The Caribbean Export Development Agency (Caribbean Export) has recently concluded a successful staging of its creative industries initiative Design Caribbean at Calabash 2014 during the Calabash Literary Festival in Treasure Beach, St. Elizabeth, Jamaica from May 30th-June 1st. The Design Caribbean stand was an outstanding feature of the vibrant festival which showcases some of the region and its diaspora’s most adroit in writing and song. The eleven specially-selected artisans were undeniably well-received as was Design Caribbean’s feature performer, Haitian musician, BeLO, who performed on the opening night of the three-day festival.
The Executive Director of Caribbean Export Pamela Coke-Hamilton commented that, “What we have seen this weekend, and throughout the process of Design Caribbean, is the power that we hold as creative Caribbean people. We have the power to rivet the attention of people from across the world, and to communicate our story in whatever medium we choose. We are gifted with not only undeniable talent but a vision and sense of ingenuity that sets what we make apart from anything else. The artists have made these truths clear.”
The Calabash Literary Festival has shattered geographic and paradigm boundaries to become the premiere literary festival in the English-speaking Caribbean. The unique and picturesque setting, omnifarious literary, and soul-soothing yet stimulating vibrations of the festival have positioned it not only as a feast of talent, but an internationally marketable product which attracts visitors and literature buffs from across the globe. Jamaica’s most skilled artisans have also become a part of this distinctive brand, showcasing and selling their products to an eager audience. Caribbean Export and Calabash collaborated in to order to exploit this platform in order to benefit artisan not only from the festival’s birthplace but from across the Caribbean region.
The Agency selected a representative of the region’s diverse and ingenious creative entrepreneurs in visual arts, sculpture, jewellery-making fashion: Barbadian Very Vanita and Avark, Rainforest Pottery and Arawak Leather Craft of Guyana, Hands in Clay and Reve Jewellery and Accessories from Jamaica, Kaj Expressions from Belize, St. Lucian Designs by Nadia, The Dot Miller collection from the Bahamas and Haitian companies Creations Dorees and Belzeb, which also operates in Grenada. The delegation embodied the spirit of inclusiveness, creative exploration and irie vibes that the Calabash festival represents.
The meticulously designed individual stations of the Design Caribbean pavilion were instantly enhanced as the artisans began to bedeck the stations in their fare. Some were not even able to finish, before the unique creations were snatched up by eager customers! The interest in the eclectic offerings was immediate and remained constant throughout the three day festival. There was something to cater to almost everyone’s taste, from hand-crafted precious-stone jewellery to leatherwork forged in centuries of tradition.
Richard Young of Rainforest Pottery Guyana was extremely satisfied with his experience at Design Caribbean, stating that “the Calabash show was quite a positive experience [as] it opened my eyes to endless possibilities [in pottery], I wish [that] the entire Caribbean [were] as culturally conscious as the people of Jamaica [and those who visited my station]. The show was a tremendous success in every way.”
The artisans not only made promising connections with potential partners and distributors, but also record-breaking sales which have fuelled their penetration into new markets. The Design Caribbean pavilion was a standout feature of the festival, catapulting the artisans into the spotlight and exposing them to an environment charged with creative energy and a hunger for innovation.
The artisans engaged deeply with interested consumers but with each other. This rare opportunity to liaise with fellow creative professionals from other cultures and of other tongues, allowed the artists to exchange ideas and concerns, recognize and appreciate their differences and find common ground. They held conversations on possible collaborations and inter-brand lines which could capitalize on the commercial appeal of their respective brands while remaining distinctively Caribbean. What the eleven very different brands shared was a pride in their Caribbean heritage and the balanced perspective that it has given them in a constantly evolving world.
Mark Daniel of Avark, Barbados revealed that as a result of the show, “through dialogue with my fellow exhibitors, I am looking to travel to Guyana and Haiti to have consultations with potential manufacturers. In order for us entrepreneurs to really move forward, we have to put things in place in terms of manufacturing and marketing. Amongst the eleven people that participated, I saw products that were, beyond a shadow of a doubt, ready for export. We are ready!”