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Image credit: All photos by Marianna Farag

Marianna Farag: Paint Jamaica

Marianna Farag: Paint Jamaica

Marianna Farag tells Queen's Young Leaders about using art and the local community to create social change

As culturally rich as Jamaica is, still there are some parts of its capital city, Kingston, which are deprived – visually, with graffiti covered walls and grey towering abandoned warehouses.

Paint Jamaica set out to beautify the forgotten spaces of inner-city communities and transform the landscape, while sparking a social revolution.

In July 2014, Paint Jamaica executed its first project. The idea was conceptualised by French national and self-dubbed “Jamaica Lover”, Marianna Farag.

Marianna heads a team of local and international artists willing to jump on board to spark an urban renewal – not only of physical environment but also of the mindset and outlook on life of the residents living in these communities.

Many would say Downtown Kingston has no shortage of walls, zinc fences or abandoned buildings. Marianna would say that it has no shortage of large canvases.

Before the project

With the space transformed into a 20-wall walk-in gallery, many have since ventured from near and far to see this inner city monument – the first of its kind in Jamaica and arguably the rest of the English-speaking Caribbean. The resurrected buildings have become a magnet for the community and creatives, such as artistes, photographers, models, etc.
41 Fleet Street, Downtown Kingston is the epicentre of this social revolution.

To date, Paint Jamaica has completed two projects – one at an abandoned warehouse and the other at the Holy Family Primary School. For both projects, a period of ten days was allocated for completion.

After the project

Working with the community

For Marianna, social engagement is a critical component. “During every step of the way of the project, we were always being intuitive. For instance, between the projects, we kept organising other activities such as yoga, capoeira, music video shoots, soup drive, ice cream give-away etc. We tried to keep the space alive essentially.”

Social engagement

A month before the scheduled start of the first project, the Paint Jamaica Team consulted the community about what was important to them – what their dreams and aspirations were and what they wanted their community to be like. With concepts such as unity and peace being valued by the residents, the artists got to work with their paint cans and brushes putting dreams on walls and hope into hearts.

Consultation of the persons who live and work in the space has since been recognised as a trademark of the Paint Jamaica group, much to the appreciation of the murals’ recipients.

A team approach

During the execution of the project, Marianna was able to draw on the managerial skills she honed during her many years in the corporate sector. Though Marianna’s leadership style is democratic, she believes that whether you are the leader or not, you must be willing to roll up your sleeves and do the dirty work.

“You need to really believe in your project. You need to have a plan – a structured one – and share it with those who will work with you. Transparency helps ensure that everyone is on the same page and moving towards the same goal. Last but not least: nothing comes easy. Work hard and don't give up from the first try!’

Using the internet

The project was not entirely smooth sailing. Described as a “wonderful challenge” by Marianna, one obstacle was securing the resources necessary to get the job done.

Her solution? The internet.

Paint Jamaica used various crowdfunding platforms, social media sites and online blogs to raise awareness about its mission. Between the tweets and the likes, Marianna confesses that the support and feedback have been tremendous. Within no time Paint Jamaica’s fan base grew to over 5,000 likes on Facebook.

Advice for Queen's Young Leaders about using social media

This eventually translated into generous non-monetary donations from local companies. Many didn’t blink an eye when it came time to donate, as they saw it as an opportunity to honour their commitment to corporate social responsibility.

With calls for artists to come on board blasted out over available social media channels, the project started to attract a global following, which again complemented its crowdsourced nature.

“We used social media heavily to communicate with ‘the world’. Whether it be Facebook, Instagram, Twitter – all of these important platforms let everyone share the journey with us. Many felt as if they were on the ground with us. The tremendous support Paint Jamaica received both online and offline, was critical to its success.”

Their social media presence was tied to their fundraising efforts.  “The more persons who knew about the project, the easier it was to secure donations from local companies as well as contributions from crowdfunding.”

Marianna also used the internet to educate her team on what was taking place all over the world. “I think the internet provides countless resources. If you're interested in a specific subject, you can learn so much via Google, Youtube etc.”

Marianna is willing to admit however that though crowdfunding was the source of the initial funds for Paint Jamaica, the project’s sustainability will depend on its ability to generate its own funds – whether through hosting fundraising events or other ventures.

“From the start, we wanted this to be crowdfunded as it wasn't a ‘corporate’ project. We didn’t want any strings attached. I believe that crowdfunding was aligned with the grassroots nature of the project. We are very grateful for the support we received from all donors. However in the long run, we'll definitely have to find another strategy because crowdfunding can only work so many times.”

The future?

Looming several feet high, the murals on 41 Fleet Street stand as a testament to the power of art to initiate a social revolution, which is sure to have ripple effects on generations to come.

And with numerous requests for murals coming in, Paint Jamaica surely has its hands full. But Marianna remains focused. “Our aim is always to bring art into the streets of Kingston in unexpected ways and in unexpected places.”

Paint Jamaica has since gone on to give life to Plant Jamaica, which teaches inner-city residents to “eat what they grow and grow what they eat”. It is led by former Paint Jamaica volunteer, Andrew Bruce. Plant Jamaica also has plans to create a sustainable farm and green space in the heart of Downtown Kingston.

This article was written by Nicole Nation.