Interview by Larry Lamartinière

Andrea is an engineer, entrepreneur and cultural executive. She is the Cofounder and Managing Director of Kingston Creative an organisation seeking to transform Downtown Kingston, Jamaica. Along with her team, they are on a mission to make Kingstonthe cultural and creative capital of the Caribbean

🔵 Can you present yourself?

I am Andrea Dempster Chung, Cofounder and Executive Director of Kingston Creative, an organisation seeking to transform Downtown Kingston into a vital creative hub for the region. The organization exists to enable Caribbean creatives to succeed so that they can create economic and social value, gain access to global markets and have a positive impact on their local communities.

🔵 What is Kingston Creative? What is the organization’s philosophy?

Kingston Creative is a nonprofit arts organisation started in 2017 by a three co-founders, Allan Daisley, Jennifer Bailey and myself, who believe in using Art and Culture to achieve social and economic transformation. We want to see the city of Kingston leverage its cultural and creative heritage, its world-class talent and reach its potential to become a Creative City, not just in name or by UNESCO designation, but for this to be a reality for all who live in Kingston. Over the past four years, Kingston Creative and its team of 100 volunteers have created a movement to transform their city and the lives of local creatives. In order to create a healthy creative ecosystem, we have hosted public art events that have brought thousands of visitors and commerce into Downtown. The team has developed 65 new murals through its “Paint the City” Project and has trained thousands through online and in-person sessions. The organization also opened the Artisan Collective Store and a Coworking Space and digital studio called the Kingston Creative Hub. During Covid-19, Kingston Creative has funneled J$47 million in grants to creatives in 25 Caribbean countries, made masks for communities and offered free digital training to help creatives to use technology to pivot.

🔵 What is your opinion on the cultural rights movement in Jamaica? As a woman, do you think that access to culture is equal for females and males?

It is important not only to preserve our heritage, but to protect the people that are creating the culture in real time. Indigenous groups like the Maroons and Rastafari play a powerful role in who we are as Jamaicans. Access to culture is fairly balanced in Jamaica, and many of our respected cultural icons, musicians, dancers, writers, storytellers, visual artists and cultural academics are women. There’s a saying, if you empower a woman, you empower a nation and this is reflected in our culture. It’s safe to say that internationally our biggest cultural product is music. Jamaica is best known for our reggae and dancehall artists who have traditionally been men – Bob Marley, Jimmy Cliff, Shaggy, Sean Paul, Buju, Bounty Killer and Popcorn. Times have changed and a new wave of female artists like Spice, Koffee, Shenseea, Sevana, Lila Ike and others are gaining recognition globally.

Unfortunately, representation doesn’t always equate to power sharing and inclusion. The prevalence of objectifying women in dancehall music and other creative spaces is problematic. Women in the arts should be seen as leaders, decision makers and policy planners. There is still more work to be done.

🔵 One of your missions is to make culture an engine for growth and social inclusion in Kingston. What would be one of your most emblematic projects?

The most visible project that is catalysing change is the new Art District in Downtown Kingston. “Paint the City” is a street art programme that has developed over 65 murals since inception in 2018. This public-private-third sector partnership is funded by local businesses, the Tourism Enhancement Fund and other organizations. The primary goal is to transform Downtown Kingston into an art district and tourism destination using murals, culture and technology. The innovation in the project is the use of augmented and virtual reality, which creates an interactive experience for the visitor and also for those who take virtual tours online. However, I personally believe our Artwalk is the best example of the totality of our mission. Kingston Creative is not a single thing, it’s really the energy when everything, including the community, comes together. On the last Sunday of the month, Kingston Creative hosts an open-air street festival. It started in April 2018 and is a free public arts event that showcases artistic and cultural talent in Jamaica. Hundreds of dancers, musicians, visual artists, poets, writers, have participated in genre specific months, engaging audiences with a wide range of presentations and performances. Market Street is a pop-up artisanal market held in Water Lane, Downtown Kingston which started in April 2018. It is a promotional platform for creative entrepreneurs, artisans and makers which expanded in July 2020 to become the Artisan Collective Store on Ocean Boulevard, where the goods from the artisans can be purchased. Of course, with the pandemic we were forced to suspend the face-to-face interaction and instead held the event virtually. We’re excited to be slowly getting back to normal and have started offering in-personal small group tours of the murals.

🔵 How did the pandemic restrictions affect the creative sector?

The impact of the pandemic was devastating for the sector in the region. With the uncertainty of the pandemic and impact on tourism and travel most Caribbean islands were on lockdown. This meant that the normal face-to-face methods for creatives to earn – exhibitions, artisanal markets, theatre productions, fashion shows, festivals and live music concerts – suddenly were closed. Fiscal interventions often did not specifically target cultural and creative industry workers and particularly the informal actors and support workers in the sector that were not registered or formalised businesses. In response we partnered with two other organisations to directly address the issues. CATAPULT was a J$47 million programme that provided emergency COVID-19 relief grants to 1,125 Caribbean creatives in 25 countries whose livelihoods were negatively impacted by the pandemic. This pan-Caribbean grant was a partnership between the American Friends of Jamaica, Kingston Creative, and Fresh Milk which launched in August 2020 and ended in December 2020.

🔵 What is the future for Kingston Creative?

As Jamaica re-emerges from the pandemic and seeks to find more diverse ways to grow its economy, we believe that Kingston Creative has an important role to play in converting raw talent into growth and sustainable social development. Firstly, we want to prepare creatives for this new era, arming them with the technology platforms, knowhow and digital skills needed to reach new audiences and compete globally. Secondly, we want to focus on improving the creative ecosystem in Jamaica. Building a pipeline of successful businesses, developing the Art District and creating market access for more Jamaican creatives, particularly those from marginalised communities, will be a game-changer, and we are really pleased to have the Inter-American Development Bank partnering with us over the next three years on this journey.

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