Like everybody on New Providence and across the other islands of our archipelago, all of the team members at The National Art Galley of The Bahamas (NAGB) watched and waited with a rock in their bellies and their hearts already broken, as the storm ground past the islands of Abaco and Grand Bahama.
With co-workers who have close family in both of those places, as well as the artists and teachers with whom we have close ties an connections, and not forgetting team members here who suffered loss in their homes due to flooding, we gathered on Tuesday morning, struggling to find a way to cope with how to move forward.
How could we channel what we do and our expertise to support the nation at this time? How could we continue to keep art meaningful through this tragedy? To make our work still feel as important as ever?
We came up with several thoughts:
– We have a facility, a building, that has space and staff. So, the easiest function was to be a site of collection for donations. Working with Tropix Shipping and HeadKnowles, and a roster of volunteers from Equality Bahamas and the Women United group, we are staffing the NAGB form Mon-Fri 9-6 and Sat-Sun 10-5 to accept any non-perishable items.
- Since the non-perishable items are already high on everybody’s list, we also wanted to focus on special items for children. Dr Michelle Major, a licensed and nationally certified school psychologist, commented that a simple but effective tool for traumatised children is teddy bear, cuddly toy or “stim toy”. In the US teddies are taken on domestic dispute calls because they have been shown to give comfort to children and they will easily cling to them and sleep better. Also recommended are other “stim toys” that provide comfort: Lego blocks, colouring books crayons, fidgets and vibrating toys. Already we have delivered several cases of toys to the arriving children at Kendal Isaacs gym and we will continue to do so.
- We have networks: with artists, creatives and teachers all over the archipelago. We are using those to compile lists of missing or found artists and art teachers. Strategising how we can support these people to rebuild their lives and their economies, as many used their creativity to make a living. As we go to press, Roseanne Minnis, daughter of the great Eddie, and sister to Nicole (whose artwork “After the Storm” graces this piece), who lived in Marsh Harbour and worked closely with the Haitian community in The Mudd, has just been located.
- We have always been and will always be, historically and into the future, a space that is not only a sanctuary for all Bahamians and residents, but is also a location for facing difficult issues and a site of healing. Through our exhibitions we have grappled with hard topics that plague our community and now we will turn out work to surviving trauma. Not only for those who suffered the worst, but for those who have had to watch and imagine their own future with these new climatic events. As such, we will be using our facility and resources to facilitate therapy—not only art therapy and but other kinds of mental health awareness and therapy—to help the survivors. A fully realised plan will be published soon.
- All Bahamians have, however, been traumatised. There must be an escape from the images inundating all of us, reliving the horror and creating “compassion fatigue”. On the advice of many mental health professionals, including Dr Harrison Thompson, it is vital to take a break. The NAGB is a site where this can happen.
“We Gatchu!!!: Sanctuary after the Storm” is the NAGB’s campaign, which will be the overarching theme of all of our efforts in the coming months, continuing the important work of the institution but focussing it on the specific needs of our country at this time. We have always done this work—as many artists have—such as the “Hope is a Weapon” campaign that we supported in the last national exhibition., long before the passage of Dorian. We have now partnered with the artist Angelika Wallace-Whitfield to continue this campaign with the new stamp “BahamasStrong” to raise money for the relief effort. More artists will come on board to support other artists, but also our community.
The work continues and art, as ever, is a way to find solace and a way to heal.
The NAGB will now be FREE to all Bahamians and local residents EVERY DAY (except Monday, when we are closed) for the month of September.