Generational Inheritance: Art institutions shape family and community and nation

By Malika Pryor Martin.

Art is considered by many to be one of the most critical subjects in the development of a young mind. It informs the way one processes math and science. It alters and expands the manner in which individuals seek solutions to complex problems. Understanding the way the world works, in both literal and figurative terms, is enhanced by consistent exposure to the arts.

When you ask an artist what or why they love the work that they do or how they first discovered wanting to become an artist, it often begins with a teacher or an experience at or with an arts institution. Whether visual or performing art, the process of creatively expressing an idea strengthens our humanity and according to some studies – our intellect.

When you ask me, a person who by trade is an attorney, what has assisted me most in crafting an argument, articulating a position, or presenting an unpopular concept or idea in a dynamic or convincing way; while the pedagogy of law school and yes, years of practice, helped considerably, they aren’t it. It’s my life long experience with art. Having to get up and perform in front of strangers set the ‘stage’ for my ability to communicate, to truly see who and what was around me, and to approach unfamiliar environments with confidence.

I may never fully appreciate the value of walking into my cousin Josephine Love’s salon, turned art studio in an old Victorian mansion, aptly named Your Heritage House, and watching the likes of sculptor Elizabeth Catlett, work. Unassumingly, masters would roam the house, their works decorating the walls. I learned to glaze ceramics in her basement and how to change my mind about a sketch in her attic. I would never become the likes of a John Beadle when painting on the main level of that old Victorian. However, I developed perception and perspective. I learned to consider with depth, to ask questions and to accept that sometimes there were no definitive answers.

I could daydream about the various installations that hung and still hang on the walls of the local art museum, swaying and spinning between galleries. Diego Rivera’s tale of the auto industry. Van Gogh’s self portrait. When I finally became a parent, my first membership was to that very same museum.

Today, my younger daughter performs that same dance in Nassau. However, for her, it isn’t Rivera who excites, but rather Amos Ferguson. As a transplant to The Bahamas, my family continues its inescapable relationship with art at the NAGB and other noted arts enclaves.

Here, at The National Art Gallery of The Bahamas, this is our hope and our intention – our goal and our mandate: to facilitate the generational inheritance of Bahamian art and culture.

Through our in-school outreach, workshops and school tours, we endeavor to impart knowledge, explore new ways of thinking and above all to inspire. As lead of the Communications-Education Department at the Gallery, I occasionally have the opportunity to facilitate student tours, when my team is off doing other wonderful work. This summer, during our camp, a group of teens visited with their fantastic instructor. As they prepared to enter one of our major galleries, we happened to cross paths with the very artist to which the exhibition space was dedicated. As he graciously smiled and took pictures with the excited group, I couldn’t help but be reminded of those afternoons in July when I was still a girl and an arts master smiled at me with the same brilliance and sincerity.

Arts institutions like The National Art Gallery of The Bahamas don’t just share culture, they inspire makers, who ultimately are culture-creators. When art is supported, not only as individual expression but as cultural and national imperative, a strong and vibrant future is also our inheritance.

Summer camp participant with her mother and grandmother at the opening of the ongoing NAGB Mixed Media Art Summer Camp Exhibition 2017, A Journey Through Time: Telling Our Story with Art on view at the gallery through the end of the month. Image courtesy of the NAGB.