Here is another feature on the Kingston – Part 1: The City and Art exhibition:
As we speak of “crossroads” and opportunities, we have to recognize that Kingston is also the centre of cultural infrastructure in Jamaica. This includes the two main visual arts institutions, the Edna Manley College and the National Gallery of Jamaica, and several major corporate art collections. Jamaica’s main private art collections are also located in Kingston. This Kingston-centeredness is slowly changing as governmental and corporate authorities as well as other private interests have been employing strategies to de-centralize the infrastructural dominance of Kingston. The 2014 establishment of the Montego Bay Cultural Centre, which houses the National Gallery of Jamaica’s Montego Bay branch National Gallery West, is one such example. That being said, this section of the exhibition acknowledges a selection of those Kingston-based entities that have been key pillars for the development of visual art practice and promotion in Jamaica, and have also contributed to urban development and renewal.
The Institute of Jamaica, which was established in 1879, is the oldest cultural institution in Jamaica and has been pivotal in the development of national art exhibition programming and art educational opportunities, especially from the 1930s to the present. The National Gallery of Jamaica has its origins in the pioneering art collecting and exhibition programmes of the Institute and presently operates as one of its divisions. Established in 1974 at Devon House on Hope Road and then relocated to the Roy West Building on the Kingston Waterfront in 1982, the National Gallery of Jamaica functions as the custodian of carefully developed collections of Jamaican art, representing more than ten centuries of artistic history in our country. Other Institute of Jamaica divisions that have been involved in the visual arts are the Junior Centre and the National Library of Jamaica, before the latter attained autonomy. The Junior Centre hosted Edna Manley’s seminal free adult art classes that started in 1939 and served as a meeting place for the members of the emerging nationalist school, and it continues to offer children’s art programmes today.
The Jamaica School of Art and Crafts was established in 1950, initially at 1 Central Avenue and from 1957 also at North Street, before being moved to a new building at the school’s current location at Arthur Wint Drive, near New Kingston. Now incorporated into the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts, it is the largest art school in the English-speaking Caribbean. Whitney Miller and J. McLeod, along with Robert Sawyer were a part of the school’s first body of full-time students and, in the case of Sawyer, lecturers in the 1960s and they utilized the surrounding Kingston communities as inspiration for studio exercises that reflected the talent and sophistication of the emerging national aesthetic.
During the 1960s and 1970s, corporate entities such as the Bank of Jamaica, Pan-Jamaican Trust Limited and the law firm Myers, Fletcher and Gordon began to embrace collecting Jamaican art as a part of their cultural obligations and public mandate, additionally supporting visual artists through other forms of sponsorship for further education and other resources. A corporate collection that rivals the National Gallery collection in size and scope is the art collection of the national bank, the Bank of Jamaica, which was launched in 1975, when the bank moved to its current, then new building on the Kingston Waterfront. Initially, the development of Bank of Jamaica collection was spearheaded by a committee chaired by the master painter Barrington Watson and this committee’s initiatives involved several major commissions to Watson and other artists of his generation.
Several private collections also emerged around in the 1960s and 70s. One major private patron and collector was the Jamaican civil engineer A.D. Scott, who opened the Olympia International Art Centre near Papine in 1974, around the same time as the National Gallery and the Bank of Jamaica collection, as part of a pioneering effort to integrate art gallery, apartment and hotel functions. He later donated a major selection from his collection to the National Gallery of Jamaica, part of which can now be seen in two permanent galleries.