After years of hard work and dedication the Cayman Islands National Museum can now truly say that it is now 100 per cent open for business. The recent development of the Children’s Gallery and the housing of some tremendous local art as the first of many exhibits in the Changing Gallery have been the icing on the cake for this Caymanian treasure. Business Editor Lindsey Turnbull takes another tour to find out how these two recent additions have enriched the experience for visitors even further and reports.
After 2004’s Hurricane Ivan ravaged both the contents and the structure of the Cayman Islands National Museum, located on the George Town waterfront, the Museum’s board of directors decided to gut the building down to its bare frame and to restore it sympathetically, preserving as far as possible the original structure and raw materials, of Cayman’s court house, built in the 19th Century.
The Museum was eventually able to re-open its gift shop in the complex at the beginning of 2009, as an enticement to visitors until the actual exhibition rooms themselves opened in September.
At the end of last year two new additional galleries were brought on board to enhance the cultural experience already on offer at the Museum. In addition, the Museum has embraced the concept of social media to ensure that the appreciation for Caymanian culture and heritage goes way beyond the well preserved walls of the Museum itself.
The Changing Gallery
As you might expect from its name, this new Gallery has a revolving exhibition, usually based upon a specific theme.
Harris McCoy III, Chairman of the Cayman islands National Museum calls the space “a fluid, changing use of space” and states that the Museum has lots of exciting ideas for forthcoming exhibitions.
At the time of writing the Changing Gallery housed A Brief History of Caymanian Art, with works ranging from the Seventies until the present day.
The exhibit explains that while settlement in Cayman was recorded as early as 1734 the early settlers were more interested in producing useful items in order to survive, rather than create art for art’s sake. From the 1800s to the 1930s self taught artists, using the materials they had available to them, produced limited works depicting life at sea. In particular they worked on carvings for boat models, furniture and architectural details. There is no art from this era at the Museum at present, so we need to fast forward to post 1940s Cayman when tourism started to become an important feature for the islands. Up until the 1970s art was still a fledgling activity with just a handful of artists, both self-taught and trained as well as those who loved to create for a hobby. According to the exhibition, experimentation in art really took off in the 1970s and beyond as artists explored realism, impressionism, style and materials.
Some of Cayman’s best loved artists have work exhibited here, including two pieces by Bendel Hydes and two by Randy Chollette.
Bendel’s Calabash and Coconut pieces are passionate paintings depicting culinary staples, as is Michael Hislop’s stunning Breadkind and Hot Peppas, while Randy’s Pretty Blue and Sea Elos are ode’s to the ocean that surrounds the islands. Works by Nickola McCoy-Snell and Simone Scott depict a Cayman of old while Wray Banker’s iconic Ode to Milo and the unique impressionist style of Al Ebanks reveal a maturing and desire to experiment among Caymanian artists of today.
The Children’s Gallery
In order to entice young people into the Gallery the Museum’s directors felt it was extremely important to have a space dedicated to young people so they could play an interactive part in the enjoyment of the Museum.
McCoy states: “We wanted to create an active learning adventure, rather than a static viewing.”
The Museum’s Education Officer, Nasaria Suckoo Chollette furthers: “The purpose for having a Children’s Gallery really is to include the youth of this island in the process of preserving and sharing our cultural and natural heritage. We want them to feel that they too can make a difference and that they are an integral part of this, their National Museum. We want to foster a sense of ownership and power for the young people who will be the ones to make policy and such decisions in the future.”
Nasaria goes on to say that they also want to provide an experience for all guests to the Museum, no matter what age.
“That is why we have included the use of modern technology and interactive features. We are providing for every kind of learner, visual, auditory, kinesthetic, and so on,” she says.
In terms of growth, Nasaria says it is hoped the Museum will eventually have an Education Centre where classes, activities and educational events for all ages can be centered.
“We are prepared to do the work to reach that goal with the help of the community,” she states. It’s really important to ensure that the children of Cayman know their history, their culture, their heritage. It adds to their self esteem, increases their cultural pride and can help them to understand their important role in society.”
The Children’s gallery currently has a limited selection of fun activities for young people to enjoy, such as the Magnetic Art board whereby copies of original art hanging on the walls has been chopped up to form a puzzle for the children to complete. They are also encouraged to create their very own art from magnetic pieces.
Youngsters from primary schools around the island are bussed into the Museum on a regular basis and are encouraged to create mini sculptural masterpieces using “granny’s recipe” for modeling clay as well as more commonly used materials. Students can put their best works on a plate along with their school and phone number and may win a prize if they are judged the best.
The CI National Museum’s Facebook link is http://www.facebook.com/pages/Cayman-National-Museum/149466081288 and at the time of writing had over 600 friends, all keen to share their experiences of this important piece of Caymanian culture and heritage. The Museum also has a website www.museum.ky which, according to McCoy “truly fills out their aim to have a museum beyond walls.”