Gavin Djata Smith’s passion for the arts can’t be pinned down to one discipline. After graduating from Savannah College of Art and Design, he came back to Bermuda, started working as a graphic designer and formed a rap group on the side. He and his friends had original material to showcase but discovered there wasn’t a local venue to support them. So they created one.
“We needed a creative outlet and others did, too,” says, Smith, reflecting on the founding of The Chewstick Foundation, back in 2003. Now a robust non-profit that supports community art installations and live performances, Chewstick got its start hosting nomadic open-mic events.
“We’ve been steadily growing and celebrating Bermuda culture—breaking down barriers and building engagement and awareness,” says Smith. “It’s been awesome to help the development of some incredible local artists.”
Tell us more about Chewstick’s mission.
The community art program is a good one to reference. It’s a way to expose people to beautiful street art, graffiti, and actual art as they’re on their way to work or going about daily life. It’s also inclusive: Anyone (kid, amateurs) can join us when we’re creating one of these projects. And it empowers storytelling because we focus our installations on local stories, iconography, and people.
One great example was an installation about Lance Hayward, an incredible Bermudian jazz musician and the first artist ever signed to Island Records. When Chris Blackwell was trying to start Island Records, before he even met Bob Marley, he hit it off with Hayward, who was doing a residency in Jamaica at the time. It’s a story that people don’t necessarily know but should.
There’s so much talent in Bermuda—we’re punching above our weight class but finding opportunities to shine can be difficult, so Chewstick is about helping emerging artists young or old and also educating people on our culture.
Where can people find current Chewstick installations around the island?
One popular photo-op is a Bermuda flag installation that was created on Front Street on the dockside near the Ferry Terminal.
Along Chancery Lane, a little pedestrian throughway off Front Street, we partnered with the city of Hamilton to enlist participants in our poetry program to compose poetry for flights of stairs, so as you’re walking up, you’re receiving some positive-affirmation.
What other arts organizations would you recommend?
When I was growing up, I didn’t go to the established creative spaces, largely because of diversity issues. But now all the arts organizations have tried to take on this inclusivity, which has been really good and has created a more dynamic scene.
The five main players are Masterworks Gallery near the Botanical Gardens; the Bermuda National Gallery and the Bermuda Society of Arts, which focus on emerging local talents in downtown Hamilton by City Hall; the Bermuda Arts Centre at Dockyard; and the Kaleidoscope Arts Foundation which is more educational on visual art.
When it comes to live performances, that was one of the gaps Chewstick was filling. But the scene is getting better. We helped introduce the team at Marcus’ restaurant to some local bands and now they host live music on Thursdays.
What are some of your favorite local experiences beyond the arts?
My go-to recommendations are the St. George’s area, Dockyard, and Art Mel’s for a fish sandwich. And while most people go to Horseshoe Bay, I encourage checking out Clearwater Beach, which is more peaceful and part of Cooper’s Island Nature Reserve.
I also enjoy the Railway Trail, an island-wide nature walk experience—which means you can access it relatively easily wherever you’re staying. You can take a sunset walk along a stretch of the trail in the Bailey’s Bay area, which is newly connected by pedestrian bridges.
What might surprise visitors about Bermuda?
The people. A lot of places may say this, but I feel like Bermuda has the most laid-back, friendly people on earth. If you get lost, just ask somebody. Bermuda’s small, with only 65,000 residents; it’s safe and a place where you can really get outside the hotel and explore. I’ve traveled around, and when I come home, it hits me, whoa, Bermuda and Bermudians are just beautiful.