The National Gallery of Jamaica was deeply saddened by news of the passing of our colleague, the scholar, curator and activist, Dr Donna McFarlane O.D. last week.
A true visionary, Dr McFarlane was the first Director/ Curator of our sister museum Liberty Hall: Legacy of Marcus Garvey. In Garvey’s time, the Liberty Hall was a meeting place for the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (UNIA-ACL). The property hosted a range of cultural and intellectual programmes in its heyday. Eventually the property left UNIA hands and was owned by several individuals until it was purchased by the Government of Jamaica, through the Heritage Trust and declared a National Monument in 1987. Always a passionate advocate for civil rights and African and Diasporic empowerment; Dr McFarlane had returned to Jamaica after completing her Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science and Masters in Developmental Economics. She worked for the Government of Jamaica and was also a consultant to the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank and other development financing agencies. She was however never far from the activities of the Cultural sector.
The Liberty Hall reopened in 2003, as a living monument to the legacy of Marcus Garvey and it was Dr McFarlane who spearheaded the development of the ground-breaking Marcus Mosiah Garvey Multimedia Museum. The museum – which was the only one of its kind in the Caribbean – utilized interactive technology to teach about the life, ideals and still-relevant messages of Jamaica’s first National Hero. The introduction of this type of technology into the museum experience was meant to make Garvey’s treasure trove of wisdom attractive and accessible, especially to Jamaican youth. Under her directorship the Liberty Hall was transformed into a centre of learning.
She later completed her master’s and PhD in museum studies and applied her knowledge to the improvement of the facilities and services of the museum. Dr McFarlane aligned the activities and programming of the Liberty Hall with Garvey’s famous quote: “We are going to emancipate ourselves from mental slavery because whilst others might free the body, no one but ourselves can free the mind…” In addition to its museum, she also established the Garvey Multimedia Computer Centre; the Garvey Research/Reference Library; and Community Outreach programmes that include Adult Computer Literacy class, Garvey After-School Programme, and Summer Art programming.
The Board of Directors and the Staff of the National Gallery of Jamaica wish to extend our deepest condolences to the Family and friends of Dr Donna McFarlane.
Her spirit and legacy will live on.