May 26, 2022

Creativity and conservation: An artist speaks on Baha Mar

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Antonius RobertsBy Antonius Roberts From Bahama islands info

As an artist with both a home and a studio in Cable Beach for many years, my first experiencewith Baha Mar was watching the bulldozers clear the land and cut the roads. I saw the tractors and trucks removing the hardwood trees, which are natural resources that I and other local woodcarvers cut for carvings. And I said to myself, “There’s got to be some way to reach out, to get the developer to listen.”

As it turned out, there was, and they did. Through local connections with Sarkis and Katie Izmirlian and Saskia D’Aguilar, I met to discuss my ideas about conservation, and creating something new out of those materials. Would Baha Mar consider allowing me and other woodcarvers to go into the construction area, retrieve the hardwood, and construct benches and furniture that could be repurposed and used in and around the resort campus?

Since then, that partnership has grown into something unique. As an artist, it’s a rare chance to collaborate with a major developer to incorporate transformation and creativity into the resort itself. For me, this is the opportunity of a lifetime to be engaged with developers who understand the need for preservation, and have great respect for the environment.

Transforming Trees, Transforming Lives

Together, we developed a program in which we’ve hired, trained and mentored local Bahamian craftsmen. With the support of the Government’s Jobs Readiness Program, I’ve trained local workers to take the trees removed during Baha Mar’s construction and create furniture and artworks. Many of those trees are non-native, like the Casuarina trees, which create environmental issues.

We set up a woodshop with equipment donated by Baha Mar, and I offered my services free of charge. That pilot bench-making program has evolved into Woods R Us, and these young men are now creating a whole new business for themselves. It’s been an opportunity to teach, to create jobs, and to be environmentally conscious at the same time. It’s exciting to help transform the lives of young Bahamians, and to provide opportunities to be self-sustaining.

Now, when you walk along Cable Beach and the wetlands, you can see these benches that arelocally sourced, made with the skills of local craftsmen who have contributed to this landscape. People can sit on the sculptures, and celebrate and enjoy them as public art. It’s a chance to shape the story of the place—to influence it, and become part of the experience. These young people now have ownership of that place. For them, it’s a very powerful experience.

Casuarinas and Conchs

I’ve worked with Baha Mar on other projects, including the Tree of Trees. Baha Mar commissioned the 40-foot sculpture, formed from a Casuarina tree uprooted by Hurricane Sandy. Instead of importing a Christmas tree, we transformed storm debris into something meaningful. The community donated items found on local beaches todecorate the tree, which stands in Hobby Horse Lake Park. It reflects our shared commitment to environmental stewardship and sustainability, and repurposes items to enhance the beauty of The Bahamas.

With the support and collaboration of the Bahamas National Trust, we’re now starting to raise awareness with a program we’re calling Conchservation. This speaks to the preservation of the native conch, which is a local delicacy. It’s iconic here in The Bahamas, but it’s being depleted. By using the conch shells as ornaments, we’re trying to get people to think about its life cycle, and encourage the conservation of this natural resource.

Also, Baha Mar has formed an alliance with the National Art Gallery, the D’Aguilar Art Foundation and the Dawn Davies Collection to exhibit Bahamian artworks throughout the resort. I hope to have my works displayed as part of that effort, which will expose an international audience to local artists.

Looking Ahead

In working with young people, I’ve tried to impress on them that they should be mindful of the fact that as artisans, they’re not just competing locally. They’re competing with the world. Baha Mar will compete globally, and offer a unique Bahamian experience that visitors can’t get anywhere else. We’re competing against a global village, and wealthier individuals have a lot of choices about where to go and how to spend money. For them, it’s the experience that’s priceless.

Years ago, as a young artist in a young nation, it became embedded in my psyche that I’m now a keeper of my country. We’ve been blessed with this place, and we should do whatever is in our power to preserve and protect it. Though art, and through collaborations like this with Baha Mar, we can influence another generation of young Bahamians to recognize our heritage, and train them in a new way of environmentally conscious thinking.

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