Art, on Island Time

Article excerpt

Byline: Kara Cutruzzula

How long before a Bahamas Biennale?

It would be easy to revel in the Dionysian pleasures the Bahamas have on offer (conch fritters and rum concoctions are only a few), but as the commonwealth enters its 40th year of independence from Great Britain, even the culturally astute have reason to touch down. An artistic boom is on the horizon--and soon roving gamblers, sun-seekers, and spa obsessives will get a taste of local talent.

Currently, the 1,000-acre construction site in Nassau that will transform into the Baha Mar Hotel and Casino contains piles of steel and vats of concrete, but also an immense opportunity for the region: more jobs, a torrent of tourists, and the evolution of Cable Beach into a chic "Bahamian Riviera." Yet the $3.5 billion luxury enclave, with four hotels and a 100,000-square-foot casino set to open at the end of 2014, is also promising to double down on contemporary art. At Baha Mar's recent "topping off" ceremony--a centuries-old act celebrating the completion of a building's highest floor--Sarkis Izmirlian, the resort's CEO, announced the property would feature a gallery space and artwork created by local artists. This means that unlike other hotels, guests here won't eat their breakfasts staring at stock photos of turquoise water, but perhaps will dine under an abstract self-portrait by Bahamian legend Kendal Hanna.

Also announced was the participation of hometown hero Lenny Kravitz, whose design firm will take charge of the resort's nightclub and villa. Kravitz spent much of his youth in the Bahamas, which he called "one of my favorite places in the world."

This relaxed, Kravitzian vibe extends to the local arts scene, which appears less competitive than its stateside equivalents. The National Art Gallery of the Bahamas, housed in a sun-yellow 19th-century house, borrows works from the D'Aguilar Art Foundation for its exhibitions, and both will loan to Baha Mar. …