EDEN MCDOWELL KEIL
STREET FAIR PROJECT
Eleuthera, Bahamas 2009
STREET FAIR was a dialogue-based Public Art Project that spanned 6 months and 5 miles. The project sought to highlight the space between The Island School, an affluent American program, and the economically depressed settlements of South Eleuthera. The project used the road as a point of departure to begin a conversation between the communities. After 6 months of renewed dialogue, on the occasion of the school's tenth anniversary, participants, wearing red, walked together along the 5-mile stretch of uninhabited road from the tip of the island, where the school is located, to the closest settlement of Deep Creek. The walk ended at the Street Fair - a celebration of local art and culture.
Artist Statement 2008
The Island School and The Cape Eleuthera Institute were built on the grounds of a former resort. The Institute is an outgrowth of the school, which was founded 10 years ago this February, as a semester abroad program for American High School students. The Foundation established a middle school for the local community 7 years ago. The school is committed to environmental education and research on sustainable systems. It stands as an affluent and educated enclave. The economic and educational inequalities between the school and the closest community, just 5-miles away, are great.
The resort closed 30 years ago. The ruins of the resort scatter the Cape: an overgrown clubhouse, a golf cart graveyard, an abandoned airport and lost jobs. The resort is currently being resurrected and restored. The road to the resort is scheduled to be repaired sometime this year, but the timeline is vague.
For one day, this February 14, 300 alumni of the school, their families, environmentalists, scientists, artists, politicians, members of the local communities and dreamers of every kind, walked the 5-mile stretch of road that meanders silently between the communities. They wore red. The red stood out against the greens, browns, greys and every imaginable blue of the surrounding environment. Against the landscape, red shirts and hats stood as the pigment for a 5-mile dream of a painting. The walk was photographed from above, by a small plane capturing the red line, winding and moving amidst the landscape.
The walk ended at the Street Fair, along a stretch of the road in Deep Creek. The fair gave the community an opportunity to benefit financially from the hundreds of visitors, who would normally have passed through the unnoticed settlement to the more developed areas farther north, or to the emerging resort on the Cape. The fair was a chance for members of the local community to share their artwork and traditions. Music filled the usually silent space. The local Gospel choir, The Royal Bahamas Defense Force Band and legendary Bahamian entertainer, Ronnie Butler performed; and the road came alive with over 500 people coming to celebrate the connection between the two communities.
Beginning in September, 6 months before the fair, students began recording conversations about the road with members of both communities. They recorded and transcribed over 150 thoughts on the road. These conversations, though centered around a simple road, hope to begin a dialogue between the communities.
STREET FAIR began as a reflection on the school’s 10-year anniversary. I was a student at the school in its inaugural year, and returned last year as the artist-in-residence, to teach Environmental Art and to find inspiration in the landscape. The school began planning a celebration for the 10-year anniversary: a party, panels of influential speakers on sustainability, environmental education and alternative energies. But I found myself asking: How do you celebrate a place?
The Island School’s 10-Year was about celebrating the past and looking to the future, and how we can incite change. And my question is, Can art effect change? There are no clear deliverables from a Public Art Project, no numbers to quantify, no research to publish. How do you determine the benefit of a conversation or a handshake,
or the absurdity of trying to create a 5-mile red painting of bodies in the landscape?
Street Fair was more than just a walk or just a fair. It was setting up the context for people to come together and determine the content themselves. It was a true public art project, made by the community, for the community. It was a meditation on a simple road that spans cultures and communities, which hoped to be fair, in every sense of the word.