Nestled along the Atlantic coast and bound by Senegal is the next frontier of creativity and innovation. On March 3rd 2018, The “New Gambia”, as coined by the current Adama Barrow administration, officially adopted the Teaching Artist Institute (TAI) as lead partner in development and implementation of a 5-year master plan in Art for Social Transformation for the country. The 5-year master planning tool will use the core tenets of civic engagement, governmental transparency, cultural diplomacy, and symbolic landscape study to stimulate sustainable development in areas collectively identified by Gambian stakeholders as major developmental priorities.
According to His Excellency President Adama Barrow, the [emerging economy] is “fertile ground for sustainable development and surrounded by fresh water from the river… With 87% of our food imported and so many of our youth unemployed, with the proper infrastructure we could grow our own rice and employ our youth too. We need to change the culture of agriculture.” This represents a very different development approach from that of former President Yahaya Jammeh, who ruled the country for 22 years as a dictatorship until voted out of office in December of 2016. As the conversation continues, it is apparent that President Barrow understands both art and culture beyond the aesthetic value.
The Teaching Artist Institute (TAI), an organization dedicated to utilizing art culture as an approach to innovative community development, acknowledges that society is improved as a result of its ability to creatively process conflict and is preparing to address the “culture of agriculture” mentioned by President Barrow and many potential areas of growth in The Gambia. The Washington D.C. based organization, under the fiscal sponsorship of Jah Kente International, is currently in operation in Ghana, South Africa, Cameroon, Nigeria, Jamaica and throughout the USA, where founder Kim Poole resides.
Poole says “the Imagineering team is stocked with stakeholders from every sector who are prepared to give artists a seat at decision making tables for the sake of The Gambia and future countries. This is an opportunity for our young organization to make a real difference and prove ourselves.” Slated to begin work on July 1, 2018, the 5-year plan will ultimately produce an entire arts and cultural district focused on innovation, mixed use facilities and preservation.
This future “no drive zone” is positioning itself as one of the hallmarks of the what The New Gambia will represent, celebrating a diverse buy-in from both grassroots and grass tops communities. The first phase of the 5-year master plan’s implementation will be announced by President Barrow himself at the opening ceremony of the 2nd International Conference on Art for Social Transformation entitled ARTIZEN, taking place July 14th and 15th 2018 in the capital city of Banjul.
It is apparent that this bite size country has a huge appetite for progress and is setting a new standard for the role of artists in community development on the world stage.