realization of the need for more permanent museums, gallery spaces and arts centres. There are many artists from multiple disciplines, here in the region, who are working on amazing projects. Many of the proposals connect to heritage and culture, through performance, dance, as well as craft and tradition. The borders are blurred between disciplines which I find personally exciting. For example – Some of the proposals expressed fine artists (painters) seeking to make a performance art for (Caribbean Creatives Online) and the connections to craft and tradition, across many disciplines, is strong and relevant.’

Many artists have now received their grant funding and the remainder will do so by the end of November 2020. Those on the residency programme will be supported to safely remain in their studios and will receive a USD $3,000 stipend to produce work over two months. Works by these awardees and their new e-commerce websites will be shared on Instagram (@catapultartscarib), YouTube (Fresh Milk Barbados) and on the websites http://www.kingstoncreative.org/catapult and http://www.freshmilkbarbados.com.

An inadvertent benefit of the CATAPULT Caribbean Arts Grant is that it shines a spotlight on the amazing talent that exists in the Caribbean region and connects these artists in new ways. The public is invited to stay tuned as new creative talks, online performances, e-commerce sites and artworks are promised to be delivered online up to December 2020.

American Friends of Jamaica | The AFJ has a near 40-year history of funding charitable organizations in Jamaica in the fields of Education, Healthcare and Economic Development. A registered 501 (c) 3 non-profit headquartered in New York City, AFJ relies on individual and corporate contributions made by donors who believe in our work and will advocate on our behalf. Part of the AFJ’s mission is to facilitate donor-directed contributions which enables donors to support registered charitable organizations aligned with their own goals for philanthropy.

Kingston Creative is a registered non-profit arts organization founded in February 2017 and based in Kingston, Jamaica. Its mission is to enable creatives to succeed so that they can create economic and social value, gain access to global markets and have a positive impact on their community.

Fresh Milk is an organisation whose aim is to nurture, empower and connect Caribbean artists, raise regional awareness about contemporary arts and provide global opportunities for growth, excellence and success. Fresh Milk supports excellence in the visual arts through residencies and programmes that provide Caribbean artists with opportunities for development and foster a thriving art community.

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