With outgoing Director Nancy Barnard’s departure to pursue arts fundraising and teaching initiatives, Natalie Coleman stepped into her new role on 1 April. This was a seamless transition for the organisation given Natalie’s tenure as Deputy Director and Curator at the Gallery from January 2004 – September 2005 and then again from September 2007 up until the end of March (Natalie worked at the British Museum and the Institute of International Visual Arts during two years overseas, during which time she also represented the National Gallery abroad). Having started as the Gallery’s Education Officer in 2002, and helping to develop their PR structure and educational programming, she has a comprehensive understanding of the organisation from the ground up.
A neat fit
The role of Director is a natural fit for the historian/curator who has gleaned substantial experience in the field of art history, having achieved an MA in Arts Policy & Management (curatorial specialisation), with distinction, as well as an MA in Art History.
Not only that, she is a Caymanian who has grown up to see the arts scene in Cayman evolve as her own appreciation and knowledge has deepened and broadened over time.
Leading up to the transition, Natalie spent the previous year focusing inwardly, evaluating the success of the current Gallery programmes, as well as outwardly, travelling within the region to conferences and seminars while forging and cementing ties with art organisations within the Caribbean.
“There has been a certain element of surprise when entities abroad realise just how strong the body of work is here in Cayman,” she confirms.
Exploring the regional art scene
Travelling within the Caribbean has helped crystallise in Natalie’s mind the answer to the often-mused question as to what actually defines “Caymanian” art.
“Some countries, such as Puerto Rico have an art history that dates back hundreds of years. Cayman’s own art development has a long way to go in this regard, yet in recent years the Cayman art scene has grown in maturity. As Cayman continues to cut its own unique path it is interesting to note comparisons in the evolution process which can be drawn with, say, the Bahamas, a country that is about ten years ahead of Cayman, even down to the subject matter of the compositions.”
Natalie attended Puerto Rico’s annual art fair, CIRCA Puerto Rico, last year, a cultural studies conference in Jamaica, and acted as a curator and presenter at the Carifesta X Exhibition in Guyana, all of which have assisted her quest to simultaneously explore the arts scene abroad and showcase Cayman’s art to the region.
“Each event has been quite different in its focus. For example, CIRCA is Puerto Rico’s annual chance to highlight contemporary local artists, which in turn provided me with great networking opportunities. Jamaica’s international cultural studies conference attracts art scholars from all over the world. In Jamaica I was able to explore galleries in Kingston and assess potential for future collaboration with Cayman.”
Creative management on a tight budget
Natalie’s inward focus at the Gallery is currently being driven by the economic constraints of the difficult climate. Like non-profits the world over, the Gallery is braced for a possible drop in revenue and in donations.
“It is important to be fiscally responsible in this climate, to streamline programmes while ensuring that no quality is lost in the process,” she states. “As the National Gallery receives roughly half the budget that the other arts-based non-profit organisations receive, corporate sponsorship has never been more valuable to us. It is a challenge and will take both creative thinking and action. This is not a period when we just hold tight and wait for things to get better.”
Her response is to streamline processes and programmes and redirect resources away from more expensive exhibitions towards showcasing local and regional collections, both public and private.
“There is a wealth of important works by regional artists here on the island that traces the development of art history within our region. These are invaluable resources and we hope to work with these private collectors to bring these works into the public arena. Innovative re-workings of the National Collection will be a priority. Forging ties with near neighbours such as Jamaica and the Bahamas also makes prudent economic sense and we will be exploring artistic links in the future, perhaps via residency exchanges, which will provide invaluable experience for Cayman’s artists as well as open up our own arts scene further,” she explains.
Other innovative solutions include the implementation of panel discussions, film screenings and debates at the Gallery surrounding themes of art, culture and identity, using existing space, thereby promoting the development of the arts scene at minimal cost. Creating such arenas for dialogue is vital to a healthy arts community, she stresses.
A new monthly late night opening will also help to broaden the organisation’s accessibility by inviting visitors to view the current exhibition outside of traditional opening hours.
“We are investigating ways to further connect to all areas of our community. Society is demanding new things from galleries and museums. Communities need their national institutions to be accessible – physically and intellectually – and to be relevant to their lived experience,” she explains.
Next month read about the benefits of residency programmes and how schools are getting arts education.