by Malika Pryor-Martin
On June 27th, the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas hosted its first ever Open Community Forum. Hosted in the NAGB’s new Fiona’s Theatre, the event began with the museum’s leadership team. Board Chair, Lawrence Bascom, welcomed the crowd and Executive Director, Amanda Coulson, provided direction for the night. Opening remarks immediately flowed into a joint recitation, by Chief Curator, Holly Bynoe and Communications & Development Officer, Malika Pryor-Martin, of the NAGB’s recently revised vision, mission, values and goals.
The new mission was stated as: The National Art Gallery of the Bahamas (NAGB) is a world-class museum with a passion for knowledge and a drive to push cultural boundaries. The NAGB collects, preserves, exhibits and interprets historic and contemporary Bahamian art. We exist to educate, uplift and inspire all Bahamian people, everywhere.
From there, the floor was opened to questions, comments and suggestions from the audience. The programme, which lasted for just over 90 minutes explored several ideas; from how the institution could articulate its goals differently to questions concerning standards in professional artistic practices.
Noted artists, organizational partners, NAGB members and vested creatives comprised the attendees. Some brought specific concerns that stemmed from past encounters. Others wondered how, as a quasi-governmental entity, the NAGB functioned relative to the ministry under which we fall - Youth, Sports, and Culture. Still more, makers in the performing arts sought clarity on where other creative forms could meaningfully engage with the countries only art museum.
Each inquiry was fielded by the executive team: NAGB Executive Director, Chief Curator and Communications and Development officer, in many cases compelling or inspiring multiple responses.
As the first and only institution of its kind in The Bahamas, much of the conversation centred on just what a museum is and what it does; how it expands to serve its audience and ultimately, what are its limitations. For starters, the name, The National Art Gallery of The Bahamas, can be a bit misleading. In this country “art gallery” had always constituted a retail art space, a business that displays and sells art and specifically promotes the artists it represents. Except the NAGB isn’t a gallery. It’s a museum. So while we strive to bring light and attention to Bahamian artists doing wonderful work, our mandate is to collect art, not sell or distribute it. Our mission is to impact entire the national landscape through visual art, not to directly represent or mentor artists through the various phases of their career life cycle.
Furthermore, we are not a space designed for the pleasure of a single group, whether that be creatives themselves or an elite class, who are benefitted by their station to collect art. And while we warmly welcome both aforementioned demographics, it is in the same context and with the same intent that we welcome all.
Our new vision articulates this:As the leading art institution for The Bahamas, we will actively nurture and provoke a healthy cultural ecosystem, empowering multiple generations of Bahamians. By fostering robust partnerships locally, regionally and internationally and by building institutional capacity, the NAGB will become a changemaker in our communities. Through providing more opportunities for access, our public will gain a sense of pride and become active participants in writing their own stories.
As a museum founded in a modern age - where institutions initially constructed or bequeathed to present the spoils of imperialism or personal wealth, have been shifted into exhibiting works in dynamic and surprising ways - the NAGB stands at the cusp of an evolutionary jump in institutional purpose and resonance. Gone are the days when museums were akin to mausoleums - ornate edifices as memoriam to dead things. Museums are alive with socially charged exhibitions and hyper-realistic interactives that challenge and inspire. The classics are being questioned as well as being celebrated. The notion of what constitutes a classic, is also changing.
We at the NAGB too are changing. We are an aspirational institution and also an institution to which many aspire. In that strange and nebulous atmosphere, this museum carves a new path and even on an island best known, perhaps, for its white sandy beaches, we are a cultural landmark built solidly in limestone. The NAGB is smartly taking risks and making investments in the country we strive so heartily to represent in hopes you will come along with us on the journey.
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