There was certainly an atmosphere of goodwill and collegiality among the conference-attendees, and, all the way, one had the sense of being in the company of competent, generous and truly committed people. This was layered with a sense of frustration (especially expressed by Fresh Milk and ARC Magazine) with the enormity of the task that still lies ahead in furthering the ‘sustainability’ of the Caribbean art-scene.
The objectives of the event were stated as that of promoting integration and further collaboration between artist-led spaces in the Caribbean and beyond. Another aim was for such spaces to exchange ‘best practice’ models, and a third was to move the Caribbean out of the global periphery. A verbally stated objective was that of helping Caribbean artists ‘make a living’.
Satisfying the first purpose (integration and further collaboration) commitments were easily secured among residency-managers for future exchanges. The second aim (exchanging experiences and sharing best practices) was fulfilled by the presentations made by representatives of the region’s informal spaces.
Meanwhile, what these presentations especially drew out was just how dependent the function and possibilities of each space are on local (i.e. national) circumstances. Whereas each space clearly seeks to compensate for poor visual arts infrastructures, their funding-opportunities, the scope and scale of their activities and their ‘institutional’ or ‘counter-hegemonic’ inflection, reflects particular histories and contemporary situations. The needs and frustrations of each space may therefore be somewhat different. Though it may have been implied in the presentations, I think it would have been useful to draw out the particular strength and needs of each space.
I believe, that the more relevant and realistic objective at this time is that of moving the visual arts out of the region’s own cultural periphery . . . by strengthening the relationships that do exist, by deepening the discourse around the production that does take place, and by staying focused on artists’ work, rather than the expansion of the network, which could end up becoming an objective in itself.
I was more uncertain about the last two conference objectives — bringing the Caribbean ‘out of the global periphery’ and helping its artists ‘make a living’. The latter is indeed an endemic global problem, and it strikes me that informal spaces and residencies are relatively ill-suited to help alleviate it, at least in the short term.
Indeed, the one question, which has stayed with me after the event, has been that of realistic expectations and attainable goals. On that note, it struck me that the question of what it would mean to ‘move out of the global periphery’ not only remained unexamined, but that the question of ‘global visibility’, had it been examined more closely, would have divided the participants into two camps. I believe, that the more relevant and realistic objective at this time is that of moving the visual arts out of the region’s own cultural periphery. Not by reaching further afield (attempting to piggyback on resourceful overseas partners), or by assuming that ‘growth’ (more partners, higher turn-over rate of residents, extending the network globally) necessarily constitutes improvement, but by strengthening the relationships that do exist, by deepening the discourse around the production that does take place, and by staying focused on artists’ work, rather than the expansion of the network, which could end up becoming an objective in itself.