John Cox is one of Rosewood Hotels' so-called Placemakers — a collection of people who embody the luxury hotel group's commitment to elevating culture and community. This select set act as a cultural concierge, offering curated experiences and in-depth destination guides, with a view to enrich your exploration of a city or resort. John lives in Nassau, the capital of The Bahamas, with his wife and two children.
Tell us about your role as a Placemaker at Rosewood Baha Mar
I'm an artist, a curator and a community builder who inspires others to discover the beauty of the region through Bahamian art. I was raised in Nassau and my career began at the College of The Bahamas as a faculty member in the art department, teaching both studio as well as theory courses for over a decade.
This led me to The National Art Gallery of The Bahamas in 2003 working initially in museum education before I became the Chief Curator in 2013. In 2014 I moved to Baha Mar as the Creative Arts Director to oversee the resort’s curation, art programming, gallery spaces, exhibits and events before recently being made Executive Director of Arts and Culture for the resort.
What's unique about Nassau as an island? How would you describe its identity?
It's the combination of things – you can’t get away from the raw beauty of the environment in Nassau. It is the visceral kind of colour and the texture of the environment, the foliage, the sun and the water. The colours are incredible. I love that about The Bahamas, but I think equally as much, I love the hidden things about The Bahamas that people don’t know, like the really great stories about the Bahamians who have contributed to the world globally. I am drawn to the people, the complexity of the people, as much as I am to the beauty of the environment.
Nassau has a rich history and culture. We were a British colony until 1973, so most of our customs and lifestyle is rooted in the British perspective. Our lawyers practice British law with capes and gowns and you see the influence in our architecture, too.
Tell us about the works you curated for the Rosewood Baha Mar. What did you want to achieve and create in the space?
Bahamian art is so much more diverse and broader than what the average person might assume, and we’ve been able to share so much of it at the property. At Rosewood, we have 100 original works in public areas, and we have a partnership with a local collector named Dawn Davies, who has a collection of more than 3,000 works, which she lets us display on loan. Some of the artists you can see are Melissa Alcina, Kendal Hanna, Heino Schmid, Max Taylor, Dave Smith, Thierry Lamare and Brent Malone.
One of the criticisms that hotels often receive is that their art is like music in an elevator: bland. We took that as a challenge, so that when someone is sitting in one of the restaurants, like Café Boulud and sees a piece, it sparks curiosity. We want the guests to point and say, “What’s that?” and to then be stimulated by the answer. It is not about matching the art to the sofa in front of it. It's about enhancing the experience. Plus, some of the art that we curate isn’t designed to be “positioned.” It is more like it is a part of your memory.
My goal is to shepherd the local cultural community, create paths and platforms for emerging and established artists and bring awareness to the complexity and diverse range of artistic practices to Rosewood Baha Mar. When guests take the Hussey’s Tropical Wonder Art Tour, or walk the Fairwind Exhibition, it should spark a curiosity to explore the history of the country through the lens of the artists from, working in, and who are inspired by, The Bahamas.
What are your top tips for a first time visitor to Nassau and the Bahamas?
Take an art walk downtown. There's an area called Charles Town, which is where the National Gallery is, and you can do a whole loop of art-driven sites. Start at the National Gallery, where the architecture of the gallery itself is striking, as it is set within an old, protected house. Down the hill from that, just north is the D’Aguilar Art Foundation, a small traditional house with collections and collaborations with local artists.
Finally, there's Hillside House. A studio with a multipurpose operation that includes a gallery, artist residences and an outdoor sculpture garden area that serves food and drink.
You should also explore the nearby islands, taking a boat around the Exumas. On a fast boat, you can be there within an hour and then visit all the cays. If you like diving or snorkelling, there are also lots of relics and shipwrecks you can explore.
How important is travel to you?
Very — and I get inspiration from the other cities we exhibit in. But truly, the inspiration comes from across the generations of Bahamians who have contributed to our society. It’s the colourful ways that the Bahamians express themselves. I am moved by soulful things.
We are very blessed to have the opportunity to travel by boat or sea plane to the outer islands. In Exuma, the cays are mind-boggling beautiful. The water, the architecture of the private homes on land... it's all stunning. We live here and even though it's so close, anytime my wife and I take our kids, we feel like we’re in another world. It’s pure turquoise zen. When you are on that boat to Exuma, you feel like you're actually in a painting.
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