Kingston On The Edge (KOTE) just wrapped 10 days of creative urban expression and, a few absent years notwithstanding, Jamaica’s biggest arts festival appears to have come of age. Visual art exhibitions, live music, workshops, film screenings, capoeira and reiki were just part of a celebration of creativity that aimed to provide a unique multifaceted experience each day (and night). The end result was revelatory – Jamaica’s creative scene is alive and thumping!
Opening weekend included a concert on Sunday at the Ward Theatre. Built in 1912, the theatre has been the scene of some fantastic moments and historical performances from the likes of Louise ‘Miss Lou’ Bennett, Ranny Williams, Sir Willard White and the comic duo Gilbert & Sullivan to name a few.
However, despite being listed by the Jamaican government as a heritage site and repeatedly targeted for restoration (most recently in 2009), the building remains in a horrendous state of disrepair.
As part of the festival, KOTE’s organizers put out a call for volunteers a week before the show and over 60 people turned up to help put the place in some kind of order so the show could go on. Friends of KOTE and residents from surrounding areas rolled up their sleeves and buckled down to some serious work that was nothing short of a labour of love.
KOTE’s decision to house the show a the Ward was their way of shining a light on an issue that should be an embarrassment to any government claiming to value their own culture and a truly rich heritage.
Organizers Enola Williams and Omar Francis expressed gratitude for the generosity of everyone involved with the show. Performers and technicians alike all worked for free or next-to-free, out of genuine concern for the condition of the Ward Theatre and a shared passion to see the institution restored to its former glory.
As we sat to be entertained by some of Jamaica’s most talented performers of music and the spoken word, there were no house lights (lights and fans had to be brought in), paint was peeling off the walls and there was a mild odor lingering in the wings.
To a man, the performers all talked about their personal connection to the place, deploring the current condition of the historic building. But maybe this is one of those times that if we want to see something done we’ll need to do it ourselves.
Anyone interested in donating time, energy, expertise or supplies to the restoration of the Ward Theatre can get in touch with Kingston On The Edge.
Posting here a vid of Cat Coore (popularly known as a member of Third World), doing a medley on electric cello. More videos from KOTE 2014 are also posted on our YouTube channel.
To the organizers of KOTE, Enola Williams and Omar Francis, keep up the stellar job! It can’t be easy, but you’re doing important work.