THE Paint the City project will continue across communities in downtown Kingston this year to colour graffiti-stained walls and pump life into glum and despondent areas in an effort to transform the city.
The Kingston and St Andrew Municipal Corporation (KSAMC) has said that both the municipality and interested non-governmental organisations (NGOs) will collaborate to bring this vision to fruition.
“The feedback, based on works done along Water Lane, has been encouraging. The decorative bricks and the pedestrianisation of the area has really transformed the space and welcomed more creatives and residents to visit and interact with the murals and is doing so, with our culture and history through art,” KSAMC CEO Robert Hill told the Jamaica Observer in an interview.
Ten murals have thus far been completed on Water Lane by local artists, with sponsorship provided by the Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF) and Sherwin Williams Paints Ltd.
“The Paint the City project will include other murals in communities downtown. Several councillors and MPs (Members of Parliament) will also have other mural projects downtown in this year. Likewise, we have received letters indicating that NGOs and private sector interests will be undertaking their own projects across the city to support the municipality's efforts,” added Hill.
Further, many residents have found favour in this collective push to beautify and transform the capital city, which has somewhat descended into decay over the years. Ronald Butte, 64, a fruit vendor on Temple Lane across from Water Lane, told the Observer that the work done on Water Lane has pumped life into his business.
“It's good for business. They need to do more of these paintings in more Kingston communities. It needed! It makes a vast improvement. I see a lot of people who mi never see before. Them come here and take pictures and some stop and buy drinks or fruits. Not all of them, but majority support the cause,” he said.
Butte has been selling on Temple Lane for 20 years, and said this is his first time seeing such a prolonged interest in the development of the area.
“It's the first time I am seeing something like this downtown in all my years. I would hope any other development give the place a more positive vibe so more people nuh fraid fi come 'Town'. My only problem is that downtown needs to go beyond office hours. After officer hours, these lanes dead,” he said, noting that he hopes some of the abandoned buildings will also be repurposed.
“Some of the old buildings [here need to be] reopened. Get them modernise and have businesses going inside them.”
Hill said Butte will definitely see more of such in the near future.
“There has been increasing interest in property downtown in recent years. This will continue and we expect to see even greater infrastructure investment in the coming years. The redevelopment work, including the murals, will continue to draw persons towards downtown and in doing so, attract more investments and opportunities,” he related.
A 62-year-old man, who gave his name only as Barry, agreed that the project has been a breath of fresh air in his neighbourhood.
“It's a positive look. It bring some positivity. These areas are bad areas. Dem lane here private and quiet… a mostly thief run through dem lane yah. The paintings bright up the place and uplift the place,” said the Mark Lane resident.
“But we want much more than that still. Yuh caa just paint up the place and the yute dem hungry and nuh have no future. We want something fi the yute dem. Give dem something fi dem can hold on pon and feel like somebody know dem, respect dem and a look out fi dem. If you look in the lanes, you see a whole heap of yute just sit down and a look,” he reasoned.
Barry spent 23 years in prison after being involved in a life of crime, he said. While he appreciates the beautification of the city, it's his hope that it doesn't stop there.
“A board house mi live ina pon Mark Lane. That is a next thing weh wi wah fi improve. I was a bad yute when mi young. Mi go prison fi 23 years and come back out now pon parole. So mi want something better fi come fi dem yute here. Mi nuh want dem fi walk ina my same shoes. Mi waste mi young years. Right now, mi work pon a rubbish truck and the pay caa do nothing for me, but mi nuh wah go back a prison.
“Some of them nuh really want nothing. But the Government haffi carry it to them. The yute dem weh a war one another pon one lane… tek dem an carry dem go HEART. Put them pon some work site. Teach them trades suh dem feel a part a di system. Teach them how fi paint and mek dem paint up some of the walls same place down here too,” he lamented.
Meanwhile, Michelle Stewart, 55, is mesmerised by the art work, time and time again.
“I really like it. They are highlighting many realities. I saw one with a female who was raped and I had to stop and read it. It was just there in the little corner on the wall. There is one right here on Mark Lane that says 'hope peace and joy' and I always want to take a picture beside it but I can't do it myself,” Stewart said.
“Each of the pieces reflects some detailed reality. Mi really like it. They should do more of these artwork across Kingston. You have people that drive through the area and come and take pictures. And when you see people posting pictures on Facebook, it looks so good. It's very beautiful,” she continued.
But like Barry, she hopes the development plans tackle issues plaguing the area, like crime, violence and negativity.
“You still don't get a large crowd because of the stigma. Because you come out to take picture with your phone and by the time yuh look somebody will grab yuh phone and drive off pon a bike. Right now, I want to leave. I can't take this for my 14-year-old son. Too much violence. I don't know if all of this can change the communities, because most of the yutes grow with hurt. Some lost their parents, family and friends. It's a mindset.”
Bert Hunter, who traverses downtown frequently, said the municipality should move to secure the areas after the work is completed.
“It is nice. It's showing a bit of cleanliness and upliftment in the area. It's a good sight, but they need to do something about the man dem who a do it [defecate] on the roadside. A dat mi nuh like. Dem haffi get some security or cameras and do something about that if they want this good appearance to keep up. There's nobody here to secure it,” Hunter said.
Kingston Creative, a non-profit arts organisation, is largely responsible for the artwork completed thus far.
“Our vision is that Kingston is a creative city. Our mission is to enable Caribbean creatives to succeed, so that they can create economic and social value, gain access to global markets and have a positive impact on their local communities. We believe in collaboration and work with a public-private and third sector partnership, a team of organisations that are committed to empowering creative people and transforming downtown Kingston.”
In the meantime, Hill said that there are now other creatives on board.
“The Ministry of Culture is a major partner in the mural work being done across the city. Several other corporate bodies and NGOs have joined with murals for differing causes. We have local and international artists painting within the Kulture Kay space as well as students of our very own Edna Manley College, as well as self-taught persons. It's a very unique mixture of skill, creativity and talent, much like our people,” he said.