Cayman Islands National Gallery celebrates 20 years

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A report from the Cayman Compass.

This year marks The National Gallery of the Cayman Islands’ 20th anniversary. Over the past two decades, the country’s leading public visual arts organization has welcomed more than a quarter of a million visitors, produced countless world-class exhibitions, and provided up to 60 monthly educational programs for the community. Throughout this time, the gallery has played a vital role in preserving the heritage and history of the Cayman Islands while simultaneously fostering cultural growth.

The Infinity Ball

The National Gallery now looks to the future with The Infinity Ball. This year’s highly anticipated 20th anniversary gala sets out to commemorate the institution’s past while embracing the decades ahead. The event takes place on Dec. 1, starting at 6:30 p.m., when the gallery’s Sculpture Gardens and Lower Exhibition Hall will be transformed into a futuristic backdrop. Guests will be invited to engage with the theme and décor by wearing “futuristic-inspired” black tie to the event.

The evening will include special presentations, live performances, futuristic cocktails, and dancing under the stars until the early hours. Longtime supporters of the organization will also be presented with special commemorative awards.

“Our 20th anniversary marks a big achievement for the organization and to all those who have helped it grown over the years: donors, artists, board and staff members, contributors, students, teachers and more,” says the gallery’s director, Natalie Urquhart. “The Infinity Ball will celebrate what has been achieved and what can be achieved as the gallery continues to evolve.

“By purchasing a ticket to the National Gallery’s Infinity Ball, you are investing in the institution’s future as we look ahead to the next few decades.”

The National Gallery has developed a reputation for hosting elaborate, art-inspired events, and the Infinity Ball promises to be another exciting evening.

“Prepare to be enthralled by the sights, sounds and sensations of a fashion-forward event that brings people together and celebrates creativity,” says gallery events coordinator Alyssa Manderson. “We’re excited to share the gallery’s successes and celebrate the museum’s future within our community.”

Tickets include a reception with a specialty welcome cocktail and canapés, a three-course fine dining experience with a vegetarian option, complimentary red and white wine throughout dinner, live music and entertainment, bottle service upon request, a champion bartender creating futuristic cocktails throughout the evening, a lively after-party and a few surprises.

National Gallery: A history

The National Gallery of the Cayman Islands has come a long way since its inception. It officially started in 1997 as a roving education program and 20 years on, it is now housed in the first purpose-built art museum facility in the anglophone Caribbean.

The idea of a national art museum started even further back. In 1995, just before Michael Gore ended his term of office as Governor of the Cayman Islands, his wife Monica made a memorable statement. She picked a seed from a tree in the garden of Government House and handed it to McKeeva Bush, the minister responsible for culture, with the words, “This seed represents the beginning of a national gallery for the Cayman Islands. Please, will you make sure it grows?”

Mrs. Gore had been aware for some time that a national gallery for the islands was warranted. It was fortuitous that incoming Governor John Owen’s wife Carol was an artist and, as the organization’s first chairperson, along with the gallery’s first director, Leslie Bigelman, the notion of the gallery began to emerge.

It opened the doors of its first dedicated space in 1997 with a 1,200-square-foot facility in Alexandria Place, donated by Caymanian entrepreneur Richard Christiansen. It functioned as a small art gallery and education center with a mission to raise awareness about the importance of arts education in schools and to promote and preserve the arts of the Cayman Islands. That same year, Owen, Bigelman and the gallery board started a campaign for a purpose-built gallery space and philanthropist Helen Harquail donated four acres of real estate just off Seven Mile Beach.

A local architectural competition was held, and architect Danny Owen was awarded the task of conceiving the multi-purpose art museum, the museum we see today after 14 years of strategic fundraising.

Under a change of leadership in 2004, when Nancy Barnard was appointed director, the gallery’s education mission continued to expand. Passionate about arts education, Barnard – with the support of corporate partners such as Walkers, Rawlinson & Hunter, Coutts, Deutsche Bank, Butterfield, EY, State Street, and Dart – grew education offerings to include workshops and rehabilitation opportunities at Fairbanks and Northward prisons, Eagle House, the Bonaventure Boys Home, the Francis Bodden Girls Home, Caribbean Haven and others, in addition to expanding the gallery’s traditional continuing education series and school programming. Most of this was achieved when the gallery was in its second home in Harbour Place, a space supported by board member Andreas Ugland.

In 2009, with community engagement at an all-time high, incoming director Natalie Urquhart and the National Gallery Board made a bold move to reinvigorate the capital campaign and building project. In 2012, the gallery unveiled its new building, with Urquhart focused on putting structures in place to support the long-term growth of the organization and focusing on a mission that is richly complex.

The last few years have seen visitor traffic doubling; expanded education programs and creative career development support; increased opportunities for Caymanian artists both locally and regionally; and the growth of the National Art Collection, which now holds more than 200 artworks and offers an unparalleled record of the Cayman Islands’ rich artistic and cultural history.

Today, the National Gallery hosts over 60 educational and outreach programs and events each month as well as ongoing lectures, screenings and temporary exhibitions. The facility is also home to an exhibition of the Permanent Art Collection of the Cayman Islands.

These programs aim to capture every age group in the community, from the youngest preschoolers to senior citizens, and combine arts education with enriching creative experiences that foster innovation, help build self-esteem and strengthen social ties.

Highlights

The National Gallery has carried out many missions over the last 20 years, the last five years of which have been housed in the NGCI’s purpose-built facility. Since the move in 2012, the organization has grown from strength to strength and has:

  • Welcomed over 100,000 visits to its facility
  • Hosted over 6,000 school students on tours
  • Held over 2,700 education and outreach classes
  • Mounted over 50 exhibitions
  • Increased the Permanent Art Collection by 100 percent
  • Held 20 fundraising events or projects
  • Awarded six undergraduate scholarships; 12 paid internships via the Creative Careers program
  • Been the recipient of a Top Employer Award for four years

Ticket sales for the Infinity Ball are open until Wednesday. Reservations will only be completed once full payment has been received. Due to increased demand, the gallery will not be able to hold tickets/tables without payment. Individual tickets are $195, with a pack of 10 for $1,900 and premium table for $3,000, which includes a professional group photo, two bottles of Champagne, recognition in the gala program and on the website, and prime table positioning. There are multiple terrains in the Sculpture Gardens, so choose footwear accordingly. For more information and to book tickets, email events@nationalgallery.org.ky or call 945-8111.

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