New chair steering Chewstick forward
Sharon Bailie was more excited about her new role than the grand name that came with it.
Chewstick Foundation founder Gavin Smith came up with the lofty title: the chair for the board of elders.
Translated, she's the charity's new chair, replacing Fiona Beck.
Mrs Bailie began on May 1 with two main initiatives: introduce Chewstick to a wider audience and find the charity a new home. “You know that phrase, we stand on the shoulders of those that have gone before us? That's where [my job title was] born from,” said the photographer, who turned 60 last week.
“We can learn so much from older people and at the same time they can learn from us.
“That's what I'm learning most about Chewstick — how things are defined and how in our minds they become real; whether it is how we integrate with each other or how we stay separate.”
She's worked with Kaleidoscope Arts Foundation, Masterworks Museum of Bermuda Art and Bermuda Hospitals Charitable Trust. In Thailand, she studied the art of Thai massage; in Singapore, she joined the Invisible Photographers of Asia, travelling with the group to different countries once a month.
She was drawn to Chewstick because it was “outside the mainstream”.
“Chewstick is more than just the storytelling, it's more than spoken word, it's more than music, it is more than a concert — it has evolved,” she said. “[Gavin's] vision has always been very clear. How we execute the vision may change from time to time, but he knew exactly what he wanted.
“He wanted somewhere people could come and be themselves.”
She returned to the island last year after living in Singapore and Ireland, and resumed the relationship she'd started with Chewstick in 2011.
“[In Asia we] really hung out with the locals. We'd give the children scholarships and their only requirement was to take us everywhere, places that other people didn't go.
“I didn't want to just travel to a place and then just see it as a visitor. I lived as locals lived. I ate what they ate. I learnt to cross a nine-lane highway in the middle of traffic.
“In being brave, I have done things I would have never dreamt of doing. Being brave is also taking on the role at Chewstick.”
She spent 2010 in Thailand. When she returned to Bermuda, her entire outlook had changed.
“All of a sudden, I was thrown back into my life again and it didn't have any texture any more. Chewstick provided the texture for me. It was colourful, it was loud, it accepted anyone and anything.”
Chewstick's 14th anniversary show in January showed how much the charity's members had evolved, she said.
“They were standing up and telling stories about where they had been and how things had changed for them and how Chewstick had been at the centre of this for them.
“You could really feel how they'd grown. They're still working at their talent, whether it's in music, storytelling or acting or drama.
“I think I took some of the most amazing photos that I've ever taken in my life and I realised it was because I truly enjoyed what I was doing. Chewstick is made up of a whole host of people and I'm just there to steady the ship.”
She continued: “I'd like local companies and corporations to use Chewstick as a resource so that we can show them how to break down the barriers.
“I know that's part of Gavin's vision, but it didn't ring true with me until I actually was part of it. My goal over the next six months is to get on the Rotary circuit and to speak to organisations that have only heard of Chewstick since the fire [that devastated its Front Street headquarters last July].
“The more we can introduce Chewstick across a wider section of Bermuda, the more opportunities there will be for both Chewstick and people in Bermuda.”
To that end, the group has hosted a series of events across the island: an open mic night at St George's Sweet Saak Bakery; a concert at The Grand featuring Joy Barnum and Gene Steede; a fundraiser for Up With People hopeful Ayana Bean at Bungalow 56; “larger than life” murals for the Bermuda Land Development Corporation at Turtle Bay and Clearwater Beach in St David's. Part proceeds will go towards the future cost of their next bricks-and-mortar space.
“So many people say to me, just let me know when Chewstick has a new place and then I'll come out,” Mrs Bailie said.
“We can't get a new place until you come out.”