Art Week: For Whose Gaze

That title is a bit click-baity as the answer is obvious. The announced art week being organized by the Antigua and Barbuda Tourism Authority is for the tourist’s gaze – everything is. Given that, it might surprise whoever’s reading this to know that I’m not here to argue for the purity of art – that it is not created for the tourist (by which we usually mean, white) gaze and that is not its only value. That’s a given. For the purpose of this post, though, I accept the premise – this event, themed “culture is colour”, is not about the culture or the art, but the tourist. Possibly, the artist and the arts could benefit but the why of this event is tourism. That being the case, I am here to ask, where is the written word? I note that film and performing arts (including singing and spoken word) will have their moment, per the schedule, so the word will not be totally absent but, again per the published schedule, it will not be truly present. In fact, we will be as present as we usually are – e.g. when Culture pulls up tent to hop over to CARIFESTA – which is to say, we will be absent. The literary arts being treated as an after thought will come as no surprise to anyone in the literary arts community. It’s a disappointing turn of events given that Tourism surely understands the importance of the word – used in crafting advertisements and infomercials and invited just last year to craft messaging in its romance writing competition.

(the winner of that competition, by the way, is a prolific writer in the still popular romance book genre).

I was asked to judge that contest and Tourism sponsored two participants in one of my Jhohadli Writing Project workshops. So how do we end up with an arts week absent our writers. Rather than rant, let me instead imagine what could be.

First, the collaborators – local bookstores like the Best of Books, Ten Pages Bookstore, Cindy’s; authors – curated to maybe authors of books with potential travel keepsakes – since this is a commercial exercise with tourists as the target market. I don’t have stats to say what those books should be, but if I was to guess, I would say children’s picture books, cook books, and whatever category books with sites of the local locale qualify as.

(adult colouring books maybe?)

An event planner – which Tourism may already have in-house – with a sense of that market could curate and invite the relevant collaborators.

Then, you’ll need a location – the Botanical Gardens? Somewhere where a bit of fantasy can be created – e.g. with mas builders being hired to create costumes inspired by characters from the children’s books as I did with the mango tree faerie from my book With Grace one Carnival. Too much? Just some books and tables then, and a walk through. Somewhere downtown for an hour or two. I know this may be a dealbreaker because paying authors always is, but possibly with a stipend paid to the authors to cover their time if needed as sales will not go directly into their pocket, at least not right away, from this event. By whatever means, the selected authors will be present to greet and sign and the bookstores there to facilitate the sales. Maybe timed readings. Maybe one of the cook book people paid to create a treat or drink from their book to entice those doing the walk through. Look, money will have to be spent. This shouldn’t be radical; artists should be paid in more than just promotion, because it takes time and effort to do what we do. Every budget that requires the input and efforts of artists should consider this.

There are more bare bones possibilities. Best of Books bookstore has a whole shelf dedicated to local books and hosts signings by local and visiting authors all the time. Include them in the planned art stops so the tourists can at least see that Antiguan and Barbudan authors write books. Books that some cold winter, a year from now, can take them back to ‘paradise’.

As with all content on, except otherwise noted, this is written by Joanne C. Hillhouse (author of The Boy from Willow Bend, Dancing Nude in the Moonlight, Musical Youth, With Grace, Lost! A Caribbean Sea Adventure, The Jungle Outside, To be a Cheetah, and Oh Gad!). All Rights Reserved. If you enjoyed it, check out my blog, including my CREATIVE SPACE art and culture column, which is refresthed every other Wednesday, and help spread the word about Wadadli Pen and my books. You can also subscribe to the site to keep up with future updates. Thanks.

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