Reflecting on 2017 we can see what a truly remarkable year it was. The support and involvement of our diverse community was once again central to this success, without which our elaborate events, educational programmes and culturally rich exhibitions would fall flat.
In addition to all the usual programmes and events, 2017 was an important milestone for the National Gallery as we celebrated its 20th year of operation. With each year that passes we strive to improve on the one before and search for new and exciting way to engage with the public and further our mission – and 2017 was no exception. In our 20th year we welcomed over 17,000 visitors, displayed 8 unique exhibitions, led 64 onsite student tours and 52 school presentations. Each month saw on average 60 different events, including art classes and special events.
Each month was also unique, bringing with it its own successes and achievements in each department. There are too many to list them all, but below are some of the highlights.
The year started on a rockin’ note with rock icon Paul Stanley. Hosted by The Mill Cayman, Stanley took the stage for the first time ever in the Cayman Islands with an evening of fine art and music, held in support of free art programming for young people at the National Gallery of the Cayman Islands (NGCI). Joined by lead KISS drummer Eric Singer, Stanley led a musical revue with his R&B band, Soul Station. Guests were treated to a display of Stanley’s own artwork on the night.
February saw NGCI celebrate Cayman’s maritime identity, past, present and future, through its Maritime Exhibition Series which comprised of two parts, Upon the Seas and Saltwater in their Veins. Featuring the work of numerous local artists, Saltwater in Their Veins paid tribute to the men who went to sea and to the vessels they sailed while Upon the Seas took a contemporary look at Cayman’s evolving relationship with the ocean.
In March NGCI partnered with Digicel for Art on the Road, an initiative that saw our educators and curators go into every school in the Cayman Islands, including the Sister Islands! Geared towards Year 5, the NGCI team brought prints from the National Art Collection to demonstrate and discuss the role art plays in telling stories, documenting the history and preserving the culture of the islands. The artwork selected depicted our strong maritime history and the children were quick to identify the catboats and talk about their importance in Cayman.
The Big Art Auction 4 was held in April and was the Gallery’s fourth biennial art exhibition and auction: a fundraiser in support of developing our permanent collection and education programming. Artwork by leading local artists was displayed for two weeks before being auctioned in a fun evening reception. Artists featured included Randy Chollette, Nasaria Suckoo Chollette, John Bird, David Bridgeman, Hannah Cook, Kathryn Elphinstone, Kaitlyn Elphinstone, Avril Ward, Joanne Sibley, John Broad, and Horacio Esteban. Popular auctioneer Philip Paschalides returned to host the event.
In May NGCI welcomed 80 regional art professionals to the facility for the hosting of Tilting Axis 3, a travelling conference designed to strengthen regional and international connections within the Caribbean’s visual arts community. The theme for 2017 was ‘Curating the Caribbean’ where delegates explored how cultural institutions could work to nurture creative collaborations across the region and explored shifts in attitudes in terms of available funding, traditional and non-traditional space, developing creative sectors locally and collaborative engagement with peers in creative fields.
Also in May the upper exhibition hall, that houses the Permanent Art Collection, was treated to a full redesign, the first since moving to the current premises in 2012. Many new works were introduced and existing favourites moved to take advantage of the change in space and light.
In June NGCI showcased two new exhibitions. The first was, Looking Back and Thinking Ahead, a solo exhibition by Simon Tatum, a recent graduate of the University of Missouri with an undergraduate degree in visual art. In this, Tatum explored his Caymanian heritage through “memory tanks” – sculptures resembling traditional house graves, containing a bust and artificial flowers – as well as a series of screen prints made from acrylic ink and graphite powder.
The second exhibition, Mediating Self, was an exhibition of works from the permanent collections of the National Gallery, the National Museum, the Cayman National Cultural Foundation and private collections. These works were brought together to illustrate the way in which our bodies are used to create and navigate our personal and collective identities.
With schools out, July saw the reprise of the Summer of Art programme which offers art education to children ages 6 to 12 years throughout the summer. Thanks to the generous support of Rotary Club of Grand Cayman the drop-in sessions, which ran Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, were free to attend. The action-packed summer programming included a wide range of activities, including watercolour screen printing, ceramics, ink painting, collage and more.
In August NGCI travelled the work of 5 artists (Simon Tatum, Brandon Saunders, Kaitlyn Elphinstone, Nasaria Suckoo Chollette, and Shane “Dready” Aquart) to Carifesta XIII, a regional exhibition showcasing artwork from countries around the Caribbean. Held in Barbados, Carifesta provided increased global exposure for the culture of the Cayman Islands.
In August NGCI participated in ‘Ask a Curator Day’, a worldwide initiative for museums to engage with the public. Assistant Curator Kerri-Anne Chisolm took to Twitter to answer a wide variety of questions from curious visitors who were interested in NGCI, its exhibitions and its inner workings.
October (the first half)
In October, NGCI opened two exhibitions Revive – celebrating contemporary and traditional craft from the Cayman Islands and Horacio Esteban: Artist, Sculptor, Artisan.
REVIVE showcased the best in Caymanian craft and featured over 50 artists from all six districts. Works included a diverse range of objects by makers, who used traditional and cutting-edge techniques across diverse practices including: basketry, ceramics, textiles, fibre, paper, glass, metal, and wood craft.
Horacio Esteban: Artist, Sculptor, Artisan was an exhibition of Esteban’s work using reclaimed Cayman cedar to create remarkably expressive two and three-dimensional animal sculptures and functional art. As one of the Cayman Islands’ most renowned sculptors, Esteban is known for his work with Cayman’s indigenous natural stone Caymanite and limestone as well as 250-year-old re-claimed ancient cedarwood. Collectively these exhibitions enjoyed record attendance.
October (the second half)
In the latter half of October NGCI staff headed to Miami for the 28th Annual General Meeting and Conference of the Museums Association of the Caribbean (MAC). The first of these conferences, hosted in the United States, provided an opportunity for museum staff from across the Western Hemisphere to network and learn about each other’s curatorial practices. Our Director and MAC board member, Natalie Urquhart, was elected president of MAC at the conference.
As an organisation whose mission is to provide learning opportunities for the public, we love and appreciate teachers! In November, NGCI hosted the Educators’ Happy Hour, a chance for teachers from around Cayman to come, learn and view the educational opportunities offered by the Gallery, all while socialising and enjoying refreshments!
In celebration of our 20th Anniversary, NGCI kicked off the holiday season in spectacular fashion with its annual fundraising gala under the theme The Infinity Ball. The highly anticipated 20th Anniversary celebration commemorated the institution’s past while embracing the future. Guests were invited to engage with the theme and décor by wearing “futuristic inspired” black tie to the event. The evening included special presentations, live performances, futuristic cocktails and dancing under the stars.
2017 was such a success but, not ones to rest on our laurels, 2018 looks to be just as exciting and we want to you to be a part of it. For upcoming events, exhibition information, and to access our 360° virtual tour and online art collection be sure to check out our brand new mobile friendly website (www.nationalgallery.org.ky). You can also sign up to become a National Gallery member online.