As creative space Alice Yard enters its 10th year of existence, its co-founders, architect Sean Leonard, artist Christopher Cozier and writer Nicholas Laughlin say the secret to their success is their spontaneity and responsiveness to what is happening around them.
They said they’ve never had a plan for what they’ve wanted the space to become, and this has helped them remain alive over the years. When they began, their main question was, if we make the space available for people to do certain kinds of creative or intellectual work, who will come and what will they want to do?
In the beginning, the space was primarily used by musicians, including 12 The Band, founded by Sheldon Holder. In addition to practicing there, Holder would host a Friday night event called Conversations at the Yard. However, these events got “a little too loud and a little bit unmanageable for us and was affecting our relationship to the neighbourhood, so we decided we didn’t set up this space to be a place for people to lime,” said Laughlin. The space was also being used by artists Marlon Griffith, Jaime Lee Loy, and Nikolai Noel, who formed the group The Collaborative Frog.
In 2008, the space saw the addition of the Alice Yard Box, a tiny glass-fronted gallery, while in late 2009, the Habitat living space was created. The Yard has hosted a range of people and events, from contemporary artists to musicians to literary events to visiting experts. The different types of events draw different types of audiences, some of which may overlap, and others of which may not know of each others’ existence.
A main aim of the curators is to give people a space who would not necessarily have one, not only to start out in their artistic and music careers, but also to meet, rehearse, practice, etc. Laughlin said “it’s for people who are looking for a space that doesn’t otherwise exist for them to do, hear or see what they want.” Leonard said “all sorts of people ask to do all kinds of things, so it would appear that many kinds of projects or people who are managing projects seem to think that maybe this space is able, for different reasons, to accommodate them in some way.”
They said their other space, Granderson Lab on Erthig Road in Belmont, has also been instrumental in achieving this aim.
The downstairs hosts the Propaganda Space and Robert Young’s The Cloth, while the top floor has shared artist space for various creative people. Both spaces have also served as initial meeting places for various advocacy and lobbying groups.
An important and often overlooked aspect of the Yard is the soundproof band room, which the trio said has run on a parallel thread as the Yard, and has had the widest participation in terms of groups and age ranges. “I have seen everybody from Professor Philmore to Alison Hnds to Orange Sky or three schoolboys. Artists and bands like Ronnie McIntosh, David Rudder, Yung Rudd, Ella Andell, 3 Canal, Shurwayne Winchester, Orange Sky, Gyazette have all used that space,” Cozier said.
Leonard said the relationships which have been formed over the 10 year period have been as important to them as the development of the physical space, not only the relationship between the trio, but also those formed with the network of artists and others who have used and interacted with the space. The Yard enables people to make connections. Cozier said “If one artist, curator or thinker comes from another part of the world, and there are 20 people in the room, you don’t know which of those two people you may have reached out to, and then you’re going to see that coming back in 10 years. We don’t know what will happen in subsequent years by the kinds of interactions that will have taken place in the Yard.” Laughlin said this has already begun to happen “when you hear a young artist who started at Alice Yard is now being curated at an international show or has been invited on a residency.” Leonard said it’s wonderful that the students are now starting to reach out and recommend others to come to the Yard.
Reaching out to young people is something that the trio has done consistently since the beginning of the Yard. Laughlin said “over the years, we’ve had generations of young ex-UWI people coming to us who had nowhere to go, saying “where do we go to show our work because there’s no space or context for us, a commercial gallery is not going to take us on,” and it’s been really gratifying to see how they came to us when they were 19 or 20 or 21, and now they’re building careers and moving around. We can see the process of exchange, see how they’ve enriched the process of what we’re doing, as well what they’re able to give back to us,” Laughlin said.
Cozier said it has gotten to the point where having a relationship with or a presence at Alice Yard “is something you can put on your CV, so as they travel, being able to say I’ve done something at Alice Yard or I’m part of a network or conversation with Alice Yard, has been useful to them in opening doors or getting interactions that they may not have necessarily have been able to secure before.”
The trio said they will continue to run the Yard as long as it remains fun. Two main reasons it continues to engage them is that they run the space without funding, and they don’t irritate each other.
There are many events planned for the 10th anniversary celebration. The first, starting on September
11, will be an exhibition by Bahamian artist Blue Curry, the current artist-in-residence. Along with this, there will be an archival exhibition documenting the moment when the Yard began, along with the announcement of a curatorial project involving a number of artists who have been involved with the Yard. Over the course of the year, there will be the release of an anthology of writing that is connected with the Yard, along with the handover of material to begin an Alice Yard anthology to be hosted at the UWI Library. Many more activities are in the works as well.
Laughlin said the Yard is, and remains, a Woodbrook backyard, with the attendant problems, but what is fascinating is how “the space is physically the same space, but you have all these exchanges, conversations, actions and it changes because you’ve had all these experiences in it, and there are all these layers, like archaeological layers of experience.”