Wed | Aug 23, 2017

Jamaican is Connecticut's art boss

Published:Sunday | September 25, 2016 | 9:00 AMAmitabh Sharma
Kristina Newman-Scott
Kristina Newman-Scott
Amitabh Sharma
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When Kristina Newman-Scott and her husband, Gordon, emigrated to the United States, it was clear that she wanted to work in the arts.

She was a graduate of the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts and a painter a growing reputation on the Jamaican scene she has held jobs in that area: curating exhibitions, broadcasting on radio, and being a television producer. Her husband was into music.

"Even before Gordon asked us to move to Connecticut, I was struggling to find what I was going to do next," recalls Newman-Scott reflected on her career at the time. "It wasn't the most stable of circumstances if you want to have a family, especially if you are in Jamaica."

But few people, Newman-Scott included, would have plotted her future career trajectory, not withstanding their appreciation of her talent.

"I found a job after two months of us reaching here," she said.

Newman-Scott was the Director of Visual Arts at Real Art Ways in June 2005, where she was responsible for organising exhibitions and public arts projects.

Accolades poured in for her work, she moved to Boston Center for the Arts as Director of Programs, and after a stint as Creative Community National Fellow, at National Arts Strategies, in Connecticut, she moved to her current employer as Director of Marketing.

 

POWERFUL OFFICIAL

 

A dozen years later, Kristina Newman-Scott is perhaps the most powerful official in art and culture in Connecticut. She is the state's director of culture, overseeing all its programmes and services related to art, culture and historic preservation. She has just turned 40.

"If you told me that I would work for the government," she said

"I would have told you that you are crazy, it is impossible, because I am not one of those people."

But on the way to this job, which she has had since 2012, Newman-Scott has held several other important posts of influence at the city and state level in America's north-east. She has been, for instance, director of visual arts at Hartford's Real Art Ways; Director of Programmes at the Boston Centre for the Arts; and Director of Marketing, Events and Cultural Affairs for the City of Hartford.

"This wouldn't have happened if it wasn't for my Jamaican upbringing and the exposure I had to so many different aspects of art and culture and entertainment that I was able to translate, not in their specific forms, but the kind of energy and vibrancy that comes," she says.

She adds: "When I moved to US from Jamaica, that flair that passion and understanding that I was bringing from Jamaica that helped me to be competitive." It also imbued her with texture and nuance.

"I would say I am fundamentally a Jamaican woman, having grown up in Jamaica and having the experiences that I had there, from birth through college, till my mid 20s," she says. "This has given me the kind of tools and understanding of the worlds that we live in and has made we stand out in Connecticut."

Of course, the United States was not totally unfamiliar territory when Newman-Scott moved there. As a child, like many Jamaicans, she often visited Florida.

"It was a second home; a lot of Jamaicans have family there."

 

CULTURAL AMBASSADOR

 

Kristina, as a cultural ambassador, has earned her numerous accolades - Hartford Business Journal Forty Under 40, a National Arts Strategies Creative Community Fellow, a Hive Global Leadership selectee and most recently, a 2015 Next City Vanguard 40 Under 40.

"Growing up in Jamaica has given me kind of tools and understanding of the worlds," the visual artist, arts consultant and a graduate of Edna Manley College of Visual and Performing Arts, said.

She also when to school with expatriate children and there was the received wisdom of her grandmother, an East Indian woman of humble beginnings from the district of Bonny Gate in the north-eastern parish of St Mary.

"She taught me how to listen," she said of her grandmother. "It was a very complex relationship because when you are bi-racial, Jamaica is a very interesting country, and this helped me to adapt in the multicultural fabric of United States."

Her grandmother's words of wisdom have been her guide, she said.

"One that has really stuck to me," she recounted, the saying "tree grow ketch tree, but eyelash older than grey beard ..."

"It took me so long to figure the meaning of that, she essentially was telling me that...that her eyes hold wisdom and knowledge, and even as I age, and I seem to be catching up with wisdom, we would never be at the same place." This attribute, according to Newman-Scott, has also made her to be humble and respect elders.

Born and raised in Kingston, Newman-Scott was an art consultant for eight years before migrating to the United States; in Jamaica, she hosted Entertainment Report on TVJ and Games of Hears on CVM TV.

In her current role, she says she has realised that cultural integration is critical; "I can't imagine the future of my world without our creative shaping the way for generation, but we have to be more strategic about it and way more intentional," Newman-Scott said.

Back in the land of birth, art and culture, according to her, are disconnected. And, she adds, it is in the best interest of Jamaica, that these are integrated.

"There are these invisible walls that exist for no good reason," Newman-Scott said. "I think you bring your food, your culture and entertainment, your tourism, your sports and you connect them all with you economic development.

"You will be surprised what could happen," she said, adding that one day she would like to come and make tangible contribution to the island's art and culture...and if she had an opportunity, she would get buy and freeze one year's supply Sui Mein. "That's something I miss dearly," she said.

amitabh.sharma@hotmail.com