Downtown Kingston in the 1930s

In December 2015, UNESCO designated Kingston, Jamaica as a music city.  In light of the approaching anniversary, the Institute of Jamaica organized a panel discussion in which the various speakers gave their visions of how this historic city and vital commercial centre could be regenerated.  Having ideas of my own as to how it could be done, I found the speakers’ contributions to be very thought provoking and would like to share some of the opinions expressed by them.


Mrs. Gillian Wilkinson McDaniel Ministry of Culture, Gender and Sport Senior Director of Entertainment said that Jamaica had produced six genres of music including ska, rock steady, reggae, mento, dub, dancehall.  She also suggested using the Norman Manley International Airport as a space for art bearing in mind that 85% of passengers that use this gateway are Jamaican.  She mentioned that Coronation Market is a favourite location for foreign film makers as its wide variety of colour translates very well on film.  She also suggested creating cultural exchanges with other creative cities like Bogota, Colombia.

Mr. Eugene Williams, dramatist of the Edna Manley School of the Visual and Performing Arts suggested using open spaces for street theatre.  He also made mention of community theatre groups like Sistren , Area Youth Foundation and Groundwork Theatre Company.

Dr. Clinton Hutton, renown author and lecturer at the University of the West Indies mentioned Kingston’s cultural uniqueness as a result of persons migrating from other parts of the country bringing their artistic creativity.  He gave kumina migrating from the parish of St Thomas as an example.  Dr. Clinton suggested that sculptures could be built to shape urban spaces.


Dr. Patricia Green, architect and head of the Caribbean School of Architecture at  the University of Technology  spoke about the buildings in downtown and the overall design of the city.  She pointed to the design as one based on big streets and small lanes.  She lamented the disappearing fretwork which was a common sight in the city’s heyday.

Mrs. Elizabeth Piggou Dennis, another architect based at the University of Technology also spoke about Kingston’s architecture.  She said that even though the city of Kingston was founded in 1692, it does not show its age as it has been rebuilt many times because of fires and earthquakes.  However there are fragments like tombstones that go back to the city’s founding.

Dr. Kademawe Knife, social enterprise expert and lecturer at the University of the West Indies said that the people of downtown Kingston needed to be fully involved in the regeneration of the city. He mentioned the economic linkages that music creates.  For example, when a dance is held, the fashion industry benefits from people buying outfits to attend as well as those providing refreshments.

The afternoon discussion ended at 7.30 pm with a jam session by foreign musicians who had played the ska festival held the night before joined by their local counterparts.


(c) A. Pierre Sobers