Nanook Nurtures Jamaican Talent

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It’s a Wednesday afternoon at Nanook’s headquarters in Kingston, Jamaica. Young artists are painting the property’s exterior concrete wall a brilliant shade of yellow, priming it for a new mural. Reggae music plays throughout the space as a team of filmmakers sets up their equipment under the mango tree, while nearby a handful of workers are staking out what will be a new stage. Others mill about the grounds as the sounds of lively conversation carry from inside the building.

At the centre of all this activity is the intrepid Joan Webley. An attorney by trade, Joan travelled and studied abroad for several years before returning home in 2008 to put her ideas into action and become actively involved in developing Jamaica’s creative economies. After working for several years as Manager of Copyright at the Jamaica Intellectual Property Office (JIPO), Joan saw the need to bridge the divide between the worlds of creative and corporate. She explains, “We needed a space…where conversations could begin and be continued”.

That space became Nanook Enterprises Ltd., a social initiative in Kingston committed to empowering Jamaicans to make a living from their culture and creativity. Nurturing All Nuances Of One’s Kreativity, Nanook is a space all its own – a meeting point for the creative and corporate worlds, fostering the development of Jamaica’s creative industries from the ground up. Offering services such as career coaching, entertainment law consultation, intellectual property training, and project development to name a few, the initiative espouses a truly holistic approach, seeking practical solutions to the social problems that have hindered success in the past.

Joan describes Nanook as part experiment part business, encouraging the transfer of knowledge to a new generation of Jamaican creators:

“Recognizing that Jamaica is so small and so full of talent, we recognize Nanook as the factory and the world is the market”.

She and her team are developing programmes to promote local creators and to invite the world to share and invest in Jamaica’s wealth of talent and creativity.

Nanook's weekly Sankofa Sessions showcase live music, art, and food from a variety of local creators. Image Credit: Matthew Henry

Figure 1: Nanook’s weekly Sankofa Sessions showcase live music, art, and food from a variety of local creators.


Nurturing Local Talent and Creativity Through Digital Technology

Joan is a woman of uncommon passion and persistence. Having held on to her vision for some 13 years before seeing it come to fruition, she recognizes that this as an exciting time for Jamaican culture. Digital platforms have seen an increase in local creators, “in the last 4 or 5 years…young Jamaicans have been doing more…they’re learning, they’re becoming brands…it’s interesting to see them owning it, claiming it, and then transferring that internet space into real world careers”. In other spheres, Joan highlights the example of the revision of laws pertaining to the sale and possession of ganja, “it’s changing the criminal into the businessman”.

Her efforts at Nanook have secured the support of international organizations, such as the Arthur Guinness Fund, Ashoka Changemakers, and the Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship, that recognize the value in the initiative. “Transformational change is not about managing people it’s about creating with people”. She explains, “That mindset opens up everything, you become democratic, accountable and transparent in everything”.

Yoga Instructor, Elizabeth Goffe and Joan Webley of Nanook Enterprises Ltd.

Figure 2: Yoga Instructor, Elizabeth Goffe and Joan Webley of Nanook Enterprises Ltd.

Changing Attitudes Through Social Entrepreneurship

It is this attitude that has made Nanook’s success possible as the project was initially met with mistrust. Until recently, the concept of a social enterprise was still relatively new and Nanook’s commitment to grassroots creativity made it even more of an anomaly. Joan explains that a significant part of the mission is to debunk the popular association of money with corruption, “seeking to hep creative people to come to terms with success being okay…you’re not a sell-out because you’re successful”.

These are critical social issues that have consistently stymied meaningful development and hinge heavily on an understanding of the role of intellectual property in supporting the business of creativity. “IP is wealth for Jamaica” Joan explains “…[it] is a process rather than a product. It’s not a get rich quick scheme. Intellectual property and asset management is about understanding your rights and options in being able to plan your future… Caribbean people need to empower themselves and understand that intellectual property is a tool for their use”.

Using Intellectual Property Laws to Promote Change Effectively

On the point of legislation, Joan laments that the sort of independent analysis that is required to make any law applicable and effective has never been taken on in regards to intellectual property in Jamaica. Delays in necessary amendments to the Copyright Act have had consequences for the development of a viable industry. One of the pending amendments will see the securing of an income stream for creators and holders of copyright, “In those 4 or 5 years while we’ve waited to update the law, our performers have not been able to collect that income stream…What are we doing?”

The JIPO and its associated agencies have a key role to play in stopping up what Simon Anholt has described as ‘equity haemorrahage’. The informal beginnings of Jamaica’s creative industries require a concerted effort on the part of the government to go back, retrieve, and redistribute those unclaimed royalties. Wholesale implementation of foreign policies and models has misunderstood the cultural specificity of Jamaican society. As Joan explains, it is time to step away from blind adherence to international norms that may not be applicable to the local context.

In the meantime, Nanook is seeking to instil in its members an unshakeable sense of self-belief. Joan Webley is unflinchingly certain of the potential of Jamaican creators. For a new generation waking up to its own worth, the time is ripe for them to assert their place on the world stage.

Visit’s Nanook‘s website, or like their Facebook page to learn more.

Image 1 Source: Matthew Henry.  Reprinted with permission. Check out Matthew’s Instagram for more of his work!
Other Images Source: Nanook Enterprises Ltd. Reprinted with permission.

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