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Caribbean arts conference seeks sustainability, connectivity

Published: 
Sunday, March 8, 2015
Participants at the conference Tilting Axis, held in Barbados from February 27-28. Photo courtesy Sammy Davis/Tilting Axis

The visual arts conference Tilting Axis: Within and Beyond the Caribbean—Shifting Models of Sustainability and Connectivity, was held in Barbados last weekend and was dedicated to forging infrastructure between several independent art organisations and museums operating across the Caribbean, US, EU, UK and China. The conference organisers, in a press release described it as “a game-changing development for sustainable economic development in regional visual art.” 

The two-day conference took place February 27- 28, bringing together the diverse leaders of these visual art development organisations to negotiate strategic regional and international alliances for the formalisation and further development of infrastructure, production and markets for Caribbean art.

The conference was organised by the Fresh Milk Art Platform Inc, where the event was held, in collaboration with ARC Magazine, Res Artis and the Pèrez Art Museum, Miami. Tilting Axis was supported by the Prince Claus Fund, the British Council and the Davidoff Art Initiative. 

Among the more than 30 invited participants were Annalee Davis, founding director of the Fresh Milk Art Platform (Barbados); Holly Bynoe, co-founder and editor-in-chief of ARC Magazine (St Vincent and the Grenadines); David Codling, director arts, Americas, British Council (Colombia); Deborah Anzinger, artist and director of Kingston-based visual art initiative NLS (Jamaica); Nicholas Laughlin, co-founder of T&T-based backyard space, Alice Yard (T&T); Malaika Brooks-Smith-Lowe, co-founder and director of Groundation Grenada; Marsha Pearce, senior editor of ARC Magazine and Sunday Arts Section writer (T&T); Joscelyn Gardner, artist (Barbados); and Versia Harris, Artist and Fresh Milk volunteer (Barbados).

According to co-organisers Holly Bynoe and Annalee Davis, the conference seeks to create opportunities for visual artists living in the Caribbean and provide professional and economic development in the region through formal collaborations between key art organisations and foundations across the Caribbean and beyond. The conference also aims to build and redefine relationships around cultural exchange between the Global North and the Global South.

“It is not just about contemporary art. One of the tasks we have undertaken at the Pèrez Art Museum Miami is the building of Caribbean art histories in the consciousness of the American public. We see the Pèrez Art Museum as strategically placed to undertake this,” said Tobias Ostrander, chief curator of the Pèrez Art Museum Miami. 

From the conference, a strategic action plan for continued collaboration was developed after a reflection on the two-day discussion. 

“In creating markets for contemporary art in the Caribbean, we are developing the ecosystem and all the underlying components that drive that market: the environment for artists to make great work; art writers, researchers and funders to help make that work accessible to the public; international museums and galleries to show the work; advisors and dealers to get the work placed in collections. 

“Shared programming, exchanges, and educational initiatives developed between the institutions present addressed these key components,” said Deborah Anzinger.

One of the mandates issued to the participants of the Tilting Axis conference is to tighten strategic networks in their home countries. The organisers of the conference also expect to expand the invited participant list for the next meeting which will take place in 2016. 

“Many of us working in the region have been speaking with one another, in some cases for many years, but today is the first time that artist-led initiatives have come together from the Dutch, Spanish, French and English territories to meet physically in the Caribbean,” said Annalee Davis in her welcome address.

“It is critical that this gathering is taking place on Caribbean soil, and that we consider the visual arts sector from within the archipelago as a counterpoint to the many decisions that have been and are often made about the region externally.” 

Mario A Caro, president of Res Artis of Amsterdam, expressed his enthusiasm for the collaborations to be developed between members of Res Artis, a worldwide network of art residencies, and organisations in the Caribbean. “It is clear that the cultural sector in the Caribbean is undergoing exciting and, at times, dynamic changes, and many of these have to do with relationships being established with new partners around the globe. The increase in the mobility of artists through art residencies, both into and out of the region, is one critical factor.” 

Holly Bynoe said, “The meeting of professionals who are actively engaging and challenging collaborative strategies acknowledges the changes rippling across the Caribbean, and reaffirms the critical value of innovative emerging networks. 

“As more eyes are turning to look at this space, we need to be cognisant of what they are seeing, and consider how and what we want them to experience. Tilting Axis aspires to become a conduit; supporting the professionalisation of artists and formalising engagements, leading to greater visibility and accessibility of contemporary Caribbean art."

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