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Charity shares ‘Chew Stories’

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Celebrating anniversary: Gavin Smith, executive director and founder of Chewstick, and Deidra-Lee Bean, operations manager

Fourteen years may not be a milestone, but Chewstick is celebrating wherever it can.

After a fire devastated their Front Street locale in July, the charity’s aim is to ensure their programmes aren’t extinguished as well.

Tonight’s anniversary show, Chew Stories of Hope, will feature music, poetry and “straight-up storytelling”. Each performer will also share a story of hope.

“Most businesses don’t last past five years,” said the foundation’s founder Gavin Smith.

“When I think of the first five years, the seeds were being planted for what we would become. Many of the organisations, movements and efforts similar to Chewstick haven’t had the longevity that 14 years represents.

“It’s been a long haul and some great years that have really impacted the community.”

As such, every year is considered “a victory”, said operations manager Deidra-Lee Bean

“Celebrating is our message to say that we are committed to moving forward and that we want to honour the past and look to the future,” she said.

Mr Smith started the charity soon after he finished university. His experience at Savannah College of Art and Design opened his mind “up to the world”.

“It was very intimidating, exciting and interesting to be surrounded by so many different people from all walks of life,” he said.

“That’s when I first got exposed to alternate types of expression. Before that, I had been into rap and reggae and R&B. When I was in university, it became folk, rock, blues, opera — it really opened up. My wife got me a guitar on my 21st birthday and I started to really explore my own voice.

“Returning home a year later, I wanted to continue my creative journey as well as share and there was no real platform to do that.”

Then, popular open mic nights such as Flow Sundays and Nenu Letu, weren’t the right fit, he added. What he and his friends were looking for was something that was all-inclusive, where people could see “everything from hard core rap to Celtic folk dancing and everything in between”.

John Seymour, the musical director at First Church of God, singer Kassie Caines, rapper Kidd Clazzic and storyteller Glenn Fubler are among those on tonight’s bill. A special tribute will be paid to the late Bermudian musician Lance Hayward.

“We’ve seen more diversity than most of the stages in Bermuda and Chewstick has helped a lot of emerging creatives to find their voice, to find their audience and to connect with each other,” Mr Smith said.

“Whether it’s for inspiration, for competition or for collaboration, there’s really no other space that actively seeks to be a bridge builder.”

The charity has yet to find a replacement culture hub. Meanwhile, it’s taking a “nomadic approach” to programmes and activities. Last Friday’s show at the World Heritage Centre, featuring reggae artist Mishka, was the first.

“A lot of people ask, ‘Where is the new place?’ There is no new place,” the 38-year-old said. “The culture hub created the opportunity, so without it, it really does become difficult to attract and build this convergence.”

Chewstick’s first permanent location was at Champions bar on Reid Street.

“At that time, Champions was one of the notorious locations and a lot of people had reservations about us going there,” he said.

“For me, it was really important to tackle this issue of negative spaces that are seen to be off-limits. We did a few experiments in later years. We went from Level [now Cosmopolitan] and alternated, bimonthly, from there to Spinning Wheel. What we showed with that one-year experiment was that more participants felt more comfortable at Spinning Wheel than they did at Level.

“The common narrative about back-a-town and these longstanding black spaces is all rhetoric.

“These are beautiful black-owned businesses and despite some of the negative associations with North Hamilton, we were able to frame it in a new light and introduce people that would never have met otherwise.

“The Front Street opportunity was a real blessing — some people think it was a coup. Bermuda culture’s never really been represented on Front Street before and particularly a space designed to bring everyone together. We were just starting to reveal our strength at doing that. That’s the real loss. Not the property, not the investment, not even the time — which was considerable — it was that specific address and position of an organisation that was designed to try and help to heal, educate, connect Bermuda’s diverse and beautiful community.”

Chew Stories of Hope starts at 8pm at the Earl Cameron Theatre. General admission is $30; patron tickets are $100. Tickets are available at ptix.bm or at the door. For more information visit www.chewstick.org

Gavin Smith, executive director and founder of Chewstick and Deidra-Lee Bean, operations manager (Photograph by Akil Simmons)
Gavin Smith, executive director and founder of Chewstick and Deidra-Lee Bean, operations manager (Photograph by Akil Simmons)