National Gallery Director and Chief Curator, Mrs. Natalie Urquhart’s outstanding contributions to arts and culture “in the Cayman Islands and the wider region” over more than 20 years have distinguished her as an extraordinary achiever in her field.
In recognition of her record, Her Majesty the Queen conferred on Mrs. Urquhart a British Empire Medal (BEM) in the 2022 New Year Honours.
Mrs. Urquhart thinks, feels, talks and writes about arts, culture and heritage, especially, with a passion that has characterised most of her years in the Cayman Islands’ workplace.
She also excels in strategic planning, organisational leadership and revitalisation; and as the first professionally trained Caymanian art curator, has authored books, papers and articles, and led curatorial projects that have helped expand opportunities for arts and culture engagement in the community.
Mrs. Urquhart has the distinction of advising governments, organisations and bodies within the Cayman Islands, the Caribbean region, as well as international entities such as the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the International Council of Museums (ICOM). She has firmly secured the Cayman Islands’ presence and leadership on a number of international cultural initiatives and organisations.
In fact, as the first Caymanian President of the Museums Association of the Caribbean (MAC) from 2017-2020 and present MAC board member, Mrs. Urquhart continues to strengthen links among Caribbean museums and heritage organisations, by fostering and promoting closer collaborations, training and networking opportunities amongst cultural and heritage sector professionals.
Notable among her myriad publications is her book titled Art of the Cayman Islands, a definitive tome, and the first formal outline, of local art history. Based on her curatorial research, the book examines the confluence of tradition, cultural heritage and collective memory that has impacted local contemporary art and artistic practice.
More importantly, the spin-off from the book was a series of exhibitions including 21st Century Cayman (2010), The Persistence of Memory (2011), Tidal Shift (2015), REVIVE – Contemporary Caymanian Craft (2016); Cross Currents (2019), Island of Women (2020) and Reimagined Futures (2021).
Equally impressively, Mrs. Urquhart is the founder/creative director of Cayman Art Week, a project created in 2021 to help offset the impact of the pandemic on the creative sector and to create a platform through which to promote the art sector. The initiative aims to generate greater interest in local art, to stimulate more purchasing of local art and thereby enhance local artists earning capability.
Yet, for all her accomplishments including her double masters’ degrees and an already impressive collection of awards, she remains down-to-earth, congenial personality and above all, humble.
Awards she has garnered include the Cayman Literary Award (2017); Cayman Islands Top Employer Award Winner (team leader) (2011, 2014, 2015 & 2016); and National Young Caymanian Leadership Award Recipient (2011). Additionally, she has been honoured with a number of National Arts and Culture Awards including Heritage Cross (2016); Star for Creativity (2010); and now in 2022, Gold Star for Creativity; Star for Creativity Certificate (for Cayman Art Week – her brainchild); and another Star for Creativity Certificate with the gallery staff for their digital programming initiative.
Mrs. Urquhart continues to provide her expertise as she has done over the years, on a number of voluntary boards and working committees, whether local, in the Caribbean, the Americas or the wider world She believes strongly that culture can enrich lives as well as providing a critical platform through which to find shared values and social cohesion.
Commenting on the New Year’s honours, she says with customary simplicity: “It’s a true honour to receive this award and I am grateful and humbled by the recognition. I’m very fortunate to do work that I love alongside creative people who inspire me, and would like to extend my deepest thanks for their encouragement and support over many years. This award is also extremely motivating and will certainly inspire my work moving forward.”
She also singles out her family and husband Mr. Alexander Urquhart along with the National Gallery team for their unwavering support. Her advice to young persons in the Cayman Islands is to “try and seek a career that you are passionate about and to be curious and open-minded in your work. Set your goals and believe in them and never let your failures stop you from moving forward.”