CREATIVE SPACE #1 OF 2023 (Uploaded January 4th 2023)
CREATIVE SPACE is an award-winning series spotlighting local (Antiguan and Barbudan/Caribbean) art and culture. As a brand, it dates back to 2009, published exclusively in LIAT’s inflight magazine. It was revamped in 2018 as a blog series and syndicated as of 2019 on Antiguanice.com. Its publishing partner, as of 2020, is the Daily Observer newspaper. It has its first print run in the paper every other Wednesday, with the online extended edition with EXTRAS running here on the blog and full interviews and extras on AntiguanWriter on YouTube. In 2021, the two–part CREATIVE SPACE mini-series on marine culture placed third in the OECS clean oceans journalists challenge. CREATIVE SPACE is created, owned, and written by Joanne C. Hillhouse – Antiguan-Barbudan/Caribbean author, journalist, producer, and freelance writer, editor, and trainer.
Here’s a link to the issue as it appeared in the Daily Observer newspaper on January 4th 2023:
Below is the extended online edition (not a duplicate of the edition with publishing partner Observer Media) with EXTRAS.
CREATIVE SPACE #1 OF 2023: THAT CULTURAL CONNECTION
The meaning of fête has been diluted to a pre-Carnival or Carnival-esque session, but in its most all-inclusive definition it is a celebration – and New York city-based Tropical Fete lives up to the name by celebrating Caribbean art and culture. Not just Anglo-Caribbean culture. “I embrace it all; I see us as one,” said St. Lucian Alton Aimable who, in 1999, as a college student up North, founded the non-profit.
(Images courtesy of Tropical Fete – stilt walking training, left; young stilt walker performing in Times Square as part of a Tropical Fete mas presentation;, center; Alton Aimable and other stilt walkers, right. Stilt walking is the foundation of the presentation of the moko jumbie, which has African roots and is a staple of Caribbean traditional mas. Moko is a West African Orisha deity of fate and retribution who stands tall despite centuries of brutal treatment, and jumbie is a ghost or spirit in the Caribbean vernacular)
While I have been aware of Tropical Fete’s activities – as a recipient of their emails, my interest in talking to Aimable grew as I considered diaspora and Caribbean relations, and our culture at large in the world. Tropical Fete’s efforts to keep home alive in the diaspora, made me interested in his perspective on the relationship, and what more could be done to capitalize on the Caribbean’s cultural imprint, globally. I’m not sure we got to all the way there but we started a conversation.
(Images courtesy of Tropical Fete – left, Tropical Fete’s Carnival, a partnership with the Brooklyn Public Library; center, a pan class at an elementary school in NY; right, the pop-up Carnival in Times Square)
Over the years, Tropical Fete has engaged in many community activities but Aimable counts among their most important a 2022 mas performance, complete with stilt walkers/moko jumbies in Time’s Square, which he described as “the crossroads of the world”; their multitude of activities behind the scenes; and the scholarships for books and travel that they’ve been able to gift.
(Images courtesy of Tropical Fete, first row, left, yoga as part of a parent engagement programme at one of the schools where they are active, plus art at a senior center, and pan in the community; second row, stilt walkers participating in a union march advocating for better pay for artists)
“There is a lot of stuff that people don’t see,” said Aimable, noting that Tropical Fete, a cultural resource center since 2011, uses “culture as a tool for social transformation.”
(Images courtesy of Tropical Fete of a pan rehearsal and pan performance)
In fact, Aimable, who said “too many times our culture is pushed to the back”, is aiming for our culture to be as ubiquitous as Chinese restaurants – “we want it to be accessible to everybody.” Over the years, Tropical Fete have manifested this through initiatives throughout Brooklyn, parts of Queens, Bronx and Manhattan, and expanding; initiatives like their masquerade presentations, cultural programmes at several public schools, music workshops on copyright and royalties, dance, stilt walking, steel pan, pottery etc. If it is a thing done by Caribbean people, they celebrate it. And they haven’t done it alone but through collaborations with various artists and art institutions like the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture and the NY public library system generally, plus various colleges and community centers and spaces (including parks and senior centers).
Remembering his own trips to Carnival with his mother in Castries, Aimable said: “you’ll never know what impact your work may have on one child.”
While the impact of the Caribbean in the world is impressive, Aimable continues to crave more connectedness. “There are a lot of prominent West Indians who have moved on and do things and some of those are not connected or rooted in the culture,” he said. “For us to move forward as a society, we all collectively have to come together to support each other.”
(Image courtesy of Tropical Fete – Alton Aimable, in September 2022, received a proclamation from the Queens borough president)
The support he offers to artists through Tropical Fete includes professional development workshops and showcases. “We have a product and we have to present it professionally.” And, Aimable added, authentically.
(Images courtesy of Tropical Fete – pan education)
Beyond culture, he sees the commercial potential – paths to employment and market penetration as relates to cultural products. “You might be very creative, very talented,” he said, but if you’re not business-oriented, that talent is not going anywhere.”
(Image courtesy of Tropical Fete – mas maker Junior Cocoritehouse at Tropical Fete’s Carnival, a partnership with the Brooklyn Public Library)
One specific thing he said he would like to do is bring art created at home and artists to festivals in the diaspora, and he’s tried to work through tourism and other overseas offices to make this happen. But, he said, “sometimes you don’t get the support you need or sometimes they don’t see how it would benefit their people.” And even when they do see, he noted, catching the vision is one thing but putting in the work is another; that, too, remains a work in progress.
(Image courtesy Tropical Fete – big queen costume in development)
“It’s a lot of work but sometimes when you see the finished project, you feel inspired…there’s no shortcuts around it.”
The conversation has begun. To find out more about Tropical Fete and perhaps link up to explore how you can work together if you’re an artist at home hoping to access the diaspora, visit tropicalfete.com
“We just have to tell our stories, our accomplishments…” Let’s get it.
More on Tropical Fete:
Tropicalfete was one of the many organizations that went down in the congressional record held at the Library of Congress for endorsing Caribbean Heritage Month.
Tropical Fete has done a radio programme with the New York Public Library system for Caribbean American Heritage Month, as well as a reading programme at Barnes and Noble, and said he would like to include regional authors.
Tropical Fete has received proclamations from the New York City Government, Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, Jr., and the Brooklyn District Attorney. Tropicalfete, Inc. has also received awards from ConEdison’s Yankees Kids Recognition Celebration and a plaque award at the 7th Annual Queens Cancer Walk, both in the year 2022.
“I’m at a stage where I realize I need to put certain things in place such as ownership of a building for the organization…administrative personnel and also empowering the young ones with the knowledge,” said Alton Aimable.
More at http://tropicalfete.com
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