Tue | Mar 31, 2020

Rae Town Rebirth – Kingston Creative community tourism thrust for inner-cities

Published:Wednesday | February 5, 2020 | 12:12 AMPaul H. Williams - Hospitality Jamaica Writer
One of the murals painted in Rae Town over the weekend of January 25-26.
One of the murals painted in Rae Town over the weekend of January 25-26.

Rae Town, a historic inner-city community in east Kingston, is known the world over for the weekly sound-system dances and oldies sessions of yesteryear that unfolded on Rae Street for several years.

Those sessions brought many people from all walks of life to the community that emerged in the 1860s. It was a vibrant place, immortalised in songs, such as A Boom She Boom’. Now, only the memories of the glory days are floating on the sea breeze. The parties are over.

For many reasons, the speaker boxers have been silenced several years ago, and the place is now experiencing urban rot, though the fishing village across the street is still teeming with seafood.

And now, Kingston Creative is pushing for Rae Town to be a community tourist destination. “Rae Town Artwalk is just one of several downtown Kingston events that will be held to encourage more earning from community tourism and to position Kingston as the ‘Creative Capital of the Caribbean’,” Kingston Creative said in a release.

The thrust is being financed through a $3-­million European Union Jamaica Social Investment Fund grant under its Poverty Reduction Programme, “which is targeting some of the most disadvantaged and marginalised groups in the Jamaican society, which, oddly enough, are some of the most creative communities that put Jamaica on the global map,” Andrea Dempster-Chung, co-founder and executive director of Kingston Creative, told Hospitality Jamaica.

The grant will allow Kingston Creative to strategically invest in five downtown Kingston communities (Allman Town. Tivoli Gardens, Beat Street, Trench Town, Rae Town) this year, and murals will be painted live during community Art walks.

The erection of signage; training the youth in event and cultural hosting skills to stage their own cultural tourism events; working with established tour groups to bring visitors into the communities on an ongoing basis, are among the things slated to be done.

The first of such art walks took place in Rae Town on Saturday, January 25, in association with Women Empowering Women. “Our goal at Rae Town specifically was to develop a tour, create access by promoting the event, and leave something permanent in the community,” Dempster-Chung said.

While the fun and excitement, including the music of Classique Disco, were taking over Rae Street in front of Capricorn Inn (former home of the old-hits sessions), two murals were being painted in front of a playfield. The murals were conceptualised, and designs selected, by the community, Dempster-Chung said, and the painters were assisted by community artists.

Volunteers from Women Empowering Women and the Police Youth Club conducted tours of historic spots, such as the cholera cemetery, the perimeter of the General Penitentiary, St Michael’s Primary School, Charlotte Street (where entertainer Shaggy was born), Salvation Army, and a local bar.

The youth volunteers, who were trained on January 18, Dempster-Chung said, “will stay engaged in the programme over the next few months to share knowledge and best practices with other communities”.

“It was very promising, and we look forward to continuing the effort throughout other communities in downtown, as Kingston Creative believes that the communities and creatives have so much to offer,” Dempster-Chung explained further.

On the day, people were shuttled into the community from New Kingston. At least four tour operators were involved, some of whom confirmed that they would be bringing people back to Rae Town.

“In terms of our internal assessment, the event was a significant milestone for us, as for a couple of years, we have been working steadily on community awareness and engagement, building relationships and improving their ability to participate in and benefit from the revitalisation of downtown and its transformation into a thriving creative city,” Dempster-Chung said.