KOTE ends but Artists Hope Support Will Continue Image

by Jordan Delahaye

The Kingston on the Edge (KOTE) Urban Art Festival is the largest showcase of its kind in the Caribbean. This year KOTE heralded nine days of creative exhibitions and celebrations all served under the overarching theme of ‘Balance’.

“We’re looking to understand the ways in which art can provide an outlet for often ignored voices, ideas and perspectives without which society couldn’t function,” the festival’s website reads.

Some of the issues addressed under this year’s theme include concerns surrounding gender inequality - a recurring hot topic in recent times as the feminist movement grows globally - and the underexposed matter of progress at the expense of the natural environment, which raises the important question: is it really progress?

Over 450 local and international visual and performing artists and the like from all over the world have participated in the annual showcase which transforms Kingston city into the art Mecca of the Caribbean. The festival ended on June 29th but artists and art enthusiast alike are hoping that the support and awareness that KOTE brings to the Jamaican arts-cape will be sustained. 

Many local artists relish the opportunity to exhibit their work in the festival as Jamaica’s creative sector is, for the most part, nestled in obscurity and support for these artists (especially the non-traditional ones) has dwindled over time to a niche audience. 

The Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts was a part of the festivities and its graduates were able to showcase their various crafts and talents to a receptive audience of potential clients and investors. This invaluable link to the “outside world” that KOTE offers for all of its participants is a part of the reason so many artists hold the festival in such high esteem.

Allison Sinclair, a Jamaican ceramic artist and participant in the KOTE festival, endearingly expressed her appreciation for the festival organisers and their commitment to exposing Jamaican art and artists while introducing the public to works from international artists who are inspired by the country. Sinclair also reiterated and lamented the fact that the art world in Jamaica is scantily supported and woefully underfunded.

A total of 22 venues throughout Kingston were highlighted during the festival. One of those venues, the Ward Theatre located in Downtown Kingston received special attention from the festival this year. A volunteer cleanup initiative was part of KOTE’s plan to bring awareness to the once prestigious cultural landmark and revitalise a restoration campaign that has been lagging for the building.

Following the cleanup, a performing arts concert was hosted at the venue which was included among the list of events that was featured on the KOTE roster. A grand Yamaha piano (said to be one of the most valuable instruments on the island) that was donated to Ward by the Japanese Embassy was featured in the concert after years of being hidden away in the derelict theatre. 

The run-down state of the theatre is somewhat indicative of the state of the creative arena in Jamaica. This state is what KOTE co-founder, Enola Williams, and her colleagues are trying to highlight and change through the festival.

“The great social and economic potential of art is widely documented….we believe that through innovative visual and performing art we will be able to signal to the broader culture that there is an appreciation for the Jamaica that is extraordinary,” Williams shared.

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