February 18, 2012
In its history spanning well over a century, Collins House has undergone many manifestations before falling into disarray. Now the somewhat disheveled building will be restored to its full elegant glory in order to begin its new life as the National Museum of The Bahamas under the Antiquities, Monuments & Museums Corporation.
The house sat upon the estate of Ralph Gregory Collins whose wall famously dividing classes and colors in the city of Nassau still stands today. The structure as we know it today was completed in 1931 after damage to an existing building from 1871 during the 1929 hurricane. One of the first buildings reinforced with steel on the island, it was also the first house in Nassau to have electricity, indoor plumbing and a telephone.
After being home to St Andrew's School from 1950, the government acquired it in 1971 to house its Ministry of Education. In 2005, the building finally landed into the hands of the Antiquities, Monuments & Museums Corporation (AMMC), the nation's principal heritage conservation agency.
Following in their mission to preserve and promote Bahamian history and culture through the preservation of historical sites such as the forts on Nassau, Pompey Museum and the Historical Society as well as various institutions in the Family Islands, the AMMC found Collins House to be the perfect structure to house a future National Museum of The Bahamas with its own rich history in the nation, explains Chief Curator of the National Museum Kim Outten-Stubbs.
"We do not have a place where Bahamian history and culture are showcased and at this point in our development and history, the need is more than great," she says. "We'd like for the place to speak to our history and environment."
In order to begin extensive restoration in 2013 and 2014, the AMMC is hosting a series of fundraising events, named "The Great Affairs", with the first kicking off this Friday, February 24 with "An Evening of Popular Classical Music". Jack Foley and Franz Hepburn along with Joann DeVeaux-Callender and Lee Callender will present music to uplift and inspire with all proceeds going towards restoring Collins House in order to begin work on a vital National Museum.
"Collins House a historic site that needs to be preserved," says Outten-Stubbs. "If we begin we'd like to be able to continue and not stop, but it depends on the resources available to us."
Indeed, a National Museum would be an invaluable resource to Bahamians. Not only would this museum have a permanent exhibition space with areas dedicated to all sectors of Bahamian life including art, history and the environment, but also temporary exhibition spaces for special in-depth looks and traveling exhibits.
Outten-Stubbs also points out that along with the gallery space extending out to the beautiful green spaces of the Collins property, the museum would include a gift shop and café to make the experience a pleasant one for visitors. Finally, it would have a resource center to encourage historical research. Such a place, says Outten-Stubbs, would function as both an educational and entertaining space in the Bahamian community.
"We know the population is looking for places like this to visit and this is an opportunity for us to identify and establish one in this important space," she says.
"One of the most important reasons for a national museum is to look at Bahamian identity - to help us develop pride in who we are, particularly the younger people who [may not] know our stories and histories. It will serve to develop that."
Indeed, Outten-Stubbs insists the gallery will be community-formed, community-driven and community-supported, ensuring it warmly welcomes Bahamians and takes into consideration the concerns of the people in the nation as they start the long process to forming such a space.
"We do a lot of work throughout The Bahamas. We provide the expertise in terms of how-to and we partner with local agencies and organizations to make sure that what gets done is what the communities want, not what we want," says Outten-Stubbs.
"We hope to have community meetings and feedback from people - what is it that we would like to see there?" she continues. "It's important for everyone to understand from the beginning that it is our museum, a museum for Bahamians. It is not for tourists - tourists will come if we do it well for us."
The museum has already been building its collection with the donation of Olympic gold and bronze medals from Bahamian sailing sports legend Sir Durward Knowles. Hopefully, says Outten-Stubbs, it will set the tone and instill confidence and excitement in the community when the AMMC begin calling upon the community for their artifacts during a collections drive.
However that is still far off, and nothing can be done without first restoring the very future home of such a monumental institution, insists Restorative Architect for Collins House Alicia Oxley. Since 2005, extensive weatherproofing especially as regards to roof restoration has begun the process and ensured the building suffered no greater damage. The AMMC also beautified the grounds of the property and restored its enclosing fence.
Now they look towards phase two, where the concrete structure itself undergoes restoration. From there, little more needs to be done on the inside, they say, and they can really begin to build a great collection and set of goals with a yet-to-be-established National Museum Committee comprised of all sectors of Bahamian society.
"An Evening of Popular Classical Music" with Jack Foley, Franz Hepburn, Joann DeVeaux-Callender and Lee Callender on February 24 will begin to get that ball rolling and already shows the depth of support by the local arts and culture community for the project.
Sharing a relationship with the AMMC since his college days, Franz Hepburn was moved to offer his talents and organize the concert after he saw Collins House up close and heard about the plans for the national museum.
"It's such a beautiful building that once restored will be so magnificent," says Hepburn. "So we're so excited to do this concert. It's going to be really special. One of our major objectives is to uplift and encourage people through our music, so we make sure to sing things that people recognize and know and will immediately evoke a feeling of being moved in a very positive way. I think people at our concert will leave feeling that way."
"I would like Bahamians to really support the concert where they can and remember that this museum will be a legacy for future generations of Bahamians," he continues. "So Bahamians today should do whatever they can to ensure that Bahamians tomorrow have a fascinating museum that they can be proud of."
"An Evening of Popular Classical Music" with Jack Foley, Franz Hepburn, Joann DeVeaux-Callender and Lee Callender will commence on February 24 at 7 p.m. at Government House under the patronage of the governor general and Lady Foulkes. Tickets are $150 per person and will go towards the restoration of Collins House as the site of the National Museum of The Bahamas. Tickets are available at Collins House. For more information, call 323-1924 or 326-2566.
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