Museum conference explores role of cultural heritage

Delegates from the Museums Association of the Caribbean Conference and AGM

The National Gallery of the Cayman Islands hosted the 27th Annual Conference and Annual General Meeting of the Museums Association of the Caribbean this week, welcoming delegates from across the Caribbean, U.K., Canada and the U.S.

More than 80 people participated, including leading museum and heritage sector specialists, academics, curators, educators and cultural consultants, in addition to Cayman’s emerging museum professionals, interns and students, according to a press release from the National Gallery.

The conference, held Oct. 9-12, offered an opportunity for local cultural and tourism professionals to discuss the latest sector developments and to network with regional colleagues.

The conference theme, “The Essential Museum – Redefining the role of the cultural and heritage sector for 21st century audiences,” was selected by the National Gallery to address the evolving role that cultural entities can play within their communities.

In the first regional arts conference for Cayman’s National Gallery, presentations explored and questioned how museums, galleries and heritage sites can define and demonstrate public value in the modern age; how institutions can play integral roles in civic engagement, education, research, stewardship, and social change; how they can best serve their diverse audiences; and how the digital realm can help open up access for hard-to-reach communities, the release stated.

From left, keynote speaker Dr. Veerle Poupeye, Amanda Coulson, Natalie Urquhart and Sherene James-Williamson
From left, keynote speaker Dr. Veerle Poupeye, Amanda Coulson, Natalie Urquhart and Sherene James-Williamson

“These are exciting times for those of us who have a strong desire to preserve our culture and heritage through the arts while forging ahead in the modern age,” said Councilor Roy McTaggart of the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development, in his welcome address, speaking on behalf of Premier Alden McLaughlin. “The theme for this conference, The Essential Museum, gives us every opportunity to come up with innovative ways to demonstrate our public value in the modern age.”

A keynote panel consisting of three Caribbean museum directors – Dr. Veerle Poupeye, director of the National Gallery of Jamaica; Amanda Coulson, director of the National Art Gallery of the Bahamas; and Natalie Urquhart, director of the National Gallery of the Cayman Islands – was held to address critical questions outlined in the conference’s theme and discuss special projects at their respective institutions.

The National Gallery also welcomed delegates from the recently opened Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., including curator Joanne Hyppolite; Michele Gates Moresi, supervisory museum curator of collections; and Mary Elliott, museum specialist. They spoke about the strategies the museum had employed to engage communities across the country and internationally, in its collections building and care initiatives.

They also examined how the museum defined its ongoing collecting role in the response to activism and unfolding social justice issues surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement.

“With over 20 thought-provoking presentations and a series of visits to leading cultural and heritage sites, it has been an inspiring and informative few days for all participants,” said Ms. Urquhart. “Importantly, it has helped to expand opportunities for continued inter-regional dialogue, to create new synergies between local organizations, as well as providing professional development for all of us working in the cultural, arts and heritage sector in Cayman Islands.”

Students Shanique Frater and Rhiana Williams
Students Shanique Frater and Rhiana Williams

Scholarships were extended to students from CIFEC, UCCI and ICCI through the National Gallery’s Creative Careers program, which provides internship opportunities and career support for young Caymanians with an interest in creative sector careers.

“It was a priority for us to ensure access to young people interested in working in the creative sector and to invite them to join the dialogue around what The Essential Museum looks like. Millennial museum-goers are looking for a very different experience and they have some amazing ideas,” said Ms. Urquhart.

The conference was also designed to encourage dialogue between generations of museum and heritage sector audiences, and to provide support for emerging professionals and Caymanian students interested in the field, according to the press release.

MAC President Dr. Sherene James-Williamson said, “The melting pot of ideas, age groups and cultural and heritage practitioner’s speakers to the diversity of our region and the direction in which MAC would like to go and made for a truly energizing conference.”

The next conference is scheduled to be jointly hosted by the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture and the Association of African American Museums in Miami from Oct. 21-25.

Established in 1987, MAC serves as a key forum for the interchange of information and ideas for the cultural sector through meetings, publications and museum exchanges.