Young CI leader award brings arts to the fore

Natalie Urquhart, director of the Cayman Islands National Gallery, talks about becoming the 2011 Young Caymanian Leadership Award recipient.  

In a glitzy ceremony at the Ritz-Carlton on 6 May, the director of the National Gallery Natalie Urquhart became the 2011 recipient of the Young Caymanian Leadership Award. 

“It was really unexpected,” she says, of being chosen as the 2011 YCLA recipient, adding that with “such a great group of finalists”, she had not expected to win. 

Her fellow finalists were Richard Christian, Ventisha Conolly, Chantal Whittaker and Shari Whittaker.  

She collected her award from last year’s recipient Collin Anglin, on whom she says she plans to call for help. “Collin has done an amazing job over the past year… I am hoping to get some advice and mentorship from him on how to go forward,” she said. 

“I am hoping to follow Collin’s lead and get out there to as many groups as I possibly can over the next year,” she added. 

Mr. Anglin, who is the government’s director of sports, took part in more than 50 speaking engagements during his year as YCLA recipient and spoke before more than 13,000 people, including at least 4,000 children. By the Monday after Ms Urquhart was named recipient of the award, she had already been asked to speak before Rotary Sunrise and Junior Achievement. She had also been interviewed on television and had had a call from a school pupil who told her she was the subject of his class project that morning. 

She also hopes to continue working with her fellow finalists, whose talents, knowledge and expertise were brought together by the YCLA in the run-up to the ceremony. “If you have a platform like YCLA to spread the message about Family: Building the Foundations [this year’s YCLA theme], to get involved and to commit to make positive change, you will make a stronger message with all our voices,” she said. 

In the past, the YCLA alumni have been drawn from the worlds of sport, finance, law and health. The YCLA recipients, since the awards were launched in 1999 by the Young Caymanian Leaders Foundation, have been Olivaire Watler in 2000, Dax Foster in 2001, Sara Collins in 2002, Steve Blair in 2003, Cindy Scotland in 2004, Jonathan Tibbetts in 2006, Canover Watson in 2007, Stephen Ryan in 2008, Elroy Bryan in 2009 and Collin Anglin in 2010. 

Mrs. Urquhart said that by receiving the YCLA accolade, she is proof that the arts are becoming an integral part of Cayman’s society and that it is now generally accepted that one can be successful in choosing a career in the field of arts and culture. 

“When I was growing up in Cayman, being in the arts field was unusual. It still is, to a certain extent. In the school curriculum, which is so packed, the arts can sometimes get pushed aside,” she said. “What we are doing daily [at the National Gallery] is supplementing that and engaging students across the Island in arts and culture.” 

She added: “My platform to talk about arts and culture has been expanded immensely.” 

“It is thrilling for me to be able to get up there and talk about what I love and share that with the community,” she said. 

She said she is lucky to be surrounded by people in her home and professional life who energise and help her. “I work with great people, whether it’s my family at home, my husband, my sisters, the team at the National Gallery, the other finalists and alumni of YCLA,” she said. 

At the gallery, the team she works with make coming into work each day a “real pleasure”, she said.  

Family is close to Ms Urquhart’s heart, as she comes from a tight knit family of mother, father and three sisters, Danielle, Fleur and Hollie, whom she describes as “three incredible women”. Unfortunately, none of her sisters were on Island to see her being awarded the 2011 YCLA accolade. 

Becoming the YCLA recipient while having a teenage sister – Hollie is 15 – also has a special significance, said Ms Urquhart, who hopes that her achievement will influence her little sister to “dream big”. 

“This year’s theme of Family: Building the Foundation is very pertinent to me. My family is very, very close and really supportive of each other,” she said.  

She said she also gets a huge amount of support from her husband Sandy Urquhart, who, with supporting statements from her colleagues, friends and local artists, nominated her for the YCLA award. “It is thanks to him that I am here as the 2011 recipient,” she said. 

“He is from a creative background himself and provides endless inspiration and support for the very unusual job I do,” she added. 

Her parents encouraged all the girls to shoot for careers about which they were passionate, and did not try to steer them toward working in the financial industry. “Growing up in Cayman, that was the obvious choice,” said Mrs. Urquhart. 

Now, years after embarking on her career in the arts, she says she feels “such a joy to be able to give back” to the parents she describes as “really good, really caring people”, who instilled those qualities in their children from day one. 

“I was asked recently about role models and life lessons. My parents are the first and most influential role models I have had,” she said, adding that they are respectful of people from every background and walk of life and “they say thank you”. “It is a simple lesson, but it makes a difference in the world. That has stood me very well in the course of my life,” she said. “Tolerance and open mindedness have been at the heart of my life.” 

She was also brought up to be “a good neighbour”, she said – another simple lesson that is often forgotten. Her parents moved to Cayman in 1972 and she and her sisters were born here. Although she went off Island to obtain her two degrees, she never for a moment considered not coming back to the island that is her home.  

“I came back both times because I felt I could make a difference,” she said.  

And she has been witness to that “difference” which she said has been happening in front of her. “It’s happening in real time, it’s not something that’ll happen in 20 years,” she said of the changing attitudes and acceptance of arts and culture in Cayman. 

“We can see change happening. The arts scene in Cayman today is vastly different than it was 10 years ago when I came back. To have been part of that change is inspiring,” she said. 

Her commitment to Cayman’s art and culture, she said, is rooted in the old adage “You need to know where you come from to know who you are and where you are going.” This year promises to be a very busy one for the new YCLA recipient. As well as all the duties and tasks and speaking engagements she will be expected to take part in as the YCLA recipient, she is also involved in the creation of a new gallery that is being constructed and is also spearheading a new mentorship programme that will pair students interested in the arts with like-minded adults. 

The idea for her new mentorship programme sprang from a Chamber of Commerce mentorship programme in which she took part in 2009.  

This new programme will be specialised, in that it will deal only with the arts, but will have a broad scope and involve art, music, design, choreography, dance, graphic design and architecture and others.  



From left, Winston Connolly, Cynthia Hew and last year’s YCLA recipient, Collin Anglin, listen as Natalie Urquhart makes her first speech as the 2011 YCLA recipient. – PHOTOs: NORMA CONNOLLY