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Chewstick to ‘rise from ashes’

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Stark reality: Chewstick founder Gavin Djata Smith takes a sobering look at the damage done to the charity's Culture Hub in last Thursday's devastating Front Street fire

The Chewstick Foundation has said its future will depend on the support of the community as it launches a robust fundraising campaign to recoup some of the losses incurred by last Thursday’s fire.

Most of the arts charity’s belongings and physical space were lost in the fire and Chewstick founder and executive director Gavin Djata Smith anticipates that the majority of losses will not be covered by their insurance.

“With the primary revenue stream lost to the fire, and renovation costs that remain outstanding, Chewstick needs to raise money to recoup significant losses,” Mr Smith told The Royal Gazette.

“Without raising funds to pay for the costs of lost renovations, equipment, and operational revenue streams, we will not be in a position to reopen, relocate, or rebuild.

“Without significant financial support, Chewstick will become inoperable for the immediate future, and possibly for some time. We urge all members of the community to donate to this charity that has worked tirelessly over the last 13 years to empower one, and to enrich all.”

Members of the community are already pulling together to help out — the Bermuda Musical and Dramatic Society raised $1,221 during a special music event after the fire.

Finances aside, Mr Smith said much of what was lost in the fire, including cultural artefacts and historical archives, are irreplaceable.

“It appears that all equipment, furnishings, instruments, art, and cultural items have been destroyed by fire, heat, smoke, water or structural collapse. We do not anticipate insurance to cover most of our losses and many of the items destroyed are truly irreplaceable.

“Some of the losses include original vinyl records from Lance Hayward and Ital Foundation, Gene Steede’s guitar, the lifetime collection of artist Michael DeSilva, Calix Smith’s recent art show, as well as my complete works of art and countless other cultural and artistic artefacts of Bermuda.”

Chewstick was launched 13 years ago, became a charity in May 2009 and was in the final stages of completing its Culture Hub on Front Street after a year and a half of fundraising and renovations.

On the charity’s tenth anniversary, Mr Smith told this reporter: “The first ten years have been about development, experiment and exploration — the next ten years will really be about fortification and getting ready for the future.”

That stage of the journey has now taken a significant blow.

Mr Smith wanted to remind the public all that Chewstick has offered the community over the years, saying: “The Chewstick Culture Hub was designed to be a safe space for the Bermuda community, catering to the development of the arts as an effective tool to help build bridges in Bermuda’s diverse community.

“It was also created to be a primary revenue line to help underwrite general operations of The Chewstick Foundation, to help subsidise Chewstick Foundation programming and to cover the significant costs incurred with creating a custom-built, multi-purpose performing arts community centre.

“Chewstick has always been about more than a physical space: Chewstick’s power, strength, and inspiration has always been about the people that the organisation empowered and united. The mission of The Chewstick Foundation is to empower storytelling, creative expression, and social justice to enrich youth, arts, culture, and community.

“This mission is achieved through a diverse variety of programming including; the famous Neo-Griot Lounge Open-Mic Jam Session, the Break The Chains Youth Poetry Programme, TWIGS Youth Open-Mic Programme, creative outreach programmes with inmates within the Department of Corrections, Chewstick Retreat Programme, Chewstick Community Art Programme, and countless events and initiatives highlighting the best of Bermuda’s music, poetry, film, art, and academia.

“The Culture Hub was also quickly proving to be a vital resource for fellow charities and grass-roots initiatives as one of the few neutral spaces that could accommodate deeper engagement and understanding.

“The loss of this space has become a depressing reality for so many in Bermuda, not only the creatives that utilise Chewstick as a resource and sanctuary, but also their families & friends, the audience, and supporters of the arts generally. Bermuda needs Chewstick.

“The future is uncertain, but like a phoenix, the community can empower Chewstick to rise from the ashes.”

Mr Smith went on to thank the Bermuda Fire Service for its work in containing the fire, family, friends and allies for their support.

Donations can be made online at www.chewstick.org/online-donation or at donation jars at participating businesses such as Dangelini’s Cafe or Rock Island Coffee. Businesses can also request to have a donation jar at their locations. Donations can be made at the Chewstick Foundation (Bermuda Registered Charity #857) through fundraising@chewstick.org or by calling (441) 292-2439. For more information visit www.chewstick.org and social media pages.