The Barbados Arts Council (BAC) was inaugurated on December 6th, 1957; Hugh Springer, later Sir Hugh Springer, Governor-General of Barbados was the first President and Chairperson. Established as a non-governmental umbrella organisation for all the arts of Barbados, the BAC continued the work of the Barbados Arts and Craft Society which had been founded by Mrs. Golde White under the British Arts Council. During its early years, the BAC benefitted greatly from the advice and assistance of the British Arts Council. In 1959, when the British organisation discontinued its activities in Barbados, all its film and drama equipment as well as the resource library was donated to the local organisation.
At inauguration, representation was accorded the Barbados Arts Council in all the art forms - music, dance, drama, literature, the visual arts and other forms of artistic expression. BAC aims were to promote, support and develop all the arts; for many years it remained the central cultural organisation and acted as the link between Government and the community in matters pertaining to the arts. The BAC served the Barbados art community in this capacity for many years.
The upsurge of cultural activities in the late 1970s led to the establishment of a number of organisations specialising in specific disciplines previously under the umbrella of the BAC. This shift allowed the BAC to focus primarily, but not exclusively, on the visual arts. Prior to the BAC’s acquisition of its present home The Gallery at Pelican Village, Queen’s Park in Bridgetown was the meeting point for BAC members. The Queen’s Park Gallery was home to the organisation for many years and the centre for art exhibitions. The Annual Agricultural Exhibition held in Queen’s Park was a premier event for many Barbadian artists to exhibit their works; awards were presented for paintings and other exceptional art work. Art work of Barbadian artists was also exhibited by commercial banks around the city, the Barbados Museum and Historical Society, business places, Embassies and High Commissions.
The Gallery at Pelican Village has served as the BAC headquarters for many years. It is there that many significant art exhibitions were held along with lectures, poetry readings, book launches and other events supporting the arts in Barbados. Shows have also included photographic exhibitions and tributes to artists who have made significant contributions to the visual arts on the island.
The history of the Barbados Arts Council involves a number of personalities whose artistic contributions of talent and time in the early days of the organisation were significant to its development and achievements. The first was Karl Broodhagen, painter, sculptor, teacher and mentor. Broodhagen joined the BAC as visual arts advisor and with the help of other pioneers transformed the Barbadian art and cultural landscape.
Broodhagen’s involvement with the BAC motivated other pioneers of the arts – Fielding Babb, Keith Blackett, Edmund Gill, Clifford Hobbs, Hubert Brathwaite, Maurice Drakes, Gordon Parkinson, Briggs Clarke, Oscar Walkes and a host of others. Indeed, it was Broodhagen who negotiated for the Barbados Arts Council to acquire gallery space at Pelican Village when the Queen’s Park Gallery was no longer available. He was in a pivotal position to do so as he was successfully operating a small gallery in the same complex and recognised the potential for business in such a strategic location. Financial support for the BAC has always depended on commissions from art sales, along with a small subvention from the Government of Barbados. Karl Broodhagen felt a personal responsibility for the survival of The Gallery and together with his son Virgil, another significant and outstanding artist, mounted more than 25 annual exhibitions at the BAC. The Broodhagens’ show was always guaranteed to do well in terms of public interest and sales, with stories told of patrons rushing at openings, arguing as to who was first to reserve a particular work.
Prolific painter and collector Fielding Babb’s contribution to the development of the BAC is also significant. Fielding frequently mounted solo exhibitions in the gallery. His shows attracted substantial sales, thus bringing in much needed revenue by way of commission into the organisation. Fielding influenced many of his own generation and younger artists and devoted much of his time to guiding and nurturing artists towards reaching their full potential.
Younger generations of artists continue to emerge and carry the torch. Clairmonte Mapp, Adrian Compton, Corrie Scott, Eric Stewart, Neville Crawford and Neville Legall all exhibited frequently leading to the advent of present stalwarts Everick Lynton, Larrie Belgrave and Glenroy Jordan. The interaction among artists and the idea of new and emerging artists showing alongside the seasoned and established professionals continues to be a common feature. Over time, these emerging artists will reach their full potential and go on to impact the Barbadian cultural landscape.