>>>Fogo Island: from cod to art
Photo: Alex Fradkin

Fogo Island: from cod to art

In the nineties, Fogo Island’s population lived off fishing. Following a downturn in the fishing industry, this small Canadian island transformed itself into an inspirational retreat for artists.
eave the stress of the city behind to find your true self in a quiet refuge among icebergs and cliffs. There are people, wrote Henry David Thoreau, “who go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.” That is the sensation of the traveller who arrives in Fogo Island off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada. The 3,000 islanders living in eleven settlements on this 148 square kilometre island have fished all their lives, but now, they earn their keep in a much different way.
Local craftsmen build the bulk of the furniture, though at times they are influenced by international artists.
Photo: Alex Fradkin

Prominent artists

Yotaro Niwa, scholar of the Japanese Department of Art and Culture; Hannah Rickards, Max Mara Art awardee; Erika Balsom, lecturer in Cinema Studies at Kings College; the violinist George Van Sam; the photogapher Edgar Leciejewski, and the painter Geoff Butler are among those who have been artists in residence.

For decades they were virtually isolated. A Marconi radio transmitting station, that was their only way to communicate with the outside world, can be visited today to help the visitor understand their past. The same is true of Bleak House, built in 1816, and today converted into a museum. The house belonged to the Slade family, the most powerful of the island’s fish traders in the 19th century.
The islanders themselves act as guides for the visitors . Grouped together on a rocky coastal zone facing the Atlantic,  they have abandoned fishing and live off culture and tourism. The Fogo Island Arts project, set up by the Shorefast Foundation has made this change of life possible. In 2003, when the fishing crises destroyed the island’s economy, the Foundation was the motor to improve social, cultural and economic conditions. To achieve this, they created a programme of resident artists – some 15 per year, each residency lasting between one and three months – and four work studios. Fogo Island is now populated with filmmakers, writers, musicians and designers.
Tower Studio, en Shoal Bay, es uno de los estudios diseñados para el trabajo de los artistas.
Photo: Alex Fradkin

Philosophising on life

Exhibitions of international artistic works are held on Fogo Island, accompanied by publications on the exhibits. The island continues to be a location for films. Discussions are held among critics and artists on such topics as the survival of culture. In August, the Brimstone Head Folk Festival brings music and local dances.

Zita Cobb, co-founder of Shorefast, was born on the island, which she left to study finance. On her return, she chose to invest in culture for her birth place, switching from the sale of fish to the sale of paintings. From classic geotourism to rebuilding the island economy without losing touch with its roots. Her emblematic building is the Fogo Island Inn, a 29-room hotel, equipped with conference centre, library, art gallery and cinema. “It is an architectural gem that encompasses all the wonders of the island. This Inn tells the story of us; the story of this place and its people.”Cobb explains. It’s a deluxe place – four stories, five stars – that provides income and a way of life for almost all the families of the island.
Apart from the hotel, the island has a collection of wooden boats, solar panels and electric cars.
Photo: Alex Fradkin
The hotel and studios were designed by architect Todd Saunders. He champions sustainability: the two hundred bedcovers in the rooms were hand sewn by the women of the island, and the furniture was handmade by local craftsmen. Nor is the inspiration provided by nature forgotten. With the help of binoculars, the whales can be observed from the hotel windows.
Alternative accommodation is availble nearby. Landwash Lodging is a house by the beach that has been in the same family for generations. Meals are served in Nicole’s Cafe. A taste of the sea hangs in the air – especially a taste of cod – and traditional foods are mixed with modern cuisine. Fogo Island continues to be a village of fishermen, but  now they devote themselves to art. Their neighbours know that catching fish is no longer their goal – surviving is. What the sea gave to them before, now art and culture provide.

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