By Florence Allan
Culture is a reflection of the heart and soul of the community, and in the Cayman Islands it is richly represented by the proud Caymanian residents of the British Overseas Territory and its diverse population, made up of around 130 nationalities.
While the Cayman Islands may not offer the same range of cultural activities and events as cities like New York or London, that doesn’t mean that the cultural scene is dull. New residents are often surprised at how busy the local live entertainment calendar is. From art exhibitions, comedy shows and musicals to storytelling festivals and culinary events, there is something for everyone to enjoy.
Visual and performing arts
Despite its small size, the Cayman Islands has a vibrant and energetic arts scene with visual and performing arts well represented. Cayman is home to over 250 practicing artists who display their work in one of seven commercial galleries, publicly accessible artists’ studios and exhibition spaces in cafes and restaurants (source). The National Gallery of the Cayman Islands is the principal visual arts body and address for the Islands’ national art collection. It hosts up to 10 exhibitions per year and honours the Islands’ interesting and varied history.
The Cayman Islands National Festival of the Arts – or CayFest – is an annual celebration of Cayman’s local artistic talent and cosmopolitan culture. The festival showcases Cayman through art, music, theatre, film and fashion with three signature events – the National Arts and Culture Awards, Dress for Culture Day and the annual Red Sky at Night event. Red Sky at Night is hosted in the gardens of Harquail Theatre, with live performances by musicians, dancers, actors and storytellers. The aroma of local dishes and the sounds of the traditional steel pans make this a truly enchanting evening.
Harquail Theatre is Cayman’s national theatre and can seat up to 330 people. Throughout the year it hosts a number of performances, from plays, musicals and comedies to art exhibitions and poetry readings.
Perhaps one of the most popular performances at Harquail Theatre is Rundown, a satirical comedy show about life in Cayman, which has been running for over 25 years. Rundown presents a microcosm of Cayman life and addresses current events through a mixture of skits and songs to create a highly entertaining production. It’s one of the most widely anticipated performances of the year and is one not to be missed.
Prospect Playhouse is another entertainment venue in Cayman and is used predominantly by Cayman Drama Society to stage productions. Cayman Drama Society recently celebrated its 50th anniversary and produces between four and six shows per year, usually including at least one musical. Aside from the productions, they also offer drama classes for adults and children. Although smaller in size, Prospect Playhouse has hosted a number of popular playbills, including The Importance of Being Earnest, Barefoot in the Park and Hairspray, with the productions being widely lauded by the local community.
Music and spoken word
There are also a number of captivating annual spoken word and musical performances which delight audiences, from Cayman National Choir and Orchestra to smaller kitchen bands who often do live performances at events, restaurants and festivals across the island.
Cayman Arts Festival is a highly anticipated event in the local calendar and since 2004 has grown to be one of Cayman’s biggest performing arts celebrations. Not only does this festival celebrate local artists and musicians, but it also continues to bring in world-class performers that dazzle the audience. The 2020 Festival brought in the exceptional violinist Kristine Balanas and her sister, cellist Margarita Balanas, from Latvia. They were joined by other prominent performers, including The Rodney Marsalis Philadelphia Big Brass from the US.
Storytelling and folklore have a large role to play in Cayman’s history and Gimistory – Cayman’s international storytelling festival – was designed to highlight and celebrate this. Local and international storytellers take to the stage – or rather, the beach – to perform or recite tales, skits and poems. This endearing festival is organised by Cayman National Cultural Foundation and draws more than 2,500 people of various age groups and nationalities. Performances take place in several public locations such as beaches, parks and backyards; tales are heard amongst the crackle of wood-burning stoves which hint at the tasty traditional fried fish and fritters available afterwards.
Food in any country acts as an expression of culture, and in Cayman it’s no different. The Cayman Islands offers some exquisite local and international cuisines and has earned the title of the “Culinary Capital of the Caribbean” (source). Grand Cayman alone is home to more than 200 restaurants, so it is easy to find a meal to suit any taste. From chic, five-star dining like Blue at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman to delicious yet more casual options such as the fish fry at Heritage Kitchen, the quality and range of dining options is what separates Cayman as a top culinary destination.
There are also a number of foodie festivals which continue to attract residents and visitors alike. Taste of Cayman is an annual celebration of Cayman’s best cuisines and takes place on the Festival Green in Camana Bay. Running for 32 years, Taste of Cayman has grown to be Cayman’s largest culinary celebration, drawing more than 5,000 attendees. With over 40 food and drink vendors, there is something for everyone. Another culinary favourite is the annual Cayman Cookout, which brings top chefs and culinary influencers from around the world, with the likes of Anthony Bourdain and José Andrés attending past events. Hosted by Executive Chef Eric Ripert at The Ritz-Carlton, the event offers a four-day extravaganza of tastings, excursions and demonstrations.
Carnivals and festivals
Perhaps one of the highlights of Caribbean life are the vibrant carnivals that the region is known for, and Cayman is no exception. Batabano Carnival is an annual celebration of dance, music and pageantry ending with an impressive street parade. It’s one of the most anticipated events in the local calendar and is a must for all new residents to experience.
Pirates Week has been running for over 40 years and is Cayman’s most popular festival, celebrating Cayman culture and pirate folklore. It’s the only event of its kind in the Caribbean, with over two weeks of music, games, food, parades and a stunning fireworks display.
Ease of overseas travel
For that don’t-miss Broadway opening, debut opera or live rock concert, you can easily take a flight to one of the rich cultural destinations close by. Cayman is served by 11 airlines which fly to various destinations including Cuba, Jamaica and the Bahamas in the Caribbean and Miami and New York City in the United States. For example, a three-and-a-half hour nonstop flight to New York allows residents to enjoy Broadway or the opera and then return home to the tranquillity of island life.
In addition to this rich Caymanian culture, the Cayman Islands also offers diverse multicultural offerings thanks to a population made up of approximately 130 nationalities (source). Ranging from Jamaicans, Filipinos and Brits to South Africans, Canadians and Indians, this diversity of nationalities is apparent in the range of culinary offerings and popular events. Despite the Islands’ relatively small size, there are places for people of various religions to worship, whether they are Christian, non-denominational, Jewish or Muslim.
About the author
Florence Allan is a Dart Scholar and a returning intern with Dart’s business development team. She has joined various teams in Dart each summer since 2017, and before this she was a student at Cayman Prep & High School, spending her free time training for the Olympics, where she represented the Cayman Islands in sailing. While born in Scotland, Florence moved to Cayman at just six weeks old; her Scottish heritage and Caymanian upbringing offered her a truly multicultural childhood. For the past three years, Florence has been studying for her undergraduate degree in International Business Management at the University of Bristol, and she will be graduating by the end of summer 2020. Returning home for holidays is something Florence always looks forward to, as she misses her dog Archie when she is away and loves returning home to coach sailing to Cayman’s youth.