Developing The Bahamian Riviera

By in News on December 7, 2013

Gearing up for its official opening in a year’s time, the largest single-phase resort development in the history of The Bahamas, Baha Mar, has been gathering a team of professionals at the top of their fields to make its Bahamian Riviera an impressive blend of luxury and hospitality for visitors to Bahamian shores.

But in addition to the usual offerings of sun, sand and sea, Baha Mar will set itself apart from the pack by fully steeping itself in Bahamian art and culture. In its latest move to redefine resort culture in the Caribbean, Baha Mar has filled a position not usually seen in hotels: a curator.

Curating 3 million square feet of space sounds more impossible than just simply intimidating, but they are in good hands. Starting this month, Bahamian artist John Cox, as the creative art director at Baha Mar, will lead a team of young visual thinkers to take Bahamian art to another platform.

Kicking off what promises to be a rewarding and long-overdue exchange between the art community and resort developers, Baha Mar will unveil its resort plans at Niche Media’s Annual Art of the Party event at Art Basel in Miami Beach this weekend.

Presented by Ocean Drive magazine, three installed pieces by Cox at the event will give viewers an exciting preview of the dynamic caliber of Bahamian artwork that will be on display not only throughout Baha Mar’s grounds and in its architectural details, but also in its very own art gallery.

For the past week, Cox has been working on completing the centerpiece to this soirée — another evolution of his now-ubiquitous “How Much Do You Love Me?” concept first presented in 2005 — over in the host city of one of the premier contemporary art events of the year.

Though Cox has presented work in a fringe gallery space as part of Art Basel before, never has an opportunity with this much promise and exposure been granted to a Bahamian visual artist during the event. To Cox, the fact that it pairs with Baha Mar’s agenda on the eve of his new post as creative art director signals an exciting chapter in Bahamian art history.

“There is so much opportunity,” Cox says. “Just being at Art Basel here, you realize just how art is everywhere.”

“These hotels just collapse themselves down and turn into pavilions for art during these fairs,” he continues. “You may think art in hotels could leave a bad taste in your mouth, but it isn’t. We have an opportunity to turn a page and for those people who want to turn it, I think we can do some really great things.”

Baha Mar is no stranger to the art scene, however. Ever since they broke ground on Cable Beach in 2011, the resort has shown a deep commitment to the Bahamian art world through partnerships with local galleries and artists, funding for art gallery exhibitions and art education initiatives, as well as providing space for outdoor public art installations on its completed grounds thus far and including local artists in its milestones, such as the topping off ceremony earlier this year.

This desire to form a relationship with the local cultural scene, says Baha Mar’s Chief Marketing Officer Denise Godreau, stems from a deep passion for the arts from Sarkis Izmirlian, Baha Mar’s chairman and chief executive officer.

“Art reflects a lot of things Baha Mar stands for: passion, creativity, and tenacity,” says Godreau. “Art takes us on a journey and that resonates with us.”

“Baha Mar’s commitment to the arts is genuine,” she continues. “It is almost a hidden secret, how good the artists are here, and with the scale and scope of Baha, Mar it has the potential to elevate it.”

Indeed, Bahamian artists are hungry for opportunity — any caution that may have precipitated this relationship as Baha Mar warmly extended its support to the art community quickly gave way to excitement.

Like many cultural leaders here in The Bahamas, Baha Mar seems to recognize that the way forward in a globalized world lies not in offering outdated and cookie-cutter understandings of paradise, but rather in cultural tourism where the Bahamian experience — reflected in all of the arts — takes center stage.

Curators for hotels and resorts have become a growing demand, especially in metropolitan centers of the world, as visitors often seek out authentic cultural experiences particular to the places they travel. Bringing John Cox onto the Baha Mar team as creative art director is a promise to members of the Bahamian art community that their voices will no longer be left out as the country stands its own in a globalized world.

“These are the kinds of things we at Baha Mar are here to do. We are here to dream big and say, ‘Do not think for a minute that these small islands cannot deliver.’ And John has that faith,” says Godreau.

“We are excited to bring John in because he has shown himself to be creative and dynamic in his roles in the art community. As I have gotten to know John over the past two years, he is progressive, he is reliable and he has this great faith that anything and everything can be done. You give him a global benchmark, and he can match it.”

Indeed, Cox is an invaluable part of the Bahamian art community. Besides being the youngest visual artist featured in the groundbreaking 2008 “Artists of The Bahamas” documentary by Island Films and subsequent traveling exhibition “Master Artists of The Bahamas” in 2011 and 2012, he has also contributed to developing the national and international dialogue around contemporary Bahamian art through creating the art space Popopstudios International Center for the Visual Arts in the late 1990s, teaching art classes at The College of The Bahamas for well over a decade, and visualizing dynamic programs and exhibitions as curator at the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas for the past two years.

“Art is my life,” Cox says. “In a way, I always thought the jobs I had were platform-building.

“I kind of see the same posture I had at The College of The Bahamas and the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas being just taken to a different level at Baha Mar.

“I maintain the philosophy that I am able to use a different tool off the shelf to help create the infrastructure that supports the needs of such a variety of visual thinkers we have in the country.”

Though many will be sad to see him leave his curatorial position at the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas, Cox points out that the move is not as drastic as many may think. After all, Baha Mar has enjoyed a close relationship with the NAGB for several years now and will continue to work together to elevate Bahamian art.

“It is sad to leave the gallery and the family there,” says Cox. “I am so appreciative that (NAGB Director) Amanda Coulson supports my move.

“The way she responded to me made me understand that she gets the big picture. She realizes that just because I move to Baha Mar doesn’t mean I don’t have an interest in the gallery. We’re all from the same place, and hopefully this move will just continue to bring visibility to the NAGB and all the other spaces, the whole community.”

As he assembles a team of dynamic visual thinkers, the group will offer exciting opportunities to Bahamian artists to install work that reflects the four distinct vibes of Baha Mar’s development: The Rosewood, the Mondrian, the Grand Hyatt and the Baha Mar Casino and Hotel, as well as vast outdoor spaces.

In a way, it will continue the exciting energy established by the installations within the Lynden Pindling International Airport development.

“The part that excites me is yes, I can be part of an awesome team I assembled to create amazing visual and cultural experiences, but even more important and exciting than that is that over the next year or 18 months, so many artists will be given possibly the biggest opportunities of their career,” says Cox.

“I think there is going to be more visibility all around as all spaces and artists have a voice at Baha Mar,” he adds. “There’s a place for everyone there because it is such a vast space with a vast set of needs.”

However, Cox’s position is not over once the resort is unveiled at the end of next year.

He will continue to envision new exhibitions at the Baha Mar Art Gallery. Sharing close partnerships with noted Bahamian art collector Dawn Davies and the D’Aguilar Art Foundation as well as the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas, and with the potential to create its very own collection, the Baha Mar Art Gallery promises to be another active space for Bahamian art.

“I’m so familiar with these collections, so the position doesn’t seem foreign. It just feels pretty epic,” says Cox. “I’m humbled by the position and I take it very seriously.

“I would like to see Baha Mar participate as a real key player in the visual fabric in the country now, not just set up some art in the space and be done.

“I would like them to keep a strong connection with the community and create ongoing opportunities for artists to do things that I think would just add so much richness and dynamism to the community.”

Sonia Farmer
The Nassau Guardian
Published: Saturday, December 7, 2013

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