Changing Spaces – Reaching OutSunday, January 6th, 2013 Categories: Features, Updates
In March 2012, Holly Bynoe and Nadia Huggins, founders of the Caribbean arts and culture magazine ARC, were commissioned by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to work on a project called Youth-IN Visions. Commissioned as producers, Bynoe and Huggins were contracted to produce a series of webisodes, in total over 30 5-minute focus pieces on individuals, highlighting the aspirations and interests of youth across eight Caribbean countries including: St. Vincent and the Grenadines, St. Lucia, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, Suriname, Jamaica, The Bahamas and Dominica. I spoke to Bynoe and Huggins in July 2012 to find out more about the Youth-IN Visions project and their reflections on its progress.
Leanne Haynes: Can you tell me more about how your involvement in the UNDP Youth-IN Visions came about?
Holly Bynoe: Sometime in October last year , we were involved in a conversation with Annalee Davis, Director of Fresh Milk, Nicholas Laughlin, Sean Leonard and Chris Cozier from Alice Yard, Amanda Coulson from the National Art Gallery of the Bahamas and that was in conjunction with the UNPD director, Paula Hidalgo-Sanchis, Project Coordinator of Youth-IN. They wanted to create a residency programme that circulated 50 artists across 8 Caribbean territories, practicing artists and writers so that we are better able to understand what we have here as well as try to figure out how to support artists that are leaving schools and universities. So that culminated in a meeting in November 2011, where we met in Trinidad and discussed the possibility of extending the proposals and supporting them financially. Our proposal was geared towards 8 Caribbean territories and documenting 50 artists, which was taken in by them and adapted. We were then given a new brief, one that was very open, very broad cross section of Caribbean youth, and it wasn’t specifically geared towards the cultural industries and visual art. To have this opportunity and visit all these islands…well we probably would never have the chance, so the negotiation and sacrifice [of the original proposal] was worth it for the experience.
LH: So the candidates had to fill in an application form?
Nadia Huggins: Yes. They had to answer questions that the UNDP selected by our recommendation. The criterion for selection was based on how well they answered these questions, those who did so fully and coherently were selected. Questions included: Why are you the most suitable candidate for the Youth-IN Visions Webisode Project? How do you live your life and what inspires and challenges you daily? Candidates were also asked to provide a video link, where they outlined their suitability for the project.
LH: And how many people applied in total?
NH: We had 110 people apply in total. We got some really intriguing applicants and made some interesting connections.
LH: Did you anticipate more or less applicants?
NH: I expected a lot less especially given the challenges we were working with; for example, distributing the information. It was difficult. I mean, getting it out online is all well and good but the kind of people we really wanted to reach, I don’t think they would have been in the network that we made online. We have a very specific network online so getting the information out through the ministries is difficult; I mean they have very specific ways of disseminating information, which I don’t think always reaches the people that it always needed to reach. So that was a bit challenging for us and we didn’t really get a chance to pull in the right amount of people.
HB: Not to mention that fact that we signed a contract in March  and began working that month. So we were left with little time to do the actual work that we needed to do to set up the proper networks, to mobilise people, to make them interested, and have them communicate with us. I mean, you touch down on an island and have X amount of resources, so you use those resources to see what you can do.
LH: So if you had more time, support and resources, maybe from the ministries and help with the dissemination of the information, do you think you would have pulled in some more applicants?
HB: Yes. We would have been able to target a more dynamic group, not that the group that we targeted wasn’t dynamic but I think we missed some fine opportunities.
LH: Can you tell me more about each of your individual roles in the project?
HB: Basically I was a Production Manager. I was more heavily involved in handling the applications. So I think a lot of the application process revolves around recruiting, getting the information out there, press, working with outreach, ministries, identifying candidates, working with the identified applicants to get there applications to the best possible standard because most of them were incomplete. The process involved encouraging applicants to engage with us a little but more as well as figuring out who was competitive because some of them were very poor, some not understanding the terms of reference that we put out, then working with the applicant to ensure that once we were able to fill in all the application forms for the UN then mediating to make sure we were able to get the FULL application. This means I can also justify why we chose them at the end of the day. Because some of these people applied knew what we were doing, and were very aware of the supported brand we are trying to commit to, they obviously wanted to work with us. Out of 30 candidates we had about 7 who really knew what we do and were interested. So we had more engagement with them as opposed to people who were just strangers. If I needed more information, I would call, talk to them and find out more information, i.e. to find out what visual accompaniments they envisaged for the production. So that was the kind of working relationship I had with the candidates. My other roles included communicating with the UNDP, setting up the production, figuring out the schedule for production, doing everything with regards to the production, liaising and developing a timeline for the production (in the various countries), of course that also included accommodation, figuring out where we were going to stay, sorting out the nitty gritty parts related to visiting a country that we had never visited before.
NH: Yes all the stuff that drives me crazy! I deal mostly with the directing. Just general production, so trying to come up with a very specific format for the webisodes so there is some consistency, selecting locations, setting shots and basically trying to find a way to make the production very dynamic, and done in such a way as it can target a specific people. I guess, to some extent, I am also managing the edits. We do have an Editor but there is a very specific style we are trying to achieve. Basically, I was involved in creating an aesthetic for the project as well as the camera work and lugging around equipment!
LH: Why do you think it’s important to have projects like this one?
NH: There isn’t really anything being done like it in the region, maybe on a local level, like different islands might have their own little projects, highlighting youth doing positive things in their community, but in terms of on a regional scale I don’t think it’s being done. I think it is important to have that connection, so we see what other people are doing, try to create a network, and see how we can collaborate because I think the bigger picture is to work towards regional integration, and I think projects like this help shed some light on certain aspects.
LH: Are there any places that presented certain challenges or were more difficult to engage with than others?
HB: Both St. Lucia and St. Vincent were our biggest challenges, simply because it is where we know a lot of people and a lot of people knew about the project, yet we struggled to get applicants in from both of these locations. In St. Vincent, for example, there was not enough help with outreach but on the other hand, we were granted a customs exemption for the equipment we had to buy for all of this. There was a lack of interest from the Ministry of Culture, Ministry of Education; they had no hand in it, even though every effort was made to encourage involvement [phone calls, every effort to communicate]. But I can completely understand this, considering the country’s economic downturn; it’s completely bankrupt so producing webisodes about the youth of the country might not necessarily be high on the agenda. But it’s so important because it will facilitate an idea that will consider coming from the Caribbean in a different light. I am talking about meta-narrative and how we are struggling accept the many changes that we’ve gone through, and us being perceived as backwards isn’t the case. You have very competitive people, interested in working with economics; working with their limitations, and being very crafty because they are in an economy that negates that.
NH: I’d say Dominica [was challenging]. The outreach was a little difficult there because of our weak network. When we got there we only had 1 person confirmed to film and no one else seemed to be coming through, but in the end we managed to get some really interesting youth who fit into the criteria. I still feel like we could have gotten the call out earlier and pulled in a few more applicants.
LH: If St. Lucia, St. Vincent and Dominica presented the most challenges then which country/countries did you feel most engaged with?
HB: St. Lucia and St. Vincent were the most challenging but Suriname was definitely my most favourite experience simply because a mixture of things. I have never been to South America, I have always had this very idealised and romantic idea of the land and the people, and when I went it completely blew me away, particularly the collision of cultures and how they work together. I think they have managed to have a better understanding of what that post-colonial experience is, how to factor in economy and how to actually help yourself, the avenues you can bring together to be pro-active, as well as engage with many things that are still very taboo in the Anglophone Caribbean like sexuality.
NH: It was Suriname for me as well. I think it was probably the most humbling experience of them all. Being on the continent and experiencing the vastness of the natural surroundings it was pretty overwhelming. I found it really interesting that in Paramaribo (closer to the coast) everything felt very familiar, like being on a Caribbean island, but as we travelled further inland it transformed into something else. A culture completely unfamiliar to me. Also the youth we interviewed seemed to have a really thorough understanding of their roles in their various fields and in their society. They seemed really focused and unapologetic about who they were and I really admired that.
LH: Do you think projects like this one will encourage similar projects or initiatives?
HB: I hope so, I really hope so. I think it all comes down to organisations and initiatives that want to support such projects. To have it levelled and competitive, you would need to go into other CARICOM countries and do similar work. So, if we are able to convince them that it’s needed, then yes. However, I know the budget, I know the numbers and I know it probably will not happen until the new fiscal year or until they get new funding. But I think it is easily something that will encourage more youth to explore their potential, to understand that they are not alone, to combat that feeling of isolation, and to understand that there is someone else on a different island doing something that you want to do, these are the conditions they are working with, similar to their own, but they are doing something about it and they are changing their spaces, they are having that conversation, they are being critical, so they can also get up and do it. It’s a matter of encouraging youth who are completely disadvantaged.
NH: Yes. I hope so. Of course the biggest factor was the funding. The UNDP have specific funding to dedicate to something like this. And I hope there is funding for similar projects in the future because I think it is needed, especially something geared towards younger people.
LH: I know you are impressed with all the candidates but were there any particular favourites? Or perhaps one that appealed more to your own artistic interests? Or stood out for you, in particular?
NH: That’s kind of tough because everywhere we went, most of the people I felt very connected to because we kind of built up a really strong relation with them. We wanted them to be comfortable when we interviewed them, so you just kind of made yourself really vulnerable from the beginning, so shared that with each other. One girl in particular from Jamaica [Nicole Nation] works with autistic children, and I think she was one of the most phenomenal ones for me. She is 19 years old and comes from a very poor family, a very difficult community to grow up in, with a lot of violence and she just seemed to stay really focused, she got a scholarship to study at UWI and now wants to become a doctor, it’s really incredible to meet someone that young, doing those kinds of things. It’s very difficult working with kids with special needs. She took us to one of the schools in her community and it was just incredible, that she could do that work at such a young age, be so dedicated and talk so eloquently about it.
HB: Sonia Farmer, a Letterpress specialist and Poet, was really intriguing. I mean, the resurrection of a dead thing is pretty incredible. Also, Deny Rose, a HIV Educator in Suriname, is a positive candidate who has made the decision to help, whenever we can. We went with him to hand out condoms to prostitutes and sex workers, which was a really surreal experience. Also Catherine Miles, a dancer from Jamaica. It was a mixture of the location, her spirit, her craft, which transported me and blew me away!
LH: What does the project tell us about 21st century Caribbean?
HB: That we are still grappling to understand what independence means to us. Coming out from colonial rule, you are left picking up the pieces of the identity, the social constructs of your country, economic make up and then you have to figure out how you are actually going to make it happen. The larger picture I see coming out is that we have a lot of dynamic positive youth who are walking on a very fine line, either of wanting to exceed and give that extra push or completely giving up. A lot of youths are working in a violent bubble but they are trying to figure out how these limitations affect them, of what they are becoming and who is actually out there, willing and able to lend support because they desperately need it. They understand the reality of things and don’t get fooled by it or trapped into think that that support will come easily. They understand they have to work hard. That’s what I was engaged with, that sort of fine struggle, understanding that you have to remain positive, and you have to look out, you have to always keep looking out of yourself and the situation that you exist in to make things better for you, and I think in a larger sense, that is what the project is going to highlight.
LH: I know the project is still underway but up to this point, would you consider it a success?
NH: Well, it’s not complete as yet but in terms of the reach and the connections we made, I think yes, definitely it’s been successful. We’ve been able to make some really powerful connections, especially with what we’re doing with ARC, it’s good to meet people outside of the art world doing things and you can always find ways to integrate it into what we do, even though it might not seem relevant at the time: you know there is something more that can come of it. I hope it’s successful to the people we put it out there to but in terms of what we’ve gained from it, it’s been tremendous. The ultimate aim of the project is to inspire youth and quite frankly, even if no one else is inspired, just me experiencing it, I have completely changed the way I view things and it has been a really humbling experience. I thoroughly appreciate having the opportunity.
Changing Spaces – Reaching Out is presented through the kind corporation of Caribbean InTransit’s director Marielle Barrow and contributor Leanne Haynes. View the entire series of Webisodes here and, Issue 3 of Caribbean InTransit here.