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Gehry Reggae Museum - no insult intended

Published:Wednesday | February 20, 2013 | 12:00 AM

Michael Thompson, Contributor

MS LOUISE McLeod makes a completely unfounded claim in a letter to the editor, published on January 29, 2013. She asserts that our vision to establish a Reggae Hall of Fame Museum in Kingston, designed by the world-famous architect Frank Gehry, is nothing but "an insult to Jamaican architects".

Ms McLeod is a past president of the Jamaican Institute of Architects, so she's not entirely objective on this issue. Her attack on the mission of the International Poster Reggae Contest appears to be rather narrowly protectionist.

I love my country, Jamaica, and I wish to do something positive for the music of my heart, and for the pioneers and institutions that created this global treasure we call reggae. Many of these men and women have been left by the wayside, written out of history. I am driven to do something tangible to help restore them to their rightful place of distinction. Dreaming big is the first step. We cannot achieve big results with small ideas.

It is this same big dream and love for reggae music that has attracted my partner in the enterprise, Maria Papaefstathiou, a brilliant graphic artist from Athens, to establish our successful International Reggae Poster Contest as a platform to present this catalyst idea. As Ms McLeod pointed out in her letter, for the inaugural contest last year, we received 1,142 posters from 80 countries. We started with zero and an idea.


The National Gallery of Jamaica mounted an exhibition of the top 100 posters last September/October. A selection of these posters was auctioned at the gallery and more than half a million Jamaican dollars was raised for the great Alpha Boys' School, one of the pioneering instructions we believe will benefit from a Reggae Hall of Fame Museum.

A silent auction of winning posters is being held during Reggae Month at the Strawberry Hill Hotel. The ongoing International Reggae Poster Contest is the first step in building a global campaign for the Reggae Hall of Fame.

Many around the world have endorsed this objective through amazing, positive poster designs, and on our social media platform, more are joining the movement every day.

An important point Ms McLeod seems to miss is that Jamaican culture is global. We should not resent but, instead, welcome the benefits that come from collaborating with a big name like Frank Gehry. I think of him as the Bob Marley of architecture. Gehry is more than an architect; he's an artist who creates on a grand scale. It's no wonder his works have transformed cities all over the world. Countries far and wide would pull out all stops to have a Frank Gehry building break ground on their landscape. Without a doubt, he is one of the most sought-after architects in the world.

When the Guggenheim Foundation agreed to collaborate with the Basque government in Spain to build a museum for Bilbao that would help rehabilitate the run-down port, it choose Frank Gehry. This was not because there were no outstanding architects in Spain. The foundation knew that the name 'Frank Gehry' would draw immediate attention to the museum and the city. The investment has paid off. The Bilbao museum is one of the most visited cultural sites in Europe.

Ms McLeod ought to know that tourists travel in their millions to experience culture and see architecture, the cornerstones of great cities. If we were to combine a stunning Frank Gehry museum with the powerful narratives of reggae music, we could transform the city of Kingston and the economy of the whole country.


If Ms McLeod could only remove the blinders, she would see the immediate global impact of an announcement that a signature Frank Gehry Reggae Hall of Fame Museum and performance centre was to be constructed in Kingston. This would not just be big news for reggae internationally; it would be massive news for the capital city and Jamaica. This kind of global publicity and PR is not something you can buy with just any architect.

Our dream is not about insulting or excluding Jamaican architects. We want Jamaican architects to participate in this venture, especially young, enterprising practitioners. A Frank Gehry Reggae Hall of Fame Museum would turn up the volume of the renovation boom for the city that is evidenced most recently in the new Digicel building.

What we now need to focus on is how Jamaica can best leverage the global power of reggae, and all the other forms of our popular culture we have created, for widespread economic development. We need to bring back the centre of reggae gravity to Kingston.

I hope Ms McLeod will use her position to support reggae and offer solutions that help celebrate our music. We need a constructive debate about the future of Kingston that starts not with insult, but with collaboration, both locally and internationally.

Michael 'Freestylee' Thompson is co-founder of the International Reggae Poster contest. Send comments to columns