The Bank as an incubator for creative ideas
The Central Bank of The Bahamas (CBoB) is as young as this nation and yet, at the same time, the oldest art institution in the country. After its metamorphosis from the Monetary Authority into the independent Central Bank in 1973, it spent its first decade focusing on becoming the outstanding regulatory financial institution needed for a young country.
In 1984, under the second Governor Sir William Allen, CBoB looked to other avenues of nations-building and embraced a visionary idea by then-26-year old, budding artist Antonius Roberts, to initiate an art competition and exhibition, which would encourage Bahamians to look at their life, their country, the past, present and future in a creative, critical and constructive way. Sir Allen expressed that CBoB “is particularly encouraged by the large number of young artists who entered the competition and by the quality of their work. We are hoping to establish this competition as an annual event sponsored by the Bank” .
In those early days of the exhibition, CBoB did not have enough space to display the many artworks within the building, but this did not stop their ambition to stage an expansive show. For the first several years, the covered portico surrounding the main building would be equipped with temporary partition walls and it was up to Roberts, who was acting as the curator, to check the weather every morning in order to make an informed decision whether to display the artworks that day or perhaps keep them safely inside for the time being.
This intensive commitment was rewarded when – in the course of a significant expansion to the main building in 1991 – CBoB opened a dedicated gallery space, directly across the street from one of Nassau’s major tourist draws, the historic home Balcony House on Market Street. From that time onward, the Central Bank Art Gallery became the principal sanctuary in the country for displaying artistic talent. The footsteps of almost every artist, onlooker, art aficionado, and patron have walked through the space, with the gallery’s activities hosting much of the nation’s cultural dialogue over the course of the past 36 years.
Over this exciting period, CBoB sponsored creative talents not only through exhibitions but also through awards of grants, scholarships, art supply support, workshops and travel allowances. At the same time, it built a significant art collection, often with early works of artists who would make their mark later on a national and international level. As the first major art space, however, the gallery also hosted shows for those considered our “masters,” such as Jackson Burnside, Amos Ferguson, Stan Burnside, Brent Malone, and Max Taylor, and a particularly interesting aspect of the collection is its range, often holding some of the first professional works by an artist (CBoB always purchases the winning piece of each art prize), as well as later works when they had honed their craft, as well as medium (drawings, paintings, sculpture) and works by beginners as well as the greats. This eclectic collection is displayed within the two buildings of CBoB and serves a vital role in creating a dynamic and inspiring work environment for its nearly 300 employees, who are encouraged to participate in lectures and visits.
The Central Bank Art Gallery played also an important role in fostering young curatorial talent. Especially the organization of the annual Open Call exhibition (all artists over 18 years of age) and the High School Competition (with sometimes over 200 art works to exhibit) demands close oversight, an attention to detail and a knowledge of how to arrange and install such a broad spectrum in only a few days. In this respect, Antonius Roberts—who has not only become one of our master artists but has been a significant mentor—groomed and guided artist/curators, such as Monique-Johnson Rolle, Heino Schmid, Jodi Minnis, and Angelika Wallace-Whitfield, to name only a few, many of whom have either continued as artists as well as university teachers and curators.
In 2019, the Central Bank Art Gallery also began to expand its program into other cultural avenues related to the visual arts, namely to Bahamian history. Since 1985, CBoB has already been the owner, patron and stalwart of both the aforementioned Balcony House, as well as Verandah House, two of the oldest residential wooden structures in the country, which are cared for and preserved in partnership with the Antiquities Monuments and Museums Corporation (AMMC). It seemed only natural to expand on such engagements and the Central Bank Art Gallery invited both The Bahamas Historical Society and The Vanguard Collection to display their historic artefacts at the gallery.
The bank’s cultural involvement also reaches beyond the gallery walls, supporting mural programs in the historic “Over-the-Hill” area, now considered the inner city, and collaborating with Project I.C.E. (Incubator for Collaborative Expression, based in an former ice-manufacturing plant), to initiate “The Central Bank Maker’s Room,” a technological think-tank to assist creative minds to have access to, understand and use cutting edge technology—such as Augmented and Mixed Reality—both to problem solve everyday issues and to enhance visitor experience at our exhibition sites.
With such engagements—and more coming on steam—the Central Bank Art Gallery persists in its prominence as a pivotal contributor to the progress of the visual arts community, the creative economy, and nation building.
 Sir William C. Allen: Message from the Board of Directors, 1984