In this high-tech world of instant communication, it is easy for the cultural identity of a nation to become suppressed in favor of global mass media influences. Chris Christian of Cayman Traditional Arts has not only identified the need for ensuring that Cayman’s cultural heritage doesn’t get swallowed up by mass media, but he is also actively educating and promoting cultural awareness with Cayman’s youth and the islands’ tourism product.
Chris Christian’s passion for the arts and Cayman’s cultural heritage and his desire to share this with both residents and visitors has in recent years translated into a successful business under the banner Cayman Traditional Arts. Through interaction with students and via cultural and artistic displays at national events, Christian believes his organization helps to tell the Cayman story, keeping the nation’s unique cultural heritage alive.
Bringing local art to the fore
An established artist in his own right, Christian used to volunteer with the National Gallery, helping to hang exhibitions in the years before the Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman opened in 2006. He was also a volunteer instructor with the National Gallery’s outreach program, teaching art in Northward prison and at the Bonaventure boys home. Once the Ritz-Carlton opened, Christian volunteered through the National Gallery to hang the paintings the resort displayed in its newl Gallery, in the long bridge that spans West Bay Road.
“It’s an excellent location for displaying artwork because it enjoys considerable traffic from resort visitors who use the bridge to connect to both sides of the resort,” Christian says. “In addition, it’s open 24/7 so it’s always accessible.”
Eventually, the Ritz-Carlton hired Christian as Gallery manager, and in addition to hanging artwork, he also took on the responsibility of arranging three to four annual art exhibitions, as well as overseeing the marketing, purchasing and transportation of artwork for buyers, who are often based overseas.
“The art exhibitions that we run are always reflective of local artwork,” he says. “The Gallery exhibitions are an excellent vehicle for local artists to display and hopefully sell their artwork. The space is really important for local artists because they have so few venues in Cayman at which they can showcase their work.”
Christian says his initial concept for the Gallery was to introduce a quiet, reflective space that would replicate high-end clean and clinical art galleries around the world.
“I was looking to showcase Caymanian culture similarly as it would be set out in a museum,” he says. “But we quickly realized the space needed to be far more commercial in its look to welcome visitors and entice buyers. Each artist has a good amount of space in which they can exhibit their artwork, and every item of work is clearly labeled with the title of the piece, the artist’s name and the cost of the artwork.”
Christian has his own small office area in the Gallery so visitors can freely approach him with questions. In addition, the Gallery has expanded and now offers space for up to 300 pieces of artwork of all shapes and sizes.
“In the beginning, we had well established artists showing their work, such as David Bridgeman, Chris Mann, John Broad, Al Ebanks, Patrick Broderick and Wray Banker. I’m really pleased that we are still able to showcase these artists and that we now have some young and upcoming artists showing as well,” he confirms.
Christian is particularly proud that his own 14-year-old son, Andrew, has produced artwork to the standard he feels he can show at such an important exhibition.
“Andrew has been showing his artwork at various exhibitions for some time now, but it is only now that I have felt he has reached a level that he can exhibit his artwork for a price,” Christian says.
The latest exhibition. which opened in November and runs until mid-March. is “Essence of Cayman” and features 22 local artists whose works were created using a variety of mediums, including the sculptural work of Avril Ward, Pat Nicholson’s batik prints on canvas, as well as other artists’ oil, acrylic, photography, graphics and mixed media artwork.
Heritage Arts school program
Christian has also established a Heritage Arts program throughout all public schools, and this past September the program was officially introduced into the Year Six curriculum. Christian and his instructors will visit all of Grand Cayman and Cayman’s Brac’s Year Six students in the public schools on a weekly basis.
“All of us at Cayman Traditional Arts are putting our own knowledge of Cayman’s heritage to excellent use by ensuring young people also gain that knowledge,” he says. “This, in turn, enables them to have a clear understanding of their ancestry, culture and art.”
While students are already taught many of the important aspects of Caymanian cultural heritage, such as rope and peppermint candy making, Cristian sees the initiative as far broader than simply imbuing young people with knowledge.
“The youngsters are also given the opportunity to market any items they may have made and then sell them at a variety of outlets and exhibitions, such as national events like Art at Governors or Taste of Cayman,” he says.
“They are required to ensure their products are presented in the best possible light, as well as interact with customers, who may be local residents or tourists. They are also required to calculate the basic mathematics of business, such as profit and loss. In this way we can present cultural heritage in a contemporary manner that encompasses the business angle as well.”
Christian is also pleased he is able to employ a strong set of Caymanian instructors who represent different aspects of the islands’ cultural heritage, including Simone Scott from Cayman Brac, who visits Grand Cayman three times a month to inform students on Brac cultural heritage.
“The business has really taken off this year, and we are poised for even more growth in the coming years,” he says. “It’s a fantastic position to be in, and I’m proud to be part of such an important initiative for the islands.”