Thu | Apr 19, 2018

Letter of the Day | Don't denigrate Gallery

Published:Friday | August 12, 2016 | 12:00 AM


As visual artists and members of the artistic community in Jamaica and the Caribbean, we have been alarmed by some of the recent comments made by Senator Thomas Tavares-Finson, chairman of the new board of the National Gallery of Jamaica (NGJ). Senator Tavares-Finson has stated that his "mandate is to steer the NGJ in a new direction in keeping with global trends as it relates to the development of art and galleries".

In fact, over the last several years, The National Gallery has been strongly committed to developing a museum that reflects current global approaches to museology - that of inclusion, diversity, experimentation, engagement with audiences and the encouragement of dialogue. This has been evidenced by the range of exhibitions, education programmes and outreach, scholarship, events, performances and a determined effort to look outwards.

In addition, as regular visitors, and at times exhibitors at the National Gallery, we have been frankly astonished at the picture painted by the new chairman of a Gallery 'beset by failure'. That has not been our experience. Indeed, on the contrary, The Gallery has been undergoing a particularly dynamic period in recent years, with an ever-increasing following of large numbers of people from various and diverse backgrounds who can be seen at openings of exhibitions and attending discussions and panel presentations. The establishment of free Sunday openings each month has facilitated this diversity, boosted visitor numbers and has been very well supported.

One of the stated goals of the new chairman is to make the Gallery 'relevant and vibrant'. Yet these objectives have been strenuously addressed through the many excellent exhibitions that have been staged by The Gallery in recent years. These include the Exploration series of exhibitions Natural Histories, Religion and Spirituality, Seven Women Artists and Masculinities, which have cleverly used important parts of the national collection to articulate specific themes and create new affinities by thoughtful, often inspiring juxtapositions. There has also been a range of

contemporary exhibitions. The Gallery also maintains vibrant education programmes.




The establishment of Gallery West in Montego Bay has been a major achievement, aimed at expanding audiences and moving the Gallery outside of Kingston. Another important initiative has been the broadening of the scope of the National Biennial, which has received strong support from local and international artists.

In denying or ignoring these accomplishments, the chairman is denigrating the hard work and achievements of the dedicated team of staff of the National Gallery. He is also negating the experience of schoolchildren from across Jamaica who regularly visit the Gallery on tours. We would urge the new chairman and his board to think very carefully indeed before making any changes which would jeopardise these significant cultural developments.


ALISSANDRA CUMMINS - Director, Barbados Museum and Historical Society; former President of the International Council of Museums

ALLISON THOMPSON - Director, Division of Fine Arts, Barbados Community College

NICOLE SMYTHE-JOHNSON - Writer, Critic, Independent Curator