Partnerships Present Opportunities for NAGB: NAGB is reaching beyond New Providence to Support Family Island Schools

By Katrina Cartwright

For the second year, the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas has partnered with the Department of Culture to adjudicate Arts and Crafts entries for the E. Clement Bethel National Arts Festival. Between February and May 2018 Katrina Cartwright, NAGB Education Officer, and Abby Smith, NAGB Community Outreach Officer traveled with the organizing committee of the National Arts Festival to schools in the north, south and central Bahamas, where the best of Bahamian talent was showcased by talented hopefuls, seeking to win in their respective categories.

E. Clement Bethel National Arts Festival Entries from Huntley Christie High School in Andros.

The E. Clement Bethel National Arts Festival is the only national competition in The Bahamas that invites persons of all ages across the archipelago, to submit entries in dance, drama, music and visual art. In its 59th year, it provides a platform for participants to engage in critical dialogue about their work and develop stronger technical skills to more effectively express themselves. These trips also provide an opportunity for the NAGB to connect with teachers and artists throughout the country in ways that were previously limited by the museum’s capacity.

For the NAGB’s hard working staff, the experience is rewarding, exciting and educational. They are able to connect with individuals and communities that they would usually not be able to access, and see a display of talent that is truly breathtaking and inspiring. This year Smith and Cartwright collectively visited  the islands of Mayaguana, Long Island, Cat Island, Exuma, Eleuthera, the Berry Islands, North and South Andros, Abaco, and Grand Bahama.

Adjudications were often accompanied by one-on-one meetings with teachers and students, informal discussions with artists about their work and potential avenues for professional growth and conversations with students interested in pursuing a career in the arts. Many of these encounters have translated into deeper relationships that have given Family Island students opportunities to attend the NAGB’s Mixed Media Summer Art Camp via  the museum’s offered scholarships. It has also established long term relationships with young artists who regularly volunteer at the museum and visit its staff; and has forged ties with educators who utilise the museum’s resources to enhance their student’s learning experience and further their professional development. The NAGB is thrilled that it is able to facilitate interactions and opportunities for creatives and educators participating in the E. Clement Bethel Festival in a way that goes beyond the event, and allows individuals living outside of New Providence the opportunity to build a relationship with their national art institution.

Students making art at Eleuthera workshop.

Both Smith and Cartwright are artists in their own right and are passionate about creating opportunities for Bahamians and residents to actively engage in and experience the arts. “There is so much raw talent on these islands. Unfortunately, many of the students and adults we encounter, especially those interested in pursuing a career in the arts, don’t have access to training opportunities or markets for their work,” says Cartwright. Many of the schools visited did not have art teachers and those that were fortunate enough to have them, had insufficient resources for educators to teach their students.

Recognising these challenges the NAGB has instituted a traveling exhibition initiative that is accompanied by a robust schedule of programmes, designed to provide opportunities for children and adults to learn more about Bahamian art, the museum itself and engage in arts-focused activities that are fun, educational, and of course unforgettable. Coordinated by Community Outreach Officer Abby Smith, the traveling exhibition has visited four islands, and was most recently in Eleuthera, where the second mural in the NAGB’s Family Island Mural Extension programme was created with the assistance of teachers and students in southern Eleuthera. “Partnering with the National Arts Festival committee and implementing the traveling exhibition has allowed the museum to forge meaningful relationships with key organisations on the Out Islands and with educators, students, gallery owners, creative professionals and other members of these communities in ways it had not been able to before. More and more people are beginning to see that the NAGB is for them, it is a place where they can experience an important part of their culture,” says Smith.

Students making art at Eleuthera workshop.

The NAGB also uses these opportunities to distribute museum catalogues and other teaching aids to schools and acquire up-to-date contact information from educators and community leaders. This facilitates a continuous exchange of information that keeps these persons informed of activities and opportunities at the museum that may be of interest to them. Recently the NAGB was pleased to welcome over fifty students from the Future Teachers programme in Grand Bahama, thirty students from Forest Heights Academy in Abaco and yesterday, over sixty Family Island students from the Student of the Year Programme, who visited the museum to tour its current exhibitions “Traversing the Picturesque” and “We Suffer to Remain.” By establishing and nurturing these relationships the NAGB is broadening its audience and functioning as a true national institution by extending its reach to the entire archipelago.