The idea at heart was to change and revolutionize the relationship between art, talent and society. However, along with creative expression, Paint Jamaica had a greater social cause which was to change the negative stigma around Kingston's inner cities. With this vision in mind, the team embarked on a ten day project of beautifying the walls of a gigantic abandoned warehouse at 41 Fleet Street in Parade Gardens- an inner city that few Kingstonians had been to, yet even heard of.
For over a month, prior to bringing brush-to-wall, the Paint Jamaica team had been connecting with the residents of Parade Gardens to understand their aspirations. This feedback translated into dazzling murals led by talented artists such as Taj Francis, Matthew McCarthy, Djet Layne and Kokab Zohoori-Dossa . "We did not want to come in and impose a vision” explains Marianna Farag, founder and project manager of Paint Jamaica. “This is their community, and after we leave, these walls belong to them... so the community has to drive our creative vision". Some of the popular themes that came up were unity, education, peace and boosting self-esteem.
With over twenty walls to paint, Paint Jamaica launched a social media campaign with an open call for artists to be a part of the adventure- as long as they were willing to paint murals with an uplifting and positive message. Talented individuals rolled in from all over Kingston- and surpassed the original number of artists that were required. Paint Jamaica thus grew and evolved into a movement of democratic art and as a true community project, engaging volunteers of all backgrounds and the residents of Parade Gardens. Hand in hand, they transformed an abandoned space into a new landmark that is day after day, capturing the attention of thousands of Jamaicans, the local media and more recently favourite local artistes such as Tessanne Chin, Janine "Jah9" Cunningham and Kelissa who spontaneously came to pay a visit at 41 Fleet Street and the neighbouring Life Yard collective, where an exciting new concept came to fruition.
A high level of excitement has been generated namely because the initiative is a first of its kind in Jamaica. Via social media, Jamaicans and non-Jamaicans alike are following the movement. Paint Jamaica has received support from the iconic music label Tuff Gong Worldwide and Ziggy Marley himself and via social media, has captured the attention of notable individuals such as Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and the legendary UK based Reggae DJ, David Rodigan. The impact has been extremely positive on the local community: with their involvement, new skills are being transferred and individuals have been inspired to creatively express themselves. Furthermore, the mere act of changing the visual landscape helps reduce crime and littering.
Interestingly however was a new project that came through the unfolding of Paint Jamaica, this time with a focus on nature. The brainchild of a Paint Jamaica volunteer, Andrew Bruce, came took up the idea of "Plant Jamaica": a self sustainable and viable grass-roots initiative . Plant Jamaica aims to create sustainable farms in small inner city communities with the aid of farmers, artists and education. The project kicked off at "LIFE YARD” who are situated right across 41 Fleet St where the Paint Jamaica project came alive. Behind the zinc fence walls of their neighborhood, the Life Yard collective have transformed an empty strip of land into a small farm. “Eat what you grow, grow what you eat” is their philosophy and helps them to become self-sustainable, especially when times are rough. A Life Yard member explains: “This space provides relief for the community. For example, when I’m hungry, I can just pick off ackee from the tree.” An opportunity was identified to further build on Life Yard’s initiative and help grow their farm, build a sustainable green space and restaurant in Kingston’s inner city. Plant Jamaica will provide resources to enhance the Life Yard farm and benefit the community on many levels by encouraging locals to eat what they grow, and grow what they eat. The impact has already been tremendous and some transformational change has already happened in just a few weeks... Similarly to Paint Jamaica, Plant called out to volunteers and expert farmers who came in and merged with the earth to beautify the inner city through nature.
Both Paint and Plant Jamaica were financially possible with the support of a crowdfunding initiative and non-monetary donations from local companies in Jamaica.
Together, both initiatives have plans to carry the movement across Jamaica, with a next project planned for October 2014. Remaining in the Parade Gardens community, both Farag and Bruce will combine their respective projects with a focus on education- a subject that is of critical importance in the neighborhood. They will be introducing street art and plants in a unique way at a school, working alongside the students and teachers... and as per the previous initiative, the work will start ahead of time by connecting with the community by listening and understanding to their needs. The focus will remain to inspire people to embellish and transform their visual surroundings through art and nature... in unexpected ways and unexpected places.