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Its debt cleared, Masterworks to focus on community support

Risa Hunter, executive director of Masterworks Museum of Bermuda Art (Photograph supplied)

A year ahead of time, Masterworks has cleared a twenty-year-old debt that was clouding the way forward.

That the achievement came in the midst of a pandemic is "a big win" for the arts charity, which had been saddled with the building loan since the early 2000s.

"We were able to clear the debt due to the support of very close friends of the museum," said Risa Hunter, the executive director. "It was a big win because obviously, [having a debt] prevents us from moving forward as an organisation. You're really stuck with that hanging over your head and so for us it was a big sigh of relief to get through that at the end of last year."

In addition to that success, Masterworks Museum of Bermuda Art earned a Best of Bermuda Award from the Bermudian Magazine in 2021 after it was voted Best Art Gallery. The Paget charity also held "a number of excellent exhibitions" including the tenth Charman Prize.

"But we also had smaller wins," Ms Hunter said. "And really that's continuing on with our programmes, our initiatives, keeping the museum open, keeping all of our staff on-board and engaged. So we had all those behind the scenes wins as well that I think are important to share."

Together, it all helped pushed Masterworks' message that art is a fantastic way "to manage a society's wellbeing".

"I really think that's the key for us coming out of the pandemic," she said. "We believe that arts education is imperative in terms of the social wellbeing of our community."

The charity head cited a recent study which linked art to lower rates of depression and anxiety and greater life satisfaction.

"I think the silver lining with the pandemic – from my personal perspective – is that it exposed how much the arts have really helped people to mentally get through the past two years. It shows the arts are needed from a very young age all the way up to individuals who are [past the age of 100]."

Masterworks caters to that span, with activities for young children and a dedicated programme for people with Alzheimer's and dementia.

"That’s important to us because we really think that the arts have a spot, a significant place in the way that we think. There are all these statistics around – it helps with imagination, creates more mental space for play."

Ms Hunter would not say how much was owed on the debt, only that it "was pretty significant".

"Now that it's cleared, it's a big moment of celebration. I've only been in this position for the past two years but this is something that Tom Butterfield, [Masterworks' founder] and the team have been focusing on over the past several years. The fact we were able to achieve that in the pandemic and still maintain all of our programmes and our initiatives is a big success story for us."

That success allows Masterworks to focus on arts education, one of its big priorities.

"It is a pillar for our community right now [but] we can't do that without continued support. We're excited to move ahead but we still need support to move ahead – like every non-profit that's been hit by the pandemic. Keeping the gallery running and keeping it open is extraordinarily expensive, making sure you're rolling out the right programmes and initiatives … We have to be very strategic because we've got a very thin staff model, because we're a non-profit and a lot of really big priorities. So it's making sure we juggle that."

Partnering with that is to remove the elitist stigma so that everyone feels connected to art.

"We believe every single person of every single background has the ability to stand in front of an art piece and take something away from it. Whether you are local, whether you are a tourist, even if you don’t know who Georgia O'Keefe or Winslow Homer is, at the end of the day you can still stand in front of that painting and feel a connection; there's always something that somebody can take away.

"For us it's making people feel a connection to Bermuda. [Learning about] our heritage through a visual culture but also engaging people through the arts and making people feel like the arts is really accessible to them."

In the immediate future the plan is to host open studios and create networking opportunities and resources for artists. An Alfred Birdsey retrospective, and monthly shows featuring local artists in the Rick Faries Gallery, are planned for this year.

"There aren’t many galleries in Bermuda at the moment so it's more important than ever to continue to support local artists whether they're emerging or seasoned artists.

"For such a small island we have incredibly talented individuals that really span different areas. I think one of the fun aspects of putting up the Charman show is that we had 90 accepted submissions – so 90 different artists in Bermuda. And when you walk around the show the variation in style, in technique, in what they're portraying, the thought process behind it which came out through the artists' talks, it's just incredible."

masterworksbermuda.org

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Published January 21, 2022 at 8:00 am (Updated January 22, 2022 at 8:17 am)

Its debt cleared, Masterworks to focus on community support

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