The Creative Community And Baha Mar
You see, I think that art is the most powerful thing we have in this country.
When I took the job 18 months ago to be creative art director, I was charged to create, design, curate and operate a visual art program for Baha Mar.
The opportunity was both exhilarating and overwhelming. The trust, support and responsibility handed to me by Sarkis Izmirlian (BML chairman and CEO) and Tom Dunlap (BML president) were awesome.
I remember my first week on the job and a conversation I had with Sarkis. He said to me, “Let’s do some good!” This exchange has stayed with me ever since and has driven the core of what I believe Baha Mar is all about.
Sarkis and Tom wanted me to bring Bahamian culture into the conversation at Baha Mar in a meaningful way, by using visual art as the path to connect our local community to a larger global audience.
I saw this as a new opportunity, through art, to redefine Bahamian identity and experience. I thought we could use our collective artistic practices as a “cultural way-finding” mechanism.
It would encourage guests and locals alike to delve into the content, context and technique of an array of art works carefully installed throughout the resort.
I saw the resort as a blank canvas of sorts, to be appointed with various reflections of our comprehensive and often underestimated Bahamian artistic traditions. Each work of art would embody a unique story of Bahamian experience woven into the fabric of its composition.
Cultural activist Jackson Burnside challenged us to make The Bahamas a destination sought after for art and culture, more so than sun, sand and sea, by 2020. Our collective creative community strives to make this goal a reality, one exhibition, art tour, residency, public installation and art commission at a time.
Sarkis was instrumental, through Baha Mar, in giving us the tools to make a giant step towards making Jackson’s provocative statement a reality.
Having worked in several capacities in art-related jobs for the past two decades – The College of The Bahamas, the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas and Popopstudios – I was excited to be finally given significant leverage by Sarkis and Tom to establish a fresh program and platform with the primary objective of empowering and giving visibility to local artists.
The axis of our program would lie in the belly of the local landscape, and through programming we would reach regional and international organizations with mutually beneficial exchanges.
We established The Current – the newest creative partner in our local, regional and international conversation on contemporary visual practice. We designed and fit out a 6,000-square-foot studio to house The Current, including a gallery/project space, studios, offices and a designated retail section.
To date, we have a growing list of 65 Bahamian artists involved in the pre-opening phase of the project, including Max Taylor, Tessa Whitehead, Jordanna Kelly, Kendal Hanna, John Paul, Toby Lunn, Jason Bennett, Dede Brown, Eric Ellis, Nettie Symonette, Atilla Fest, June Collie, Allan Wallace, Paulette Mortimer, Heino Schmid, Imogene Walkine, Antonius Roberts, John Beadle, Lynn Parotti, Blake Fox, Stan Burnside, and many more.
With the rapid growth of arts organizations in the country, The Current is perfectly timed and positioned to collaborate with many institutions.
Transforming Spaces, NAGB, Shakespeare in Paradise, Charitable Arts Foundation, COB’s art department and Creative Nassau – a recent member of the UNESCO global network of cities – could all bring flavor to our programming. Creative organizations in this country all have unique strengths but often fall short of the wholeness needed to realize fully the potential of the artists we serve.
We are encouraged that with Baha Mar’s support, The Current could significantly energize and activate the execution of many meaningful programs throughout the Bahamas and Caribbean region.
I hand picked a team of young creative Bahamians from varied backgrounds – COB, the Pratt Institute and Rhode Island School of Design – to help create and build this vision.
Richardo Barrett (construction management and design); Cydne Coleby (portfolio management, merchandise and design); Sonia Farmer (archive management, communications, programming, video production and contracts); Khia Poitier (design, social media and merchandise); Nastassia Pratt (curatorial); Piaget Moss (social media and video production); Alecia Munnings (creative assistant); and Rashad Adderley (creative assistant); as well as Christina Hermanns (project and construction manager), whom we met at Baha Mar.
This team carries a level of responsibility in the field of art in the country that, I would argue, is both unparalleled and unprecedented. Their professionalism, talent and dedication to the project are beyond commendable (not to mention that they range in age from 20 to 29).
We began a process of engagement with the art community. The community, for many years, has been on an upward swing in terms of the scope, reach, sophistication of practice and development of creative platforms. All we had to do was harness that creative energy of our already talented artists and sensitively bring them into the field of what was, for most of us, a new and unfamiliar corporate structure.
We worked with a healthy budget to outfit both the private and public spaces of the Grand Hyatt, SLS Lux, Rosewood, the Baha Mar Hotel and Casino, as well as the spa, ESPA.
We’ve met, and still meet, resistance from many onlookers, but through it all we have done what I believe is an admirable job of bringing Bahamian art to yet another level.
I trust the work has only just begun. We have curated 2,400 private spaces using more than 250 works – all from Bahamian artists. We’ve commissioned more work from Bahamian artists for a single project than any other in this country’s history.
We’ve curated a 30,000-square-foot gallery (The Glass Window) with a wide range of works from the prestigious D’Aguilar Art Foundation Collection and The Dawn Davies Collection, as well as from the private collections of many well-known artists.
Baha Mar was the first large “non-art” company that employed and integrated a full-time team of dedicated creatives to frame a major part of its public identity and appeal. We are full-time employees hired to make art and create a sustainable system that makes it possible for others to make and sell art.
This making art would become a unique and defining experience that would draw audiences from various backgrounds. Through the art, they would discover our culture, and perhaps as significant, draw revenue from the diversity of programming, education, commercially-curated exhibitions and social events.
I am certain that with any measure of success, before long, we would see other companies adopting similar programs. This would create healthy competition for us, and more importantly, accentuate the growth of the “orange” (creative) economy in our local community. That simply adds up to the sustainable employment of more creatives. For me, Sarkis became an agent for substantial growth in this regard.
We know much of the art community is, as we are, very upset and concerned about what developments over the last few weeks imply. We are concerned for the 65-plus artists that are actively involved with this project, but we are also mindful of the message it sends to potential future projects of this scale.
The artists that we’ve worked with have entrusted us with their images and their rights, and this is not anything we take lightly. My team and I are working as hard as we can to steady the ship through these rough seas…and I believe we will be okay. I just believe we will be better than okay…if it’s one thing I have faith in it’s the arts and in the artists of this country.
Our creative community has come too far to be let down by anyone. We are world class, and we deserve to be here and to be seen and heard. Let’s channel our positive thoughts and energy towards the sentiment that Sarkis uttered to me in that first week, “Let’s do some good!”
I believe in all of you. Stay strong … and stay Current!
John Cox is the creative art director for the Baha Mar project.