This is to some extent a follow up to an earlier post, in which I shared a photo from artist and sculptor Laura Facey’s current exhibition, “Laboratory of the Ticking Heart.” The exhibit is at Ormsby Hall on Victoria Avenue in downtown Kingston and is set to close on June 10. It is open from Tuesday to Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Here is the artist talking about the exhibit, and the place. You will see many more photographs from the exhibit on her Instagram page (she describes herself as a “controversial Jamaican artist.”)
“I stepped into the hall. It was filled with garbage, and I fell in love with it… That was the space I needed,” said Ms. Facey.
Filled with garbage. This sums up in many ways Jamaicans’ attitude to our built heritage.
Will Vale Royal, a building over three centuries old, meet the same fate? Its tottering front porch and ragged roof suggests that it is being left to deteriorate further, but the Office of the Prime Minister, which is responsible for its upkeep, appears to be determined to do nothing about it. What plans does it have for the property? Enquiring minds would like to know.
Ormsby Hall appears to be made of sterner stuff, although neglected and half-forgotten. Unlike Vale Royal, it looks fairly solid and salvageable, however.
Besides the Facey exhibit, a few events have taken place recently that would give you a sense of what Ormsby Hall could be – including children’s art classes and a performance by the St. Ann Senior Citizens’ Cultural Group. Laura Facey adds:
I am grateful to Bishop Daniel and Father Cunningham for kindly allowing my exhibition, The Laboratory of the Ticking Heart, to take place at Ormsby Memorial Hall.
The title of this show is taken from the opening line of my grandmother’s poem, “September Song”, which suggests that human feeling can indeed be a laboratory, a powerful re-shaper of our environment. And the Ormsby Hall environment has been a key element in the success of the show. We have received over 300 visitors to date who have shared their enthusiasm for Ormsby Hall as a venue for the arts and others who see the need for its revival as a centre for the community.
So, why shouldn’t Ormsby Hall become an arts centre for downtown, as well as an outreach location that would serve the community (I understand Bob Marley, Don Drummond and other musicians used to practice there)? There are two petitions up online (I signed both) to save this splendid building from demolition and for its transformation into an arts centre. It would be an ideal location, and could be fixed up gradually perhaps (first, fixing the roof, and a new coat of paint?)
I do feel that, unlike some other Government officials, Mayor of Kingston & St. Andrew Delroy Williams does have a vision for the historic “Old Kingston” (We never call it that, of course). Perhaps the Mayor’s drive and enthusiasm could help. As you can see from the photograph below, there is lots of empty space…
Here are the links to the two petitions:
Speaking at the exhibition opening recently, Founder/Director of Kingston Creative Andrea Dempster-Chung observed:
WHILE scouting for locations in downtown Kingston, Laura spotted Ormsby Memorial Hall and saw that although the building was falling into disrepair, the light, the soaring columns, and ceiling height created an ideal backdrop for her new show.
Over the years, Ormsby Hall has been the host of public meetings, debates and musical recitals, especially during the late 1930s. It sits adjacent to the St Michael and All Angels Anglican Church and it was the site of significant social and cultural events of the day. Poetry readings and performances could be seen and heard at Ormsby Hall. Up until 2010 it was the home of the Ormsby Primary School, and Jamaicans who have travelled the world performing theatre got their first taste of the arts as children on this very stage.Jamaica Observer, May 17, 2022
Note to our Tourism Minister: Tourists are not all “sun, sea and sand” people, you know. At least some of them are looking for something else – something less generic. A beach in the Dominican Republic looks pretty much the same as one in Jamaica. Why not invest a little in Jamaica’s rich heritage? The island’s history, admittedly, is depressing and bloody, as are many histories around the world – especially perhaps, those steeped in colonialism and the scourge of slavery. But we can learn from history.
Having said all that, there is a lot to be said for heritage tourism. Why not seek to preserve a building, an artefact, a work of art that has intrinsic value? Why demolish a building that has value not only for visitors to take a look at, but for the Jamaican community – something to be proud of? Grants are available; apply for them. Devon House in Kingston – which is uptown – is a major attraction; does it have to be the only one? What about downtown?
Come to that, there is much to be said for eco-tourism, which attracts some well-off visitors. And preserving our environment has incalculable value for Jamaicans also, as we should know by now. Just as with our cultural heritage, we don’t have to destroy everything and then try to “fix it” again. It may never be fixed.
Let’s conserve what we have, now. A little appreciation and tender loving care will make everyone feel better. It’s for Jamaica, land we love.
Getting off my soapbox, now…