When Paint Jamaica founder Marianna Farag, a native of France, first visited Fleet Street in Kingston in 2014, she found herself at a gigantic abandoned warehouse bordering the fence of a local schoolyard. The neighborhood, Parade Gardens, is known to some as an impoverished inner city, and to others it is hardly known at all. Marianna had booked a trip to Jamaica for a vacation from her high-powered marketing job in New York City. On Fleet Street, however, she discovered that Jamaica felt a lot more like home.
The abandoned warehouse is now the site of Paint Jamaica, a street-art movement Farag launched to beautify the walls of Fleet Street and address the negative stigma surrounding this place. “I started to meet a lot of artists and realized that the art scene here is incredible,” explains Farag. “I thought, why don’t we use street art to uplift communities in need?“
The Paint Jamaica team—a collective of visiting and local artists—interviewed residents of Fleet Street to understand their aspirations for the neighborhood. What issues did they want to change? What painted images did people want to see? Paint Jamaica was determined to create murals that felt genuine and reflected stories from the community. The result? Something beyond what the Paint Jamaica team ever expected.
“When we finished the first project, it was doing a lot of good in the community,” Farag says. “The art formed a kind of unity and improved self-esteem. So we immediately kicked off the second project at the primary school on Fleet Street. I could see from there that Paint Jamaica was growing.”
Travelers from all over the world came to Kingston to see Paint Jamaica on Fleet Street, a place they would have never visited years ago. The locals felt a newfound sense of pride and value living in Parade Gardens, whose larger-than-life paintings excited residents who lived close by and attracted students on their way to school each morning.
Soon enough, artists from all over the world were coming to Fleet Street to paint their own murals. “People felt inspired to do their own little Paint Jamaica in the communities,” Farag says. “Paint Jamaica was just the start of something that became a very democratic process for anyone who wanted to have an impact in the community through the arts.”
Following several visits to Jamaica in the last two years, Marianna quit her job and moved to Kingston. The enormous impact of Paint Jamaica, the friends she made, and the community that welcomed her, was enough to convince her of starting a new life there. Although Marianna discovered a passion for the arts painting street murals, at home she prefers to spend more time in the kitchen than with paint brushes, and likes to photograph her daily adventures.