After an exquisite breakfast of fresh fruit and hot flapjacks during our recent honeymoon in Belize, my husband, J.P., and I slowly sipped our glasses of orange juice and walked 20 feet from the Turtle Inn restaurant to the sandy beach. The Caribbean Sea seemed to stretch for miles down the shoreline, and we wanted to explore. He motioned toward an empty double kayak resting in the sand and pulled it into the water. We grabbed two paddles and headed out to sea toward the nearby village of Placencia.
Back home in Jackson, it was a typical November with highs in the 50s, but in Belize, the 80-degree cloudless sky bore no shield from the unyielding sun, and with each paddle stroke, I grew more tired. After what felt like hours of paddling to my feeble arms, we found a small nook where we parked the kayak next to a hollow tree log. As we walked along the wet sand, a young woman wearing a black backpack approached us. "Would you like to buy some Mayan artifacts?" she asked us.
Before we could say that we didn't bring any money, she had swung her bag around to her chest and took out small handcrafted wooden boxes and jewelry. As she held them out in her palms, she explained that she was selling them to help save enough money for her sister to go to college.
Like most artwork we'd seen in Belize, the craftsmanship was detailed and efficient. Her trinkets resembled much of the Mayan woodcrafts sold in the Belize City airport and small local markets, but they were still small works of art. We told her that we didn't have any money, and her face visibly sank.
"I'll be walking the beach all day. Will you come find me later?" she asked us.
"Sure, definitely," I replied.
We didn't see her again that day, or any other for that matter, but her predicament made a lasting impression on me. Of course, she could have been delivering a cliché sob story to cajole tourists into purchasing her work, but I didn't get that vibe. Maybe it was because every Belizean we'd met up until that point was nothing but genuine and sincere. Or maybe because for her, art was more than expression. It was a vehicle to meet her family's needs.
As a child, my parents and teachers always encouraged me to pursue a fulfilling career in whatever field I chose. I understood that artistry could be a full-time job; they instilled that notion in me. For a long time, I was sure that a career as a dancer/choreographer would mean a happy life for me, too. I abandoned that dream my senior year of high school, but I continued to dance and paint and write for myself. I still relished in sharing my art with others, but I did not rely on it for essentials.
The Belizean woman J.P. and I met on the beach, who was no more than 30 years old, created art for other people. I'm sure she created it for herself, too, but her art's purpose was to provide for her family.
As I thought more about her, I began to appreciate the artists I interact with every day. They differ from the young woman in that they have developed their talent into a career that they perform in a studio, but they are essentially the same: Most artists in Jackson rely on patrons, good souls and art connoisseurs, to be successfulat least in the sense of earning enough money to pay rent and eat. Some of our artists moonlight as baristas, babysitters and bartenders to make ends meet, but at the end of the day, they've chosen a life of cathartic bliss and a career that makes them happy. Most importantly, though, they've chosen a profession that relies on Jackson to support them.
The current recession has hit some people harder than others. Some have only seen grocery prices skyrocket while others have been laid off from their jobs or lost thousands of dollars in the stock market. It's more difficult in these times to support local art, but as many financial analysts point out, consumer spending helps fuel the economy. As we enter the last few weeks of the holiday season, many of us are cutting back spending. But many of us who can afford to do so are still buying gifts for loved ones during the season.
So, instead of buying the latest Apple product for the ones you love (and those you pretend to like), incorporate art into your shopping list. Many people have different ideas of what art really is. Some people think it's highbrow and inaccessible; others think art is only what can be framed and placed in a gallery; still others see art as any tangible creative expression. I hold to the truth that art is whatever you choose it to be. And most often than not, it is affordable, accessible and enjoyable. From handcrafted necklaces to photographic prints to watercolor paintings to tattoos, art is everywhere and for everyone.
Help build community by feeding back into it. If you haven't already, go to Make The Pledge! and take the Buy Local Pledge. The more money you spend in local shops and restaurants, the more money the city has for roadwork, public education funding and more. Pledging to spend just $100 locally can go a long way, and helps support the people you live and work with.
As you thumb through the pages of this Winter Arts Preview, remember the men and women who refused to be stuck in a cubicle for the rest of their lives and who decided to follow their dreams. Think of them sitting in their studios, galleries, tattoo shops and stores waiting for the Jackson community to embrace them. Think of the Belizean woman on the beach who was desperate to sell her art to help send her sister to college. Artists create art for themselves, but also for us. So go out and support them.
Congratulations on tying the knot!
Any recommendations for local art?