Baha Mar Trees Spark Cottage Industry

Resort enlists expertise of Antonius Roberts to train Bahamians through Job Readiness Program

Bahamians will receive jobs and training by turning the trees removed through construction into park benches for Baha Mar. Above is renowned artist Antonius Roberts, enlisted by Baha Mar to train the aspiring craftsmen.

When a tree falls in the woods, does it make a sound?

While there may not be a definitive answer to this classic riddle, the fate of trees removed through the Baha Mar project is now clear – they will create jobs.

Antonius Roberts, the renowned Bahamian artist, has signed on with Baha Mar to hire, train and mentor 12 aspiring craftsmen.

The idea? Make use of the trees lost during construction to build what could be a thriving cottage industry for a new generation of Bahamians.

“I have agreed to set up a mentorship program and will be taking on 12 Bahamians who will be selected through the government’s Job Readiness Program,” he told Guardian Business.

“These kids will be supported by the government and paid to work with me. And while they are working, I hope they develop a trade and carry on.”

For a period of about a year, a dozen men and women will have access to discarded or removed trees from the $2.6 billion resort project on Cable Beach. By doing so, the resort aims to help create jobs and remain environmentally conscious at the same time.

Many of the trees being removed are actually not indigenous to The Bahamas and are destructive to the overall environment, such as Casuarina trees.

The initial project, according to Roberts, is to produce 20 park benches for the new West Bay Street and hiking trial currently under construction.

Plans are also underway to form a wildlife reserve on parts of the property.

By learning the basic skills, Roberts explained the candidates will learn how to make furniture and art objects from wood – and give them a chance to make a reliable income in the future.

He hopes training the first batch of artists will spawn the development of a craft industry.

Kristin Wells, the Director of the Baha Mar Academy, which seeks to prepare, equip and train a generation of workers for the resort, said this particular project came about through their cooperation with government to find jobs for the new placement program.

“We looked at various options, and we had already spoken to Roberts about the bench production,” she said.

“We decided to give him our fallen trees and he agreed to take on some people and teach them basic skills. We are hoping he will teach them the skills and hopefully get them to a point where it becomes self-sustaining.”

The ultimate goal, she added is for the candidate to “take it and run with it” and “not just fill a bunch of orders”.

Wells explained that Baha Mar met with Roberts recently to discuss the criteria for the candidates.

According to Roberts, Baha Mar will fully equip the new employees, and after the benches are complete, the resort will have the option of purchasing any further work done by the artists.

He told Guardian Business that the program is really only a beginning.

He said there is “tremendous room for growth” in the carpentry field to help employ Bahamians in skilled and meaningful work.

However, Roberts felt more work would need to be done by the government to ensure the duties on art materials and tools were reduced. He said the cost of labor is “too high”, and as a result, the products made by carpenters and artisans are too expensive.

In addition to creating jobs, the products must be made affordable for consumers.

Jeffrey Todd,
The Nassau Guardian
Published: October 25, 2011