A communal effort: Helping hands build up NAGB Sculpture Garden

Opening three new shows recently, The National Art Gallery of The Bahamas (NAGB) has been keeping busy preparing its gallery spaces for a fresh wave of visitors. Still, the NAGB has made time to focus on its next major undertaking – the NAGB Sculpture Garden.

The garden occupies the plot adjacent to the NAGB, between the gallery and Hospital Lane. Though it became overgrown in recent years, the site is one of historic significance; it once held the clinic for the first African hospital on New Providence. According to Dr. Harold Munnings, the clinic was founded in 1780, with Hospital Lane being named such as a consequence. It is NAGB Director Amanda Coulson’s hope that the site will remain one that is culturally significant for the community.

The idea of creating a public sculpture garden seemed a good way to do just that by promoting local artists while making art more accessible to the general public.

“Art can be a source for healing, so I liked the idea to associate the land to its original purpose, connecting health and wellness to creativity. A public park — full of native flora and full of local artworks — would become a place to commune with that higher spirit, accessible through both nature and art, and it would become a place for visitors and locals to connect also with the history, culture and landscape of our nation,” she said.

Over the past few weeks, the focus has been on preparing the property to make it more walkable and appealing to NAGB visitors, who access the garden from the gallery grounds. Recently, Coulson, Dr. Ethan Freid, of the Leon Levy Plant Preserve; NAGB supporter Katrina Vanderlip; and volunteers from the community and St. Andrew’s International School held a two-day clean-up of the site.

An artist and passionate gardener, Vanderlip is perhaps the most enthused patron and advocate of the sculpture garden. Inspired by the work of Lady Ranfurly, who, through forging local partnerships, was able to establish the children’s home on Mackey Street, Vanderlip hoped to similarly contribute to the NAGB’s mission by engaging local supporters and goodwill to establish a green space in the city center.

“It makes everyone happy to be a part of creating beauty,” she said.

She reached out to BNT Director Eric Carey, who pledged the BNT’s commitment to offer consultation on the sculpture garden.

“BNT is pleased to be partnering with NAGB on this project. Through our work at the Leon Levy Native Preserve we hope to inspire the use of our beautiful native plants in landscaping. We’re confident the sculpture garden is an excellent opportunity to advance this value,” he said.

The trust flew Dr. Freid, a botanist, over from Eleuthera, where he collects and nurtures indigenous Bahamian plants at the Levy Preserve.

Freid’s expertise has so far helped with planning and defining pathways and preparing the site for landscaping, which he will also oversee. The garden already boasts mature fruit-bearing trees and new plants generously donated by Craig Roberts and the team at Native Sun Nursery. Those will be complemented by hearty, native low maintenance greenery donated by the Levy Preserve. Beds are being slowly built up with assistance from New Leaf Landscaping; the Bahamas Horticultural Society has also pledged support, with Bahamas Waste, WasteNot Bahamas and Rotary Club of East Nassau also donating materials and, later, machinery.

Freid, Roberts and Vanderlip are three of a strong group of supporters—including Marina D’Aguilar and Dawn Davies, among others — who have generously committed to donating benches, mulch, trash receptacles and a paved entrance to the garden.

“It was really heartening to see the range of enthusiasts getting involved,” said Coulson of the communal effort in beautifying the space. “A garden appeals to the full cross section of society and becomes a space of exchange and sharing, something even more beautiful than any piece of art.”

It is Coulson’s hope that a range of media can be represented in the sculpture garden. With that in mind, she and volunteers collected and saved rusted scrap metal, old glass bottles and ceramic fragments; the found materials, she hopes, will be recycled into new works displayed on the property.

Artwork made from repurposed materials has already found a home there, thanks to artist and entrepreneur Candis Marshall. The founder of Mega Mergers, a nonprofit specializing in transforming used bicycle and vehicle tires into furniture, jewelry, accessories and sculptures, Marshall created a series of 20 “dream catchers” from old bicycle wheels. The dream catchers were installed at the NAGB for the 2016 Transforming Spaces tour. They were transplanted to the garden recently and now peek out between the property’s avocado and coconut trees.

When it is done, the property will open onto West Hill Street – an area that has received a recent and significant boost from the members of the Historic Charles Towne community. The garden will boast lush landscaping, sculptures and an amphitheatre for groups to gather and provide educational opportunities.

Work on the NAGB Sculpture Garden is ongoing and community support and volunteers are invited to lend a hand to make the vision a reality. For information on the NAGB’s next landscaping initiative, visit the NAGB’s Facebook page or call the gallery at 328-5800.