A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

[BRIEF NOTE] On saving island societies

Over at the Globe and Mail, Oliver Moore wrote an article (“Self-made millionaire on a mission to save her heritage'”) about a Newfoundland businesswoman, Zita Cobb, who is determined to save her native Fogo Island–the largest island offshore the main island of Newfoundland–by giving it a niche economy catering to tourists and others with cultural (and economic) capital to replace the old dead fisheries.

In many ways, the story of Fogo Island is as old as Newfoundland. The 240-square-kilometre island, population 2,700, is scattered with communities that face the sea. Now they are grappling with the traditional problems of all outports: the exodus of youth, a hurting fishery and limited jobs.

“Since the moratorium on cod, governments have been sort of casting it out to try and find what can we do for rural communities,” said Gordon Slade, a former deputy provincial fisheries minister and chairman of the Shorefast board. “And really there hasn’t been much in the way of ideas or solutions.”

But Ms. Cobb and the people at Shorefast believe there is a market here that could draw up to 2,500 high-end tourists annually, attracted in part by exploring the unique relationship between artists and landscape.

The newly built artist studio is a starkly beautiful modern structure designed by award-winning Newfoundland architect Todd Saunders, with huge windows offering views of the pounding sea and rugged landscape. It will be occupied first by artist Siddhartha Das.

The rotating cast of artists-in-residence will be given studio space and accommodation, said Elisabet Gunnarsdottir, director of the Fogo Island Arts Corporation, another Shorefast creation. In return, they are expected to open up their studios to local residents and tourists and will be encouraged to give courses and artist talks.

“We want to create a little platform, a mingling place with local people, and see what happens,” Ms. Gunnarsdottir said.

I think that Cobb actually has exactly the right idea. In a globalized society, if one component of your society catering to a specific market–like, say, its economic underpinnings–fails, then you’ll have to find something to replace it. Presenting Fogo, with its scenery and its history, as a high-end tourist destination, is a spectacular idea. It’s just that this strategy can’t be adopted by every island society, within or without Newfoundland and Labrador; there are only so many niches to go around.

Written by Randy McDonald

June 10, 2010 at 4:17 pm

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