By Thea Rutherford
LYFORD Cay Foundation scholars and alumni are making waves on Bahamian arts and culture scene. From prestigious international exhibitions to the Central Bank of the Bahamas awards, Lyford Cay Scholars and artists are leaving their mark.
Well-known Bahamian artist and Lyford Cay alumnus John Cox (Rhode Island School of Design, BFA in Illustration, 1995 on Foundation scholarship; MAT Art Education) was recently made Creative Art Director at Baha Mar. In addition to presenting an installation of his work at an event hosted by Baha Mar and Ocean Drive Magazine called ‘Art at the Party’ during Art Basel in Miami Beach last December, Mr Cox was also selected to exhibit solo at New York City’s VOLTA Art Fair.
For the past two years Lyford Cay scholars have walked away with the coveted Central Bank art exhibition award. Last year, Jeffrey Meris (Temple University, BFA in Sculpture, 2016), the 2012 Harry C Moore Scholarship in the Arts recipient, won the award. In 2012, the award went to the 2013 Sir John Templeton Memorial Scholarship recipient, Jace McKinney (Andrews University, Master in Theology, 2016).
The foundation’s Caystone newsletter recently corresponded with Bahamian artist Dionne Benjamin-Smith (AA Fine Arts, Honours; College of the Bahamas; BFA in Graphic Design, Honours; Rhode Island School of Design), the Lyford Cay alumna who has witnessed and recorded the happenings on the local arts landscape for the past 15 years in weekly newsletter Bahamian Arts and Culture. Here is what Mrs Benjamin-Smith had to say:
Q: What have you noticed about the growth of arts and culture in the Bahamas over the past 20 years?
A: Today, we see more Bahamians painting, sculpting, photographing, creating. Bahamians are holding more and more exhibitions, publishing books, releasing music and films, producing theatre, dance and musical performances, and creating and inventing new products. Today, we see our artists winning awards, prizes, grants, titles, positions, and international acclaim for the creative work they are doing.
For a nation with such a small population, I find it staggering that we are standing toe-to-toe with and even excelling our counterparts on the global stage. It’s incredibly empowering to witness this.
Q: What role has the Bahamian Arts and Culture newsletter played in spreading the news of the local art scene?
A: We get comments all the time from readers who are so grateful for the existence of the newsletter. They said prior to this publication, they never knew what was going on.
Not only does it give them what events are taking place but it also gives them a greater level of understanding and appreciation of the arts and artists. Many have said they can’t wait for their weekly issue. They are getting educated and entertained in a field they have not really been exposed to.
The readership levels have increased significantly in the past three years since we presented it as an emailed newsletter. We have readers from the Bahamas, the Caribbean and at least 44 other countries.
Q: What new opportunities do you see available to Bahamian artists now?
A: The sky is the limit. Whatever opportunity is out there to be had, it can be ours. A Bahamian artist was considered one of the most important artists in the world during the 1990s. A Bahamian artist, because of his talent and tenacity, won The Bahamas a pavilion space at arguably the most prestigious art exhibition in the world, Venice Biennale – an honour most artists would give their eye teeth to obtain. We have Bahamian creatives who are Rhodes scholars and earning doctorates and holding positions at some of the top universities in the world. The world regards our Bahamian creatives as remarkable; so should we.
Q: What would you like to say to donors of the LCF in regards to their support of the arts and artist scholars over the years?
A: First of all, I can’t thank the donors enough for their continued generosity and commitment to investing in the real wealth of this nation – its people. I am also very grateful that the Foundations see fit to grant scholarships specifically to the arts. Not many scholarship programmes regard artists enough to point monies in that direction.
You know, the donors don’t have to give their money. The Foundations don’t have to labour every year to search for students to give away hundreds of thousands of dollars to. This is a blessing to the nation because there are not a whole lot of folks giving money away to students in the form of scholarships. I know the Scholars are grateful for it. This changes their lives forever. So it is quite a special thing.