“Incredible” was how Chewstick founder Gavin Smith described the imminent opening of the Chewstick Neo Griot Lounge and Café — a dream he has had since he launched the creative arts movement exactly eight years ago.
The ground level venue is due to open on the corner of Elliott and Court Street later this month and will be home to live music and spoken word performances, artist showcases, work shops, lectures, as well as functioning as an art gallery and public meeting space. The organization has come a long way since the days of merely hosting weekly open mic sessions.
This weekend the foundation gave the public a sneak preview of the property attended by the Premier Paula Cox and Governor Sir. Richard Gozney. The preview was followed by an evening of entertainment at the Spinning Wheel Entertainment Complex on Court Street — the last event Chewstick would host at the venue before moving into its new space.
Mr. Smith sat down with the Bermuda Sun to talk about the new venue and his plans for the future.
Why are you opening the new venue now?
“We've been trying aggressively for three years to do this but it has been difficult to find the right mix of space and place.
“We have always made it part of our mandate to be somewhere that allows for the most people to come.
“There are places on Front Street and Bermudiana Road where dress codes and prices are designed to keep certain people out. We want to attract the broadest demographic appeal.
“We opened our headquarters below the café last year with the intention of buying the whole building from Eugene Clark which we still intend to do eventually.
What will you be hosting at the new venue?
“We will have movie nights, individual artist and band showcases, lectures and workshops. People are itching to rent the place whether it’s for Salsa or just a meeting space. We are going to have wifi and word processing. It's a very needed asset in this area.
“This will also, I believe, be the first art gallery on Court Street. I've been trying to find out but I’m pretty sure this is the first for the strip.”
What’s the schedule?
“When we open up in late January or February, the general vibe will be three different nights including involving a weekly schedule of griot session, jam sessions and band or artist showcases over Friday, Saturday and Sundays. After three to six months we will expand into the week nights. Then we want to broaden to opening during the day and also be a coffee shop where people can come in at 6am.”
Why did you move into this building?
“It's been divine the way this has worked out regarding this space — it was the birth place of (musician) (Michael) Curtis Clark in the 60s, the Ital Foundation in the 70s early 80s and Chewstick in the 2000s — all rich, cultural Bermuda institutions. The building is also significant because it is at the heart of the area — divided between north and south Court Street. It's unique.”
Has the recent violence in the area put you off in any way?
“These incidences make us dig in even more and say ‘there is more work to be done’. An elder, advisor of mine who we call Dread uses the metaphor 'a fireman doesn't run from a fire. So we are here to get rid of that darkness that's gotten into our community.”
Who can we expect to see on stage?
“I’m making a beeline for Ital Foundation as a house band.
“The intention is to have more of a rotation — we will have all the regulars such as (Taylor Rankin, Joy Barnum, and Canjelae Taylor) and we want to get musicians from other organizations such as the Folk Club and Tha Underground.
How will it be funded?
Our main sponsor is Atlantic Philanthropies and we are now in the process of looking for others to support us.
“The hope is to get artists compensated through door charges.
How does it feel to have realised your dream of a dedicated Chewstick venue?
“It's weird still, I get shocked at times. I believe this is where we are meant to be and I'm committed to making it happen and
making Bermuda proud.”
For more information about how to support Chewstick visit: www.chewstick.org or call 292-2439.