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National Gallery: making Caymanian art accessible

Arts and Culture 14 Feb, 2022 Follow News

Art goes digital

New exhibition showcases online offerings

The National Gallery has published four books in recent years

By Lindsey Turnbull


The People’s Collection at the National Gallery is a brilliant showcase of artwork that makes up the Gallery’s collection, telling the story of its beginnings through to its present-day presence within the community. One aspect of the exhibition (which runs until 28 May) is a room dedicated to the efforts the Gallery has gone to, to ensure it reaches far and wide into the community and beyond with its digital platform.

William Helfrecht, the Gallery’s Collections Curator said they had done similar things in the past but in this exhibition, they really wanted to showcase their digital programmes, even in what he said was a hybrid moment where the Gallery was open to the public, but didn’t offer the full suite of programmes, like their school tours coming on site.


Collection online

“This room is a reflection of the work that the Gallery has been doing over many years, but specifically over the last two years and when we were closed for four months during lockdown from March to July 2020,” William explained.

Getting the Gallery up to speed digitally had been a focus over the past years, however with doors shut to the public, this mission became a focus for Gallery staff.

“It almost felt like we were working harder while we were closed because we were making up for the fact that we couldn’t be here in the way most people think of us: a space where you can come and experience art in person,” he advised. “So, like a lot of museums, in conjunction with our education team and exhibitions team, we thought about how to make ourselves available in this time of lockdown.”

William said that very quickly they were able to make some changes and lean heavily on their website and digital programmes. An entire room in the new exhibition has been dedicated to this work.

“What you see in this room is the fruits of that labour. We basically put about 240 works from our collection online and they are arranged in terms of categories and styles. That was really a very worthwhile project because our website can of course be accessed from anywhere in the world.”

Part of this effort was to provide the local community with a creative outlet, and, in addition, they found this new level of accessibility was reaching further and wider.

“Suddenly, researchers, scholars and art historians can see the finest examples of Caymanian art and learn more about our artists and this history,” William said.

This complements the broader effort that the Gallery has been working on for many years in terms of raising visibility overseas for Caymanian artists and the arts in general, beginning with the Caribbean and regional neighbours and then more broadly.


Exhibition archives and virtual tours

Another impressive aspect to the online work the National Gallery has been undertaking is the provision of exhibitions, both past and present.

Website viewers can find a great deal of information on a good many exhibitions, including a description of the artwork, a link to the artist’s biography and then a hyperlink to all of the National Gallery exhibitions that that artist had been featured in, so it’s a dynamic and user-friendly resource. A useful element of this is that they have now included at least six past exhibitions as well, a “living repository” of past exhibitions, as William said.

“So, if you have missed the exhibition, you now have got the exhibition text, the artist’s bio, and even a virtual tour, where you can do 3D tours. It’s almost like you’re back in the exhibition and how it was,” he said.

Technology used is the same kind adopted by real estate agents, to allow clients to have 3D tours of properties. And, while these features have been a great addition to the National Gallery, it has also helped them to preserve work that they have undertaken, because, as William stated, exhibitions are ephemeral.


Educational resources

Staff have also worked hard to ensure that young people still receive an education as to the work of the Gallery and on local art in general. Downloadable materials including worksheets all tied into the national curriculum have been made available, which are teacher-led resources such as lesson plans that teachers can work on offline with their students or combinations of the two where they have also conducted Zoom and online learning.

To enhance research and scholarship, the National Gallery has published four books over the past six years and they have been distributing free copies to all public libraries and schools in Cayman. They have also started delivering them to international libraries and universities in places such as London and New York. Williams confirmed that when regular postal services resume, they will strategically share these with major museums and universities around the world.

“This is really intended to benefit the broader art scene here, because one day it would be great to see an artist like Bendal Hydes exhibited in a museum exhibition of Caribbean art in somewhere like New York,” he said. “The plan is to build awareness and respect and critical acclaim for some of our artists and that takes time, but things like this really helps us to elevate the stature of what we do,” he said.

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