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An Artistic Oasis Grows in the City: Plant Jamaica and Paint Jamaica

Paint Jamaica

“You know where Fleet Street is?” we call to the driver in the car sitting beside us at the stoplight. My friend and I are trying to make it down to the Plant Jamaica and Paint Jamaica projects down in South Side, Kingston. But like true Jamaicans, the people in the car beside us are as clueless about the networks of Streets other than the major ones. Our second attempt at getting directions proved more fruitful, as the kind Rasta man on the corner gave us directions in true Jamaican faction, pointing out each of he roads we should not take. 

It worked. A few minutes late we had arrived on Fleet Street and the shell of a warehouse that was being converted into an artistic oasis in the heart of the city. The Paint Jamaica project, spearheaded by Mariana Farag is well underway and the former derelict warehouse no longer looks defeated by time and decay. It now sports bright engaging murals aimed at inspiration. As we enter the archway, a group of children are engaged in playing scrimmage football while volunteers paint and string bottles. 

Paint Jamaica hopes that the space will serve the multiple purposes of inspiring the community through the artistic transformation, provide a space where they can engage in recreational activities and also because an event space. Interestingly, the Paint Jamaica project did a little more, spawning another activity plant Jamaica.

Volunteers in the Plant Jamaica project preparing bedsAndrew Bruce, who spawned the idea for Plant Jamaica, the surrogate sister of Paint Jamaica, explains that he got the idea while having lunch over at Life Yard, a cook shop across the road from the warehouse. He says that while they were having lunch there, on seeing the expanse of land behind the shop the idea for providing the cook shop with cafe style seating and expanding the crops planted in the backyard germinated.

“What we’re trying to do is create avenues and opportunities for the left brain thinkers,” Bruce explained. “The good thing about it is that it doesn’t cost much.”These volunteers work out how to build a bench to transform the seating

The Plant Jamaica project got underway this weekend (August 16, 17) with volunteers coming down to continue the painting as well as get the planting started. Bruce explains that the project could also use more skilled volunteers, noting that architects and engineers would be particularly useful.

In a move that allows the ‘plant Jamaica’ idea to expand well beyond the boundaries of Life Yard, volunteers will be given a box of seeds so that they can do their own planting. 

While we were at the venue on Saturday, a bed of vegetables had already been planted, and although it was lunch time, some volunteers continued to work while others took a break.

Andrea Davis, points to the potential impact of the Paint and Plant Jamaica projects. She explains that to a degree it follows the Art Basel model of transforming derelict spaces into art havens. 

While the warehouse is still far from reaching there, the potential is evident. According to Matthew McCarthy, one of the Paint Jamaica Project, the community particularly worked because it combined a group of artists who had wanted to do projects such as this one.

"It's really just like energies syncing up," McCarthy said. He explained that while they worked they the artists engaged in multiple conversations which the community which has been heavily involved in and influenced the execution. 

“It has really revolutionized this derelict space,” Davis says. “It’s a place of beauty from which to do everything from ride a bike to play ball,” she continued.

Both Bruce and Davis are agreed that Paint Jamaica and Plant Jamaica have economic potential.

“It can allow for the evolution of an economy within the community that is sustainable,” Davis says.

Paint Jamaica hopes to transform many spaces in the cityOf course, along with the volunteers, Plant Jamaica also needs funds, which are being crowd sourced. Bruce explains that when he realized that Paint Jamaica had raised the funds they needed through crowd funding he immediately knew it was the way to go, particularly as it meant not relying on either government and the private sector.

Their Crowd Rising page is aiming to raise US$1,000 which along with donations in time and kind should be enough to complete the project.

Bruce explains that the intention is not to stop at this single site in Kingston, but rather to replicate it across the city scape providing spaces that combine opportunities for agriculture, art and education.