The Life of a Bahamian Gallerist: Pam Burnside shares highlights of her career as a gallerist

By Katrina Cartwright.

Pam Burnside is a cultural advocate and gallerist who has been working in the art community in The Bahamas for over four decades. In addition to being the proprietor of Doongalik Studios, she is the President of Creative Nassau and is on the planning committee for Transforming Spaces–the annual arts tour–of which she is one of the original founding members. She has recently been working with the Ministry of Financial Services to establish a committee of creative professionals who will work together to address challenges in the creative industries. Burnside has dedicated her life to elevating the profile of Bahamian art and craft and every initiative she has chosen to lead or join, have all correlated with this goal.

Panoramic view of Doongalik Studios’ gift shop. All images courtesy of Pam Burnside

Burnside and her late husband Jackson Burnside returned to an independent Bahamas in the 1970s where the beacon of hope that was independence inspired a creative explosion that saw a proliferation of galleries and other arts initiatives, which sought to change the way that Bahamians participated in the arts. Together the couple established Doongalik Studios, to provide a venue where the talent of the Bahamian people could be accessible to the world. The name “Doongalik” comes from the Bahamian festival, Junkanoo, of which Jackson Burnside was an avid participant and supporter. “Doon” is the sound of the drum and “galik” is the sound of the cowbell. The name itself evokes images of strong hands pounding on goatskin drums and tightly clenched cowbells in constant motion, making that unique metallic sound.

Doongalik has experienced many challenges during its existence and in its early years, getting Bahamians involved in the arts was the greatest one. “If you know the history of art in The Bahamas it  started with people coming to The Bahamas from abroad to paint because they wanted the light, the beautiful scenery,” said Burnside. “Nobody thought about art as a career–Bahamians that is–so people would say, ‘You better get a real job’.” Although many artists continue to hold daytime jobs, while creating art during their spare time, in recent years more Bahamians are studying art at local and international institutions and pursuing full-time careers in the arts–a development that is the result of many years of hard work by dedicated arts professionals like Burnside, who believe that The Bahamas has more to offer than its sun, sand and sea.

Pam Burnside, Doongalik Studios proprietor

Committed to ensuring that more people come to The Bahamas for its art and culture by the year 2020, Burnside has undertaken initiatives that include increasing visitor exposure to Bahamian art by operating a satellite gallery for Doongalik Studios from Marina Village, Atlantis for 12 years, and working with the Creative Nassau team to have Nassau designated as a UNESCO Creative City of Crafts and Folk Arts in 2014. She believes that the role of a gallerist goes beyond being a purveyor of fine art – it’s about engaging and interacting with the community and providing support for all art forms.

Burnside has seen the art community in The Bahamas grow from a handful of dreamers to a robust ecosystem that now consists of studio artists, art collectors, arts administrators, curators, creative entrepreneurs and art dealers. This closely-knit community has a history of working together to promote the arts, and it has seen a network of galleries and in recent years, an art museum (The National Art Gallery of The Bahamas), that have pushed Bahamian artists and their work into international forums, something that was only imagined 40 years ago.

Entry to Doongalik Studios.

“It was just a glimmer the other day, but now we can see the light,” says Burnside as she reminisces on Doongalik’s past and future. She believes that advocacy for changes in policy that currently limit the contributions of creative professionals to the economy and the creation and implementation of those policies, will change the way that art businesses operate in this space. In addition to making art more accessible for locals, it will allow the creative industries to contribute significantly by diversifying The Bahamas’ tourism product. And maybe in three years, more people will come to The Bahamas for its art and culture, but in the meantime, there is still a lot of work to do.