Ray of Sunshine, the founder and engine of Sunshine International Arts, is a real local treasure. I meet him at his studio complex in Loughborough Junction, where he is way ahead of the game- stacking enterprises into a gorgeous cobbled alleyway of railway artists, like a techbro eco-entrepreneur. Except, unlike your average techbro (God bless them), this guy has roots, craft and a full expression of what it means to build community and open up opportunity to whoever can benefit from that access.
He talks me through his newest brainwave- opening up the front of the arch complex as a community market. This isn’t just about raising money to support the multitude of creative work that goes on under the Sunshine International Arts Umbrella, it’s also about drawing the community inside. Giving them a reason to poke their nose in, meet Ray or one of his staff, and find out what else is going on.
In the short while I’m there he gets more engagement than most people’s instagram stories. With a variety of interested locals passing through, asking questions, and purchasing the curated vintage items of homeware and unique mens wear.
It turns out that I’ve arrived an hour after Ray had his meeting to see if his Arts Council funding (NPO) will be renewed. Despite the obvious hard work of managing a project like Sunshine International Arts, he is excited to keep pushing forward and build on what he has achieved so far, and thankfully the Arts Council are going to continue to support him for the next 3 years.
“So we just got that for another three years. So that’s changing the whole direction of the company, and it’s something called, ‘#ThinkLocal’. Think Local, is not necessarily ONLY local, but its building strength in local communities and culture primarily lambeth and London.”
Ray is a respected Visual Artist producing Carnival and Carnival Costumes for National and International Clients, and winning awards for his work in the field. It’s inspiring to see how deep his passion, for the transformative power of creativity, runs.
“I did a particular project this year with children with learning difficulty, and I was having to think really hard, because the teacher wanted them to be involved, but I created a kit, and obviously, what happened was, their attention span was too short, so they couldn’t finish the kit. But I kind of prompted- this is how you can do it. And they did it. But at the end of the session, we then walked around the school with the costume. And they were SO PROUD to tell the teacher that ‘We did this’. And that’s the empowerment art can give you. And that’s where the art of people comes in. So the Art Of People for me, is not that fancy art that an artist can create. But the art that a normal person, given the opportunity, can create. That’s kind of my whole idea about the community arts that I do.”
The Loughborough Junction hub for Sunshine International Arts is called the C.A.F.E, which stands for Community Arts For Everyone. This playfulness is a thread all the way through the vibrant, bedazzled, gigantic costumes that are archived in one of the arches, ready to be reinvented into next year’s parade.
“I use carnival as a celebration. But I have a double play, because I’m very eco and into all the recycling and everything, as much as we can, trying to- this carnival does not lend itself, since 2017 I’ve been trying to recycle more than anything else.”
Typically Carnival Costumes would be made from scratch every year, but Ray has seen an opportunity to work in a different way that cuts a lot of the waste, and makes use of his precious work from previous years. This ingenuity, the ability to adapt and reinvent, is one of the reasons he’s able to survive, even as London becomes less hospitable to its grassroots creatives.
“We’ve had a difficult year- all the lights blew so we had to take everything apart, now we have to clear in here for them to do anything….I was questioning what I’m doing, in terms of- ‘Why am I working in community arts?” There’s no money, sometimes
there’s no credit, there’s nothing, sometimes you slave away, its hard work. So then it’s like, ‘should I be more an artist’? Because I want to be an artist- I am an artist! but I spend so much time, managing building, managing staff, doing office work, that sometimes I feel like I haven’t made it- I haven’t done it.”
Ray is refreshingly candid about the difficulties of working in community arts. Like many entrepreneurs he’s highly motivated, deeply involved in every aspect of the business with a broad skillset and determination to get things done.
“I never understand companies have 5 employees- everybody doing a job, and we get on the project and there’s no connection, no nothing, and then I have to run off and pre-manage somebodies project.”
He’s been in the game a long time, and the weight that small scale organisations like his are expected to carry, whilst being under resourced, could wear down a lot of people in a similar situation. I wonder if the grounding in art and craft is what keeps London’s social art scene going? At the end of the day- we know the power we hold because it’s evident in the tangible outcomes of our struggle- our work.
‘Well that is the concept of this place; People would be surprised and saying “oh you make Carnival’ costumes I’ve seen Nottiinghill, but I never thought that you make Carnival costumes.” And this is where C.A.F.E comes in, ‘Oh I never thought you make it,’ but the average person who is not an artist does not.”
Thanks to the continued support of the Arts Council Ray is able to continue building on his wealth of knowledge, and benefitting our community with his open approach to creativity and involvement in the arts. Our new project is called “THINK LOCAL…inspiring the next generation through THE ART OF CARNIVAL and TRADITIONAL FOLKLORE”
“So it’s something called Big Weekends. And it’s going to happen twice a month. And the whole concept is- we come into this sort of space, so it’s a market, and the three studios will have activities. So it’s a small festival that’s happening on the weekends. And Big Weekends, is for young people and New artists, to test ideas in terms of workshops and we will support them.”
Look out for Big Weekends starting in April 2023.
As I’m leaving, someone is buying a cake stand and signing up their daughter to volunteer on a Mas weekend, a weekend where anyone can join in with creating an award winning carnival costume. As Ray explained- Carnival contains history, protest, celebration, but he uses it to bring people together, and it’s a beautiful vision, outside and in.
Read more about Ray’s journey here.