This story was originally printed in the Guyana Chronicle 3 June 2017.
TILTING Axis, a traveling conference for creative and cultural leaders envisaged by ARC Magazine and the Fresh Milk Art Platform Inc., was born out of the need to strengthen regional and international connections that could facilitate the development of each sector of the Caribbean’s visual arts community. Since its first iteration in Barbados, Tilting Axis has grown significantly, transforming the way arts professionals and practitioners connect across the region. Old models of sustainability have been re-examined and reworked while newer models are constantly being nurtured to reflect the current climate of regional and international creative practices.
In February of 2015, the Fresh Milk Art Platform Inc. hosted the inaugural event under the theme “Within and Beyond the Caribbean – Shifting Models of Sustainability and Connectivity”. Over the course of two days, thirty-two arts professionals from the Anglophone, Francophone, Hispanic and Dutch Caribbean participated in four clinics held to address some of the larger concerns of creative practice within the region including art writing and scholarship; connectivity, challenges and dialogues; problems at home; and awareness and education. Together these clinics represented a comprehensive first step in re-examining existing models of sustainability while putting forward more effective alternatives tailored specifically for practitioners working in and around the region.
Following the success of the inaugural conference, Tilting Axis 1.5 was launched in São Paulo, Brazil in October of that same year, in what was described as a “mid-point meeting” between the Videobrasil community and the core organisations of Tilting Axis (the Fresh Milk Art Platform Inc., ARC Magazine and the Pérez Art Museum Miami). This meeting resulted in the group’s participation in the public programme at the 19th Contemporary Art Festival SESC_Videobrasil, where conversations regarding the region’s “peripheral position” continued and expanded to include ways in which cultural leaders in the region could become more sensitised about their role in the Caribbean as well as in the larger conversations happening further afield.
In February of 2016 the Pérez Art Museum Miami took on the challenge of hosting Tilting Axis 2.0 with more than twice the number of participants since its initial launch just a year before. Working under the theme “Caribbean Strategies”, location quickly shot to the forefront of discussions since the city of Miami, in many ways, represented a kind of go-between space bridging practitioners from the Caribbean region with what the organisation referred to as the “Global North”. So although this iteration saw the conference move further out of the region, it was still very much connected to its place of birth because of Miami’s large Diaspora population. Presenters in this second edition emphasised the need for increased visibility and sustainability, both of which they recognised should always align with the lived experiences of persons from each Caribbean territory. The conference focused on three main components that emerged from the inaugural event back in 2015: exhibitions and programming; artists’ movement and mobility; and education.
This year the National Gallery of the Cayman Islands hosted Tilting Axis 3 under the theme “Curating the Caribbean”, with special emphasis on the Latin root of the word “curare”, which means to take care. Working within this particular framework allowed presenters to examine the ways in which public and private cultural institutions, as well as artist-led initiatives (different as they may be), could work to nurture creative sectors across the region. After scrutinising the current state of cultural work in the Caribbean, members of the delegation proposed how networks could be fortified, administrative capacities increased, and knowledge and funding opportunities shared among those working in the region.
More specifically, presenters examined how exhibition spaces have increased and shifted over the years from museum and gallery spaces to include more non-traditional or alternative spaces; how those spaces function, the opportunities they provide and the challenges they face; and the degree of involvement/support from government bodies, if any, in the development of creative sectors locally and regionally. The challenges curators practicing in the region face with regard to a lack of funding and resources that would facilitate development was another focal point of this year’s Tilting Axis conference. Presenters examined the ways in which a more collaborative engagement with peers in creative fields could bolster development whether through institutional exchange or informal partnerships and connections. These methodologies were considered with the hope that they could possibly decolonise places/practices and allow for impartial representation across the region and throughout the diaspora.
One of the more direct outcomes of the conference is the Tilting Axis Fellowship, an initiative made possible by the British Council, CCA Glasgow, David Dale Gallery and Studios, Hospitalfield and the curatorial collective Mother Tongue. The yearlong fellowship, designed specifically for an emerging contemporary art practitioner living and working in the Caribbean, provides the recipient with the kind of support necessary to develop critical curatorial practices and deepen connections between the Caribbean region and Scotland. Nicole Smythe-Johnson, a Jamaican writer and independent curator was awarded the first fellowship and has since undertaken research visits to Scotland, Grenada, Barbados, Suriname and Puerto Rico.
Tilting Axis 3 opened on May 18 and continued until May 20, 2017. The three-day conference was hosted by the National Gallery of the Cayman Islands and organised by ARC Inc., Fresh Milk Art Platform Inc. Members of its core committee included Holly Bynoe, Annalee Davis, Tobias Ostrander, Mario Caro and Natalie Urquhart. Sponsors of the event included Res Artis, Perez Art Museum Miami, the National Gallery of the Cayman Islands, the British Council, Davidoff Art Initiative, and Susan Olde, OBE.