Purists may say that art deserves to be valued for the sake of art alone but is it such a bad thing if creativity is used to play a functional role in stimulation social change? Grenadian artist and illustrator, Stacey Byer, is skillfully exploring the boundaries of the practice but it’s her interest in using art to serve a greater purpose that makes her stand out as a change-maker.
The reasons why are best explained by one of the many people who nominated her: “I would like to recommend Stacey Byer. She is a Grenadian illustrator, trained at the Ringling College of Art and Design, Florida, where she earned a BFA. [She was the] first Grenadian artist featured in ARC magazine‘s debut issue as an upcoming artist to watch. [She is] trying to challenge perception that art in Grenada is only ornamental and commercial – art’s power to stimulate imagination, inspire and communicate can help personal development and enrich the culture of Grenadian people by giving them tools to shape their identity and ideals. Art has social merit.”
What drew you to get involved with/ co-curated WOMA, Grenada’s first all female charity exhibition?
When I returned to Grenada after college, I felt like there was a lot of potential for different creative initiatives, specifically alternative ways art could be developed and exhibited. I wanted to see more themed shows and more opportunities for unconventional expression outside of the traditional exhibition form. I liked the idea of highlighting a group of women artists and with the help of my friend Trinidadian artist Tracey Chan we formed Women Make Art (WOMA) as a platform for contemporary art expression in Grenada and beyond. We were interested in focusing on issues that affect Caribbean artists, specifically female artists of colour. In our first show hosted by the Grenada Arts Council, we wanted to focus on encouraging young female artists to further explore their psyches and think about producing work on a more professional level. We also thought it important to have our artists engage in critical conversation about issues that affect women and Grenadian society at large. The first exhibition, therefore, was linked to a charitable cause and we raised money through the sale of artwork to support the Grenada National Organisation of Women’s work on domestic violence.
You have taught at Grand Anse Playgroup, volunteer with Early Childhood Intervention Programme and have been involved with Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) in Grenada. Why do you enjoy working with children and young people?
Art is very multifunctional (educational, communicative and therapeutic) making it the perfect medium for children and young people. Children in general love art and they are so full of wonder and ideas because they have not yet been socialized to think and act a certain away. That sense of “no boundaries” in their thinking is so refreshing and inspiring to see. For teenagers especially, art is a great form of communication and useful for self-expression, because they’re trying to figure out who they are and often don’t feel understood by their parents and adults in their lives. Being present when these groups learn, explore and communicate through art continues to be a very enlightening and positive experience for them and for me.
Many young people are put off pursuing their passion for art because of the perception it’s impossible to make living. How much effort do you put into marketing your work?
To be a career artist is a huge commitment and to be one in the Caribbean takes a lot of sacrifices as it’s such a different lifestyle compared to the conventional 9-5 schedule. Art jobs and projects can be scarce so marketing has to be on-going. I think to be a professional artist you have to have focus, know your goals and have a plan. Decide what type of artist you are going to be, research what type of work/s you are going to be producing and learn your market. You are your work; therefore, you are a walking billboard. At the end of the day most artists don’t go into this field for money but rather for the love of the craft. That being said, it doesn’t mean choosing to work as an artist automatically makes you impoverished for the rest of your life; you just have to make strategic choices. This is an ongoing struggle for most of us but because we love what we do, we stick with it!
Why did you decide to collaborate with Mario Picayo on an educational story book for children?
When I first read the manuscript “Fun Fun One Crab On The Run”, I instantly saw the illustrations in my head, the words just conjured such strong imagery. I loved how Mario crafted his story, how it was multifunctional (reading, counting, science) and how unabashedly Caribbean it was. Not only is this a fun, colourful book that encourages reading, its use of familiar Caribbean fauna and flora is relevant for Caribbean children in particular. I was ready and excited to be part of a book that not only functions as an educational tool but would encourage kids from multicultural backgrounds and developing economies to appreciate their surroundings, and ultimately view where they come from in a positive light.
How has the book been received?
I’m happy to say very well. I first presented Fun Crab to the Ministry of Education and the feedback was positive and encouraging, then the Grenada Launch was in November 2013 and by December we had sold almost 400 books in Grenada alone. I devised a patron system so that Grenadian companies could support the distribution of Fun Crab books to the pre-primary and primary schools. We surpassed our target number and handed almost 170 books to the schools in Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique. Some teachers have already adapted some of their lessons based on Fun Crab and we recently received a slew of Fun Crab inspired artwork from some of the pre-primary school children. The wonderful organization Hands Across the Sea on their own initiative bought Fun Crab books to send to schools in St. Lucia, St. Kitts. Antigua, Dominica and St Vincent and the Grenadines and people all over the world continue to buy the book on Amazon where it’s had excellent reviews!
What’s the worst piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Artists are useless, you should find a real job.
If you could commit to changing one issue in Grenada, what would it be?
The perception of art in education. Integrating art into the school curriculum does not mean that kids will ultimately choose a career in art. Instead it gives them the tools to reach their full potential, whatever that may be. Studies have shown that kids who are exposed to art excel more in the areas of math, reading, cognitive ability, critical thinking, and verbal skills. Yes, ART CAN DO ALL OF THAT!