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WWFMD? In Conversation with Fresh Milk

WW..D? Is an interview segment where we get to know awesome people that are a part of the creative community in New Zealand.

This week we spoke to Fresh Milk Art Platform Inc. Fresh Milk Art Platform Inc. or Fresh Milk for short is an artist run, nonprofit organisation based in Barbados in the Caribbean. Fresh Milk was founded in 2011 and is based on a working farm, they offer a diverse multi-disciplinary programme including international residencies. Read more for what would Fresh Milk do?

Some artist run initiatives start as a way of showing their own work or showing artists that they feel aren’t getting a lot of attention. Does Fresh Milk have a similar story?

Fresh Milk originally manifested as a space to address the nearly 100% attrition rate of BFA students at Barbados Community College (BCC), the only institution on the island offering a BFA programme. In 2011, it launched as a project/research space for the visual arts, and by late 2012 it had developed a micro-residency programme for local, regional and international artists. It has continued to grow and develop organically over the years to nurture the creative environment and be a space of possibility for young artists.

Who are the people behind Fresh Milk?

Currently, Fresh Milk has a core team of three. The Founding Director is Annalee Davis, an established Barbadian visual artist who also teaches part time in the BFA programme at BCC. Katherine Kennedy is an artist and writer who works as Fresh Milk’s Communications & Operations Manager, and Natalie McGuire is our Community Programming Curator. We also have a number of volunteers and project partners who are imperative to the sustainability of Fresh Milk.

I’ve seen a few things on your Instagram feed showcasing artists that are a part of your residency programme. Would you be able to tell me a little more about that?

Fresh Milk hosts local, regional and international residencies as a way to support the process of artmaking, while increasing visibility and expanding critical dialogues around contemporary art within the island and beyond our shores. The international programme has gained a great deal of interest over the last couple of years, particularly from Caribbean diasporic artists who are interested in reconnecting with the region and seeing how their work resonates in this space.

Maintaining an investment in the local arts community is of utmost importance to us, and every resident artist is required to carry out some form of community outreach as an open way of contributing to Barbados’ cultural development. Wherever an artist hails from, our focus is on fostering meaningful encounters that birth ongoing relationships and possibilities, extending far beyond the actual residency period.

How do the artists from overseas respond to or work in the Caribbean environment with its loaded history?

The residents from overseas who come to Fresh Milk usually have preconceived ideas of their project, but physically being in the space often opens up new connections to those ideas and how they might relate to the history of Barbados and the contemporary environment. We can’t speak on behalf of the artists, but each resident has logged their individual experiences in blogs that can be read here.

Recently you have been involved with a project called Transoceanic Visual Exchange (TVE) which included RM Gallery here in Aotearoa. What was that experience like for your artist-led space?

TVE was a project consisting of the virtual exchange of film and video works aimed at transcending borders while building a creative network outside of traditional geo-political zones of encounter and trade. The initiative resulted from connections made between Fresh Milk and two other artist led spaces who met at the David Dale Gallery’s International Artist Initiated project in Glasgow in 2014 – RM, Auckland and Video Art Network Lagos, Nigeria. The experience was unique for Fresh Milk in terms of presenting new media to Barbadian audiences, as well as the notion of creating an online exchange of works and generating a community-driven curatorial framework.

TVE exhibits an art form not widely seen in the island. Because new media doesn’t fit neatly into more familiar formats such as full length features or documentaries, we sensed a level of uncertainty about how to approach the work. Moving forward, we hope to develop educational programming as a vital component within TVE, encouraging a greater understanding of what new media is while supporting artists who are committed to this way of working.

What projects are you currently involved with?

We have local community programming projects involving schools in the area and have established Fresh Milk Books, a group of likeminded creatives who engage with the collection in the Colleen Lewis Reading Room. Examples of our ongoing collaborative projects include the Caribbean Linked residency programme, a crucial space for building awareness across disparate creative communities of the Caribbean. Another of our largest cooperative endeavours is Tilting Axis, an annual meeting of creative practitioners in the region and diaspora about best practices in Caribbean contemporary arts. More information on our initiatives can be found here.

And lastly, what advice would you give to artists interested in starting their own artist run initiative?

The first thing we would suggest is to look critically at the creative context you are working within and identify any strengths you want to build on or areas lacking support, so that your mission responds to the needs of your arts community and fills a void. Ensuring that you have a strong team of trusted, dedicated people to work with who share your vision would be our other piece of advice. The core team, our volunteers and partners have always been incredibly generous with their time and energy, and this has been invaluable to the success and impact of the platform and our projects. Also, believe in the power of what small initiatives in small places can do and go brave!

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