BVI's Fine Art

Javon Liburd, Staff Reporter | 2 Opinions
Published: July 17, 2017 10:16 am AST
‘Fine Art’, or what is otherwise known as visual arts, is not something new in the British Virgin Islands, but it is definitely something both BVIslanders and residents are still getting use to.

For years, artists have explored their inner creativity as a means of showcasing themselves and their talent to the entire Territory, but still, the industry seems to go unnoticed, as it fails to advance.

Yet, from strength to strength, local artists continue to make their individual strides with whatever little support they muster up from the community.

Speaking with several notable artists around the Territory, they told BVI Platinum News that the fine arts industry that exists in the BVI, is one that lacks support and opportunities. Some argue that it is at a standstill and has been so for years.

Desiree Smith, local painter
Photo Credit: Provided
Despite the many concerns, a shared sentiment by all the artists highlighted that for the industry to advance to a point where the creatives and the country on a whole can benefit, appreciation and support from the community must increase.

To this end, many of the artists stated that the community is beginning to warm up to the industry, noting that the industry is on its way to being at a point where it should’ve been many years ago.

Support And Appreciation

It is impossible for any business, organization, even an industry to grow if the local community does not buy into what is being offered.

In the BVI, local painters and photographers are not receiving the necessary 'buy-in' needed to advance themselves to the next level, and to advance the industry.

Art is not something the BVI is known for, and it will be a long time before that notion is changed, some artists expressed.

Desiree Smith, President of the Virgin Islands Artist Association (VIAA), and local painter, illustrator and one who dabbles in constructing 3-D dimensional art, is a hopeful artist. She stated that the community is slowly warming up to the industry.

She said that with technological advancements, artists are utilizing different means and methods to reach the community.

“There is an increase in support, appreciation and understanding from the community for artists. We are in a great time, when technology assists us in sharing a lot more. There is still much to do to generate more support. Art merchandising is an important concept to make art interesting for persons. They won’t buy a painting for $500, but they will buy a t-shirt which highlights that painting," Smith highlighted.

Christine Taylor, also a local painter, shared the same sentiments, where she noted that with more work, the community's interest will grow.

“To some extent, persons understand art and try to appreciate it and support, not as vibrantly as it should be, but more persons are becoming aware.”

Taylor continued, “As we continue to have shows and so on, persons are coming out and asking questions; they don’t always buy, but it takes time.”

She too noted the importance of taking advantage of modern technology to spread art.

“Many artists step over to art merchandising, many persons don’t want to buy the paintings, so to get our work out there, we put them on different things like cups and bags.”

BVI Platinum News also spoke with two young artists in the field, who are also hopeful for the industry.

Both Abayomi Maddox and Devaughn Callwood said the industry is underappreciated and not flourishing as it should be.

This, they noted is as a result of the lack of support from the community.

Maddox said, “Art is underappreciated here. We work so hard in what we do and persons don’t see what we do. We need the support and awareness.”

Callwood said artists are limited by the lack of understanding of the local community.

“The industry is not flourishing as it should be. People seem to like art, but the art here is a lot of territorial and cultural art. We don’t explore into abstract arts as a lot of us really want to.”

He said, “I think persons are tired seeing the same thing over and over, but the community is also one that don’t appreciate art fully, so you stick to what they understand. It limits us as artists.”

He also noted that the local community can be very vain at times, stating, “Persons hardly take that step to appreciate and support local artists. They say they like what you have, but they won't take that step and purchase.”

The Industry/Unity Needed

Artists are focused on their aims to vitalize the industry.

One noteworthy effort is that of the formation of the Virgin Islands Artists Association (VIAA), which was started three years ago.

The association intends to group established artists together, in efforts of increasing the strength of their awareness campaign of the arts in the BVI, as well as to move forward as a unified body to advance the industry.

Smith, President of the VIAA said, “It’s to unite visual artists in the Territory, to share skills and benefit from each other and to ensure the art in the BVI continues.”

The association gives persons an opportunity to meet other local and like-minded individuals, as a means of encouraging progress, as well as learning from others.

The industry is one that is not unified, Smith said, which is a huge reason why the industry lacks energy. VIAA will assist in this area.

“The industry is one that is not unified. With unity, advancement of the industry is sure to come. The industry has been a singular effort thus far, where each artist make their individual strides. As we see individual artists make strides, we want to make sure that we conglomerate them and fuse our efforts and ensure the continuation of success as a group.”

Smith continued, “The industry is not a fledgling, but there is unity in numbers and that hasn’t been the case here for our artists and that is what has to change.”

Similarly, 19-year-old Maddox said “To advance the industry, the more people see the effort that goes into the art, they would then build an appreciation for it. This will certainly increase their support and openness to purchase our work.”

Callwood said, “What’s missing from the industry is love. We don’t get it and that holds us back.”

He noted that this jeopardizes the longevity as the industry as well.

“So many young persons who are brilliant in the art, but don’t enter the field because there are so many struggling artists today who don’t get the community support.”

He continued, “Creativity builds culture, culture builds character. Everything cultural in the BVI has to do with the creativity of our people. Other than tourism, we should be an art industry, we have so many artists here, but not many step out and do something because of the lack of support.”

He is hopeful that this will change in the near future.

BVI Platinum News also got the opportunity to speak with Reuben Vanterpool, who is deemed to be the veteran artist in the BVI.

In comments on the local arts industry, Vanterpool too noted that support is vital for the growth of the industry.

Vanterpool said “Only 5 percent of the population are potential consumers of art. Local people have supported art and continue to, but it’s not much. If I don’t get support from local, then I don’t expect to get it outside. I know it’s a small percentage of people that really appreciate the art, because a lot of people here don’t really have time, and don’t understand art.”

He noted that the industry is not one that comes as a necessity to persons, hence it will also be an option that is rarely considered.

“In the time of hard times or financial times, you will spend money on what you need. We’ve had hard times here since 9/11, where right here in the BVI, government officials told persons, if you don’t need it don’t buy, and that put artists out the picture all together because art is not something that can cloth us or feed us."

He said,"It’s only a small group of people who really have an understanding of the sacrifices an artist would have to make to produce a piece of work and sell that piece for half the value of what it is worth, for it to be sold. There is an issue with persons appreciating the value of the work of artists.”

Nonetheless, Vanterpool noted that the industry has come a long way from the way it was when he first began painting and sculpting in 1975.

“We have come a long away in spite of the fact that we are not where we want to be. When I started there was very little support facilities such as printing services, access to materials and other things that made the job easy, whereas today, there are so many means and methods to get your work published and seen.”

However, there is always two sides to a story Vanterpool said, noting that with advantages, comes disadvantages closely behind.

With technology, persons have become very lazy, Vanterpool noted, adding that this contributes to the killing of the industry.

“The computer has made us lazy. There are so many persons now who do things on the computer, a lot of them call themselves artist, but can’t paint something. The discipline of creating an illusion on canvas, recreating a scene, listen to what somebody say and translating that into a graphic image is something people are not fond to bother with anymore.”

He said, “Because of that persons who use to provide art supplies here are going out of business, because people don’t want to bother their heads with painting anymore. There is a need for disciplined artists to tell their story and encourage persons.”

Lucrative Business

As artists can only focus on what is before them this very moment, and the dynamics of the industry at this time, many have noted that the business is not a very lucrative one.

In fact, Vanterpool went as far as to point out that he would not encourage anyone to focus solely on the field as a career, but rather, to pursue it while doing something else that brings in a steady income.

“I don’t think that anyone should venture to do art full time at this time, look a job and take this as a part time thing. In time, they will be able to ease into it fully. You have to lean on something else before.”

Vanterpool words comes out of his own experience, as he went fulltime into art since retiring in 2003.

In order to grow the industry, and make it a lucrative part-time business, Vanterpool suggested that artists be assisted to make their first steps.

“Instead of putting so much in the schools for art, start at the other end to assist those in the community who are struggling to survive. Find a way to assist them, not a hand out, but come assistance to get through with the first step.”

He continued, “Perhaps the government can be of direct assistance in providing a loan scheme for persons who have reached that point and need assistance in taking that next step.”

Vanterpool expressed that he is disheartened for the young persons who want to branch out in the art industry, but don’t have the means to get there.

“I am still optimistic about the future of art in this country; you have some very determined and talented individuals here.”

Ms. Smith said that although the practicality of a successful full-time art business is not a fruitful idea at the moment, times are changing.

“A lot of persons are venturing into going part-time, there are so many possibilities. Despite that persons hold a day job and do it on the side, the potential for fulltime is right there to happen.”

She said, “The industry is on the cusp of where the world is going, and persons are taking advantage of technology and the internet to get their product out there. It’s not a geography thing, it’s a talent thing. Nobody has to know where you are, it’s about your talent and your technique. Being an artist is a risky career.”

As a wildlife photographer, Maddox dabbles in a zone not synonymous to the BVI. Yet, she is hopeful to be the change, and make her passion a lucrative business.

When persons think of photographers, they immediately think of those who take family and wedding photos or passport pictures. The line of business is far different.

“My dad takes a lot of scenic photos, but his main income is passport and family photos, that’s how many persons make their money as photographers in the BVI. That is not my passion; I want to focus on the beautiful scenery and wildlife we have here,” Maddox said.

“I’m a wildlife photographer. I capture things people don’t normally see, something that really catches their eye, something they would never notice. It’s going to take a lot of work trying to open people’s minds to different things, but I believe I can do it.”

Moving Forward

Despite the dynamics of the local community against that of the local arts industry, artists continue to invest in themselves and their craft to benefit the industry in general.

Through the VIAA, artists are banding together to move as one force, and are confident that much will be done with their own space or centre, where art can be expressed in its truest form and at its fullest potential.

Smith told BVI Platinum News that a National Arts Centre would definitely advance the industry and its stakeholders.

“A lot of artists have limited space for creativity and we would love to increase that. It’s tantamount for artists to group and learn from each other, as well as for the community to have a central spot to view art.”

Taylor also shared in this vision, noting that the Territory needs more professional outlets.

“This [National Arts Centre] would be a big plus. Senior artists would have a national venue for persons to display their work and for persons to mentor and learn from each other; we need our own space.”

Maddox said, “Everybody is trying to make a name for themselves, but I feel if we unify as a community, we can definitely make a mark and show the Territory how talented our people are.”

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