By Lindsey Turnbull
Arts entities in the Cayman Islands have been hit hard by lockdown and the subsequent closing of Cayman’s borders. The National Gallery of the Cayman Islands is a not-for-profit organisation that relies almost entirely on private donations to fund its extensive programmes and exhibitions. Its Director, Natalie Urquhart, said the Gallery had been deeply affected financially by the Covid crisis.
“We haven’t been able to host two of our three major fundraising events, the annual Tea Party and the annual Gala, and have lost several months of revenue generation via event rentals and shop sales,” she explained. “In the short term, this will mean that some of our programming will be put on hold but we remain committed to ensuring NGCI continues to have free admission and no costs to programming, etc.”
Mrs Urquhart added that they were very grateful to members for continuing to renew membership throughout out, and to the community to supporting special pandemic initiatives like the NGCI Covid-19 Artist Relief Programme (grants and professional development training).
Members of the Visual Arts Society, another non-profit, have seen finances hit also, as the Society relies a good deal on visitors to craft markets buying members’ artwork.
“The art markets attract a larger percentage of tourists on an on-going basis therefore art sales are affected,” the VAS’s marketing coordinator Mary McCallum confirmed. “During the holiday season we see more of a mix of locals and tourists, so we hope this coming season we get local support. Other activities are usually attended by a larger percentage of locals which have been affected due to lockdown and social distancing and financial hardships.”
The VAS has limited fundraising and no corporate support and the non-profit organisation relies on fees from their memberships, exhibit art sales, and workshops, so without being able to operate impacted them more as many of their programmes are hands-on, she said.
Ms McCallum said that VAS membership renewals started in February/March however this year they did not get an opportunity to receive many renewals as the pandemic caused the delay. Thankfully, however, there seemed to be some new interest in the arts.
“We reached out to our membership starting in July and we did not apply any increases and extended the renewal period. The renewals have progressed well and along the way we also gained some new members,” she confirmed.
Having already begun a process of exploring ways to reach out to a wider audience, Mrs Urquhart said the National Gallery was able to quickly move online and ensure access to the arts throughout lockdown. This included an online exhibition, creating new virtual exhibition experiences, Artist Talks and free art activities and education resources on its website (www.nationalgallery.org.ky). More than 200 artworks were uploaded from the National Collection as part of its new NGCI Digital Collections Programme (now the largest archive of Caymanian art anywhere in the world).
“It has been wonderful to see the outpouring of support for these digital resources and we will be continuing providing virtual workshops for children and families, lesson plans, special lectures and events online to keep people connected to the arts,” she said. “This includes special online exhibitions such as Art Under Lockdown, and our new COVID-19 Community Photography exhibition (in partnership with the Cayman Islands Government).”
As a member of the International Council of Museums, the American Alliance of Museums and the Museums Association of the Caribbean, the Gallery has had to adapt its facilities to comply with Covid regulations, introducing socially distant desks, signage and social distancing throughout, as well as hand sanitisers in all areas, mask-wearing requirements and increased daily cleaning. Guests were generally very supportive, Mrs Urquhart said.
“This moment offers a paradigm shift for the museum sector globally - one which affords new opportunities for museums, and brings new challenges. It has been hastened by the COVID-19 Pandemic but its art of larger discussions about the role that museums play in society and the need for widening access and inclusion,” she advised.
The National Gallery was already undertaking a lot of work in this area and would continue to do so via their exhibitions, she explained.
The VAS managed to open up quite soon after lockdown ended, with the Camana Bay Farmers and Artisans Market starting up 22nd July running weekly on Wednesdays with locally made arts and crafts for sale. They also officially opened their studio located at Pedro St James on 2nd August, starting with an ART open studio.
“We set up a new ceramic programme, which started 26th August, Fun with Clay, which runs every Wednesday and Saturday mornings until 5th December,” Ms McCallum advised.
Ms McCallum is positive about the VAS’s future.
“We will continue to move forward and adapt with what we have to work with. We hope to review some new ideas as a result of this experience to add to what we have to offer,” she said. “This has been an experience for everyone in Cayman and around the world which has affected people and countries in many different ways. The outcome has made us all adapt to the issues on hand and forced us to learn new ways to communicate and operate.”