CATAPULT Connects Artists Across 25 Caribbean countries

Here is news from the CATAPULT Caribbean Arts Grant program launched by Kingston Creative and Fresh Milk.  Note that a closing event, “Meet the artists of CATAPULT,” is planned for December 14 at 6:00pm AST, 5:00pm EST. This will be livestreamed on the Kingston Creative YouTube channel and will culminate a day of activities where the awardees themselves will take to social media to network, share their CATAPULT journey and creations. 

For the creatives who were a part of the US$320,000 CATAPULT Caribbean Arts Grant programme, the experience has proven to be a silver lining in what for many has been a bleak year. The emergency COVID-relief response launched by Kingston Creative and Fresh Milk, with financing through American Friends of Jamaica, had the Caribbean creative at the centre. 

CATAPULT has not only delivered a financial benefit but has also had the effect of increasing the visibility of the artists, created websites that improved their ability to earn online and deepened the connections between the creatives of the region, who are often neglected and overlooked.

“That this platform and collaborative entities would choose to give creatives an opportunity, the encouragement and a small safe space in a corner of this new virtual world to challenge ourselves to continue to make art even/especially in this uncertain time of global reckoning, is a revolutionary act in itself,” commented Abeo Jackson, Acting Coach, Trinidad & Tobago.

Amina Blackwood Meeks, OD, noted Jamaican storyteller, arts educator and author, won two grants and commented, “The grant has facilitated the partial documentation of my development as a storyteller and represents an important resource in my teaching materials as well as adding value to the promotion of my work. “

Richard-Viktor Sansily Cayol from Guadeloupe said, “I am convinced that we have a lot in common to share and innovative things to offer everyone, artists, critics and curators, in order to grow together and build a true community united around a strong and distinguished identity in the very hermetic and too elitist world art environment. Our cultures and resources are powerful, and inspire a great deal of cultural and economic activity without us being mentioned and valued. It is up to us to take charge of this problem ourselves through strong artistic initiatives. It is in this sense that I understood the full meaning of CATAPULT.”

The grant was also inclusive, offering a space for artists who comment on human rights issues, climate justice and LGBTQ issues.  Emani Edwards, whose work was recently featured in Ireland at an international Arts Festival commented, “As LGBT people living in Jamaica, we are often forced out of spaces simply because of who we are or how we identify. Within the spaces we create for ourselves, we have learned one thing…to always be creative. Jamaican LGBT Creatives are breaking barriers in style and fashion, and when it comes to visibility and activism, our community must be included.”

When the project closes at the end of the year, it is expected that 235 awardees will have received grants ranging in value from US$300 to US$3,000. In a year where earnings have fallen significantly across the region, monetary interventions of all sizes have been important. As acting coach Abeo Jackson stated, “It was not about the size of the grant, but rather the impetus to create. To see it through from concept, to page, to rehearsal/workshop, to screen. It was an opportunity to issue a rallying call to other creatives to collaborate, to tell an important story.” 

More importantly however, the project worked to increase the future earning potential of the creatives. Through 24 free online training events, delivered in four languages, 1,568 attendees benefitted from experts in the areas of digital marketing, intellectual property, project management, money management, and e-commerce. The feedback to these courses has been overwhelmingly positive with 96% of attendees rating the workshops favourably and 88% intending to implement what they learned. 

Another intervention conceptualised to improve the earning potential of the grantees was the creation of 37 digital solutions including websites, online stores, and/or social media strategies, all designed to directly impact on the marketing and selling efforts of Caribbean creatives, and some have already reported sales coming through their new sites. So far, creatives have generated over 80 online events, 41 magazine feature submissions and 48 blog posts. A new CATAPULT website is also being specially created to provide a special home to show off this display of Caribbean creativity. Part of the rationale behind the tech training and encouraging the creation of digital content was to help shift the mindset of the artist to embrace fully the new realities of a post-covid world.  Important too was the desire to increase the visibility of the artists, showing off their work and creativity, potentially leading to connections with markets and buyers locally, regionally, and across the globe.

Fostering the connections across the borders is important but the artists have expressed how important it has been for them to make connections among themselves. As Sonja Dumas of Trinidad and Tobabo expressed, “I felt quite honoured to be recognized for my work, and I’m especially glad that it was in a pan-Caribbean milieu. It was an opportunity for my work and the ideas behind the work to find new breathing space among fellow practicing artists in the region.” She further stated, “I’ve felt a greater connection to Caribbean artists, even if I don’t know them… People from around the region sent questions and comments, and that thread of awareness and connectivity was a very satisfying one. Hearing about the work and process of other artists was also tremendously enriching.” [. . .]

The CATAPULT project team has been thrilled to hear the response from the grantees.  Andrea Dempster Chung, Executive Director of Kingston Creative stated, “It was hard work to mobilise in such a short space of time across 34 countries, but the need is so great, and protecting our Caribbean artists and culture is so important, that it was completely worth it.  It is our hope that this programme is something that we will be able to replicate in the future”.

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