The National Gallery’s new premises under way

It’s been a long time in the making but the National Gallery of the Cayman Islands has finally now broken ground for its brand new premises situated off the Harquail Bypass. The Journal finds out how everyone in Cayman will be able to benefit from this exciting new venture.

So much more than simply a great space to hang local art, the National Gallery has grown in recent years to become a focal point for the visual arts in Cayman, with wide ranging and far reaching programmes and events that help to encourage all members of the community to become actively involved in the arts.

The Gallery has up until this point always rented its premises, but thanks to the donation of four acres of land by Mrs. Helen Harquail, located at the western end of the Esterly Tibbetts Bypass opposite Camana Bay, the Gallery has been able to make plans to build its very own purpose-built premises. The project was the vision of founding Chairperson Carol Owen and founding Director Leslie Bigelman. After some serious fund raising and stringent budgeting, the brand new building is now underway, with a completion date at the end of this year and an opening date slated for early 2012.

Henry Harford, chairman of the National Gallery says: “After a long period of planning and fundraising the National Gallery Management Board is delighted that a contract has been awarded and that work has commenced on the new building. This is a hugely significant project with multiple benefits for residents and visitors. On completion, the Gallery will have increased capacity to mount large exhibitions, provide appropriate space for its permanent exhibitions while also creating important an education facility for the benefit of current and future generations. We are delighted to be moving forward.”

Fun and learning outside…

From the outset, the Gallery was keen to ensure that their new building served a variety of functions, so as much thought has been given to the exterior and grounds of the building as has been given to the interior.

“We wanted to ensure that the outdoor facilities were flexible enough to deal with a multitude of events so we are working closely with event-planners to ensure that the exterior flows efficiently. For example, it will house regular Gallery outdoor activities such as community festivals and art fairs, while doubling as a rental area for corporate events, private functions and weddings,” NGCI Director Natalie Urquhart explains.

The outdoors will be an adventure in itself, with a sculpture garden in the making as well as a three acre garden which, the designers are hoping, will provide the perfect family venue for picnics, art fairs and even yoga.

A heritage nature trail is also planned, whereby everyone can come and learn about the various native tree and plants of the Cayman Islands.

“The gardens have been designed by well known landscape designers Margaret Barwick and Sandy Urquart, who have created a vibrant interactive design, focused on native and indigenous Caymanian flora,” Natalie explains.

…and inside

Moving on to the interior, which has been designed by architect Danny Owen, principle of OA&D Architects, the company that won the original competition that the National gallery hosted in 1999, the building will consist of several separate areas designed to cater to all facets of the visual arts.

“We are really excited to be able to provide a permanent gallery for the national art collection within the new premises,” Natalie says. “This means that a collection of Caymanian art will be on display at the National Gallery at all times. It will also provide many exciting opportunities for school tours and cross curricular learning opportunities. We will be naming this gallery The Harquail Gallery after one of our lead sponsors and land trustee, Mrs Helen Harquail, without who the project wouldn’t have been possible.”

A purpose built special exhibition space will also ensure that the Gallery can continue to host a diverse schedule of temporary local and international exhibitions in the future, while the Gallery will also have its own storage area to house the artwork from the permanent collections that are not on display, easing administrative issues for staff.

An auditorium, named The Dart Auditorium after another lead sponsor, will be a state of the art lecture theatre which will be able to accommodate over 50, providing a home for the Gallery’s popular CineClub and Art Flix programmes, as well as lectures, school visits and visiting speakers.

The Visual Arts Learning Centre & Culture library will be another educational draw, and will be named after its sponsor – Maples and Calder. “The centre will ensure that the public has full access to our extensive arts and culture library and teaching resources in addition to web-based learning portals,” Natalie explains.

Another important resource that will now have its very own home will be the fine art studio that will house all of the Gallery’s hands-on art activities including existing programmes such as Art Trek for primary school children, Walkers art club, art history for the retired and certain outreach programmes. This section will be known as the Susan Anne Olde Studio after lead sponsor, Mrs Susan Olde.

Other major sponsors include Walkers, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Greenlight Re, Atlantic Star Ltd, Deutsche Bank, Butterfield, RBS Coutts, John and Carol Owen, the Uglands, the Harfords, Mr. Linton Tibbets, the Palmer family, the Kinch family and the Cayman Islands Government.

“Thanks to the generous support of our project donors we are finally able to realise the new National Gallery and Education Centre, which will be a an unparalleled resource for the entire community. The accessible location and increased space will enable us to host a vibrant and diverse exhibition schedule that focuses on contemporary visual culture from the Cayman Islands and beyond. And, with our purpose built art studio, library and learning centre we will continue our dynamic educational programme offering more learning opportunities than ever before,” says Natalie. “In addition, we will have the very first purpose-built, permanent home for the national art collection, which something we can be immensely proud of as a community.”

The Big Arts Give

While he majority of funds have been secured, the Gallery will be embarking on a series of exciting fundraising initiatives throughout 2011 to close their remaining gap and to get the whole community involved. In addition to their Walk of Tribute brick campaign, they are launching The National Gallery’s Big Arts Give, a matched giving programme where donations will be matched dollar for dollar.

The Big Arts Give will be officially launched at [email protected], which will be taking place on Saturday 5 February, before been travelled across the island.

If you would like to get involved contact the Gallery at 945-8111 or email [email protected]


The National Gallery trustees Carson Ebanks, Helen Harquail, Carol Owen and past NGCI director Nancy Barnard review site progress.