Oniel's affair of the art

Oniel's affair of the art

Observer senior writer

Monday, September 24, 2018

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It has been almost 20 years since Oniel Cunningham and a business partner came up with the idea for a fine arts festival in their hometown of Montego Bay. That festival would help expose local and Caribbean talent.

Through a recently launched company, Caribbean Community Society Limited, they will stage the CARICS International Fine Arts Festival in March at Montego Bay Convention Centre.

Cunningham said an itinerary for the event is still being finalised but its concept will be similar to Art Basel, the annual exhibition held in Switzerland, Hong Kong and Miami, where budding artists get an opportunity to rub shoulders with owners of leading galleries.

“Myself and a business partner were looking for avenues to expose and develop talents of youths within the marginalised communities. We quickly realised that there was a lack of major, fine art-based events to provide exposure to both the artists as well as the wider population,” Cunningham told the Jamaica Observer. “There was the sad misconception that our population was not discerning or appreciative of fine arts. Having been to Art Basel I thought it prudent to have a local show, as the Jamaican art scene, though possessing talent, lacked vibrancy and major growth.”

The event in March is a lead-up to a more comprehensive festival Cunningham and his partners have earmarked for Spring 2020. Currently they are seeking title sponsors, and pitching their product to the Diaspora and Caribbean.

Though it has produced a number of celebrated artisans like Edna Manley, Cecil Baugh, Barrington Watson and Albert Huie, Jamaica's art community has never had an international forum to showcase its that talent. In recent years, exhibitions at local galleries have declined considerably.

Cunningham describes himself as “a businessman, with my background in architecture and construction project management”. Long fascinated by art, he has immersed himself in the Montego Bay fine arts circle, which he has reached out to for support in making CARICS International Fine Arts Festival a reality and a long-term venture.

“Other than being an art enthusiast, I have no background in the arts. However, I have team curators, artists and consultants with whom I am working to develop and fine-tune the product,” he said.

In his early 40s, Cunningham is from Salt Spring, one of several communities in Montego Bay scarred by decades of violence. Music has provided a better life for several youths in these areas, and he is confident art can do the same.

“The arts has a major role to play in society. Many marginalised youths are very skilled and talented and most times do not have the avenues and opportunities to develop themselves and earn from what they naturally possess,” he said.

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