Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Jenni Lewin-Turner Awarded Bursary to attend Grahamstown National Arts Festival, South Africa

Jenni Lewin-Turner, the Urban Culturalist and Creative Producer who accompanied us on the Jamaica International Cultural Arts Exchange this year, has been awarded a bursary by Sustained Theatre to attend the Grahamstown National Arts Festival in South Africa (the second largest arts festival in the world).

Lewin-Turner occupies a unique position between artist and producer. She often refers to herself as an ‘art facilitator’ as she crosses genres and disciplines to bring together artists and communities for unique collaborations. We spoke with Lewin-Turner just before her trip to South Africa.

Diaspora Vibe Cultural Arts Incubator: How do you view and approach your work as an art facilitator?

Jenni Lewin-Turner: Often when I talk with artists I’m thinking about audience, about where they see their work in the future and where they see themselves in the world, not just the technical aspects of the artwork. Do they see it in galleries, out in the community, etc. Everything I do is very eclectic, I don’t have a preferred style, artist or art form.

DVCAI: Are you talking professionally or artistically?

JLT: For some artists there’s no separation. Some artists departmentalize what they do: ‘I teach these days and I’m an artist on these days.’ For others, their work can happen at any given time or any given day, they’re freer in a way. They’re more open to non-traditional art spaces. Some people have fixed ideas about where their work should go. It tends to be more Eurocentric. There are some people who think that if you’re doing a performance you need to be on the stage, in a theater—it’s so entrenched—and if you make a picture it belongs on a white wall.

Things are changing so much now with the digital revolution. You can produce anything and have it on display. There’s a worldwide audience whereas before it was whoever was in front of you. Today you can use different forms and there is more collaboration.

DVCAI: Why is it important to you that the work live in non-traditional spaces?

JLT: Everything that I’ve learned to do with arts and culture has been very traditional. There was no other way. In the last few years I’ve been able to see that more people are interested in doing things outside of the traditional route. There are so many people who don’t fit into the traditional structure. They have had to compromise if their work doesn’t look a certain way or if they don’t look a certain way. There should be spaces for the non-traditional. It’s important. You can go into the most contemporary art spaces in the UK, but the people in charge have the same old ideas. You find a kind of hierarchical system that rules. There are definite limitations on what can take place in these spaces, on what art actually appears there. It’s time to change all of that. It’s something that needs to change globally. The people who do things differently tend to be in isolation. Those artists tend to isolate.

DVCAI: How would it look? Do arts festivals open this up? Are they places for a different kind of exchange?

JLT: Yes and no. They shouldn’t be the only place for that to happen, but they are the only place for some people to have access. The spaces of art festivals are non-traditional by default, not by design. They may happen in an open space, a field for example, but the location was not necessarily chosen because of its creative possibility or significance. Festivals are a good way but they are not the only way.

DVCAI: Can you tell me about the work you’re doing?

JLT: What I want to achieve is a kind of utopia. I have this theory that every artist has an audience somewhere in the world. I think that anyone who wants to work in the creative field should be allowed to, whatever their work is. The work should be recognized because of the amount of time and energy that goes into it—both artists and doctors study for five years. Being an artist should be a recognized profession with the same amount of kudos.

DVCAI: Tell me about your current projects.

JLT: I work to facilitate artists working together. Connecting with peers in different parts of the world is to change the scenario. I’m developing an art symposium that will happen in the UK next spring. It will have an academic side to it paired with performance, film, every kind of art form you can imagine. There will be themes and artists will be invited to produce work together, to collaborate. There will be workshops, discussions, exhibits. Artists will be given resources of space, materials, connections with each other and they will choose how they want to work together.

Read more about Jenni Lewin-Turner’s work in the arts at

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