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You don’t need to be Premier to make difference

Resource type: News

The Royal Gazette | [ View Original Source (opens in new window) ]

By Jessie Moniz

When 24-year-old Gavin Smith gained just 16 votes running against a former Premier in her own constituency back in 2003, it seemed like his political career was over before it had even started.

But in the years since then, Mr Smith has shown that there is more than one way to change your community for the better.

Around the time that he ran for election under his own party ‘The Gombey Liberation Party’, he started an open mic group called The Chewstick Foundation to give Bermuda’s creative types, poets and singers and musicians a forum to perform.

Nine years later, his little grass roots organisation has blossomed into a force to reckoned with. Perhaps as a measure of its success Premier Paula Cox will speak at an upcoming ninth anniversary fundraising event to be held on Saturday.

“When we first started we definitely had intentions of making a long-lasting organisation, but how we were to do it was going to be something that we figured out along the way,” said Mr Smith. “As we have grown we have continued to set our standards pretty high and we still have a lot on our goal list to be accomplished, but it is pretty rewarding to look back from where we came and think of how far we have come.

“Truth be told it’s a little scary to contemplate. If I had known how much of my life I would have to put into it, I still would have gone forward but it would have definitely been more daunting.”

Over the years, Mr Smith said some of Chewsticks highlights have been the realisation of The Chewstick community facility on Court Street, international tours taking 20 or so artists overseas, and the incredible success of the Beachfest Emancipation Celebration, among other things. Chewstick also recently expanded with a ‘Twig’ programme to reach teenagers.

“We really feel like we are changing lives daily as we continue to grow our programmes to younger people to empower the next generation,” said Mr Smith. “I guess the biggest highlight for me personally has been being able to do Chewstick full time professionally. That was something no one thought would be possible.”

Mr Smith said the secret to Chewstick’s success probably lies in its constant striving to always improve, and regularly and rigorously evaluating every aspect of the organisation. He felt that not only had Bermuda’s ‘wordy’ community been improved by the work of Chewstick, the entire Island had been strengthened.

“It has definitely helped the creative industries but even tourism, business, education and the general community has been bolstered,” he said. “Chewstick enriches people from every walk of life and breaks down community barriers, and even more importantly, it breaks down personal barriers.

“People are not one thing or another, they are a complex mix of a lot of different interests and passions and Chewstick helps people to share, celebrate and discover who they truly are.

“Bermuda’s ‘wordy’ community had very few opportunities to share their voice before, now they at least have one more, and when they are heard it strengthens everyone.”

He said over the years Chewstick had struggled with how to measure its own success, because it had always worked organically and intuitively. Since officially becoming a registered charity in 2009 its has had to employ increasing scrutiny and strategic tools so that it can advocate for funding and support in an arena where measuring and proving success can be the deciding factor between getting funding or not.

“And it is hard, especially for us, because a lot of what we do is provide inspiration,” said Mr Smith. “We provide inspiration for people to believe in themselves and each other. But I guess we have generally always measured success based on seeing new people, seeing old people, and seeing people who have positively changed because of Chewstick.”

The Chewstick Foundation will be holding its 9th Anniversary Celebration Fundraiser at the City Hall Theatre in Hamilton and it will be Chewstick’s first attempt at making the anniversary a much needed fundraising event, complete with welcome reception, huge artist showcase, art auction and ability to donate to support this increasingly influential charity.

“This year, the Chewstick Foundation is honoured to have Premier Paula Cox at the event,” said Mr Smith. “We hope that Madame Premier’s support and the good will of people from all facets of the community will help to further the cause of individual, artistic, and social empowerment to enrich the social fabric of our island home.”

Celebrations will begin with an opening reception in the City Hall Foyer from 7pm then the audience will be ushered into the City Hall Theatre for a showcase to highlight Chewstick’s bright, accomplished, dynamic and promising talents. An eclectic mix of dance, poetry, storytelling, rapping, and musical interludes has been compiled in an effort to please everyone.

After the show Gombeys will engage the crowd and lead the way back to the Chewstick facility on the corner of Elliot Street and Court Street for after-party vibes where the DJs will takeover and the dancing will begin.

“The Chewstick Foundation has been going strong these past nine years, due largely to the support of those who believe in the movement and the community it has been established to support,” said Mr Smith. “The Chewstick Foundation continues to inspire diverse individuals to share their stories artistically and provide a sanctuary of hope and inspiration in these dark times.

“Come to support this worthy cause, celebrate the 9th Chewversary and help further Chewstick’s endeavours to enrich our island home.

“The Chewstick facility was purpose-built to permanently house programs that empower storytellers, artists and social justice in a way that enriches youth, arts, culture and community and ultimately become Bermuda’s premier destination for live entertainment, local culture and community development. Supporting this celebration will ensure their continued growth and service to the community for many years to come.”

Tickets are $30, general admission and $100 for patron tickets. They are available at Kit and Caboodle, Rock Island Coffee, The Chewstick Headquarters on Court Street, or by contacting Chewstick at 292 2439 or e-mailing info[AT]

More about Chewstick

> “Foundation supports artists and authors to tell a distinctly Bermudian story” Bermuda Sun

> “A showcase for Chewstick artists, supporters” The Royal Gazette

The Chewstick Foundation is an Atlantic Grantee.

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arts, Chewstick, Gavin Smith