Dreams of Utopia: sustaining art institutions in the transnational Caribbean

Erica James


This article explores the concept of sustainability in relation to formal and informal arts institutions in the Caribbean. Drawing on the American Renny Pritikin’s ‘Prescription for a healthy art scene’, it argues that Pritikin’s prescription outlines a utopian dream rather than a living place or real conditions for artistic development. It pictures a ‘scene’ that would be difficult to realise in America, and even more so in postcolonial Caribbean societies with limited resources and very different historical and cultural relationships to the arts. The article centrally examines the interdependent institutional model, forged during formative years of the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas (NAGB). With very few of the components suggested  by the Pritikin model present to draw on, the NAGB developed policies, exhibitions and public programming initiatives in  relation to and in partnership with various types of arts organisations and institutional forms, including local and regional artist-run spaces, national galleries, regional festivals, such as CARIFESTA, and directly with practising artists. This was done to fashion a vibrant arts scene, still far removed from Pritikin’s utopia, but able to draw from local and transnational resources, fuelling an emergent model particular to and sustainable within the primary community it served.

Keywords: Caribbean, Bahamas, National Art Gallery, postcolonial institutions, utopia, transforming spaces, CARIFESTA, CARICOM, nationalism

Full text: OAJ_issue5_james_final_v2 (PDF 1.3 MB)

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5456/issn.2050-3679/2016s001

Biographical note
Erica Moiah James is Assistant Professor jointly appointed in the Departments of the History of Art and African American Studies, Yale University. Before arriving at Yale, she served as the founding Director and Chief Curator of the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas.