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Charlotte Amalie
Thursday, August 18, 2022
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ARTS ARE KEY TO ECONOMY

The Virgin Islands is in trouble with its tourism product — its only product. It's time to get creative.
Which is exactly what several community arts groups were trying to do a few weeks ago when they came together to hammer out how to save and then enhance the islands' creative community.
Monty Thompson, one of the attendees and director of Caribbean Dance Company, has taken his troupe all over the world, but how many people in this community know that?
St. John artist Janet Cook-Rutnik has shown her work in France and will exhibit in Puerto Rico this month. And Cook-Rutnik has taken the work of other Virgin Islands artists with her to international shows. Do we know what kind of hard work goes into that?
Do we also know, as Cook-Rutnik said at the symposium, that art lovers are the driving force in international tourism today?
We can attest to that, having recently returned from a trip to London and Paris where we saw thousands of people lined up to get into museums and galleries.
What state are our museums in? Why don't we have a permanent Virgin Islands art collection?
At the Musee d'Orsay in Paris we saw the works of native son Camille Pissarro. On the placards next to his works it said, "Born in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands." In fact the Pissarro exhibit held here a few years ago was a landmark in the art world and did attract tourists.
The beauty of the Virgin Islands is in its diversity, and that includes its art. We have artists from all races and cultures. We hold art events that have wide and diverse appeal.
One idea put forth at the recent arts symposium was to stage a two-week art festival. It could be done in conjunction with the annual Caribbean Colour exhibit sponsored by the St. Thomas-St. John Arts Council. Or it could be done in the summertime when we have fewer visitors.
Many people are willing to work hard to make this and other events happen. What they need is money. And resources. But even more, they need the community's backing.
We have so many talented young people here, and we need to encourage them to take up the arts. But even before that we need to help them expand their horizons.
The curriculum of our public schools needs to include dynamic art appreciation courses along with hands-on art classes. Especially at the junior high and high school level, rogue children who might otherwise become truants or worse often "find themselves" when they are exposed to theater or music or painting.
There is no excuse for Education not to provide this. Properly allocated, the per capita expenditure here would easily accommodate meaningful arts programs.
The government also has to support the arts. A solid public relations campaign — which would cost nothing — on the part of Government House would heighten appreciation in the community for the arts.
And a demand for excellence would enhance our local product. We cannot let our children think that mediocrity will get them anywhere in the real world. As the Daily News revealed in a 1996 series on education, far too many children were being put on honor rolls who were failing national tests. We cannot expect our children to compete in the art world or anywhere else without realistic standards and goals. We cannot keep patting each other on the back saying "great job" when it wasn't, when with practice it could have been truly excellent.
We were saddened last year to observe a performance by a local performing artist — who was terrific — being backed up by a band that appeared to be rehearsing. In fact that's exactly what they were doing because they had never all turned up at the same time the week before for rehearsal.
This kind of performance has to become unacceptable to the community.
Art and culture are big business. We need to support them, enhance them and revere them in the Virgin Islands. Once we do that, we can sell them.
This is not crass commercialism. It is reality.
Tourists spend enormous sums to visit museums, historic sites and cultural attractions around the world. Growing numbers buy original art and crafts as reminders of their visits. We can capitalize on this trend — if we have the vision and the will.

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The Virgin Islands is in trouble with its tourism product — its only product. It's time to get creative.
Which is exactly what several community arts groups were trying to do a few weeks ago when they came together to hammer out how to save and then enhance the islands' creative community.
Monty Thompson, one of the attendees and director of Caribbean Dance Company, has taken his troupe all over the world, but how many people in this community know that?
St. John artist Janet Cook-Rutnik has shown her work in France and will exhibit in Puerto Rico this month. And Cook-Rutnik has taken the work of other Virgin Islands artists with her to international shows. Do we know what kind of hard work goes into that?
Do we also know, as Cook-Rutnik said at the symposium, that art lovers are the driving force in international tourism today?
We can attest to that, having recently returned from a trip to London and Paris where we saw thousands of people lined up to get into museums and galleries.
What state are our museums in? Why don't we have a permanent Virgin Islands art collection?
At the Musee d'Orsay in Paris we saw the works of native son Camille Pissarro. On the placards next to his works it said, "Born in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands." In fact the Pissarro exhibit held here a few years ago was a landmark in the art world and did attract tourists.
The beauty of the Virgin Islands is in its diversity, and that includes its art. We have artists from all races and cultures. We hold art events that have wide and diverse appeal.
One idea put forth at the recent arts symposium was to stage a two-week art festival. It could be done in conjunction with the annual Caribbean Colour exhibit sponsored by the St. Thomas-St. John Arts Council. Or it could be done in the summertime when we have fewer visitors.
Many people are willing to work hard to make this and other events happen. What they need is money. And resources. But even more, they need the community's backing.
We have so many talented young people here, and we need to encourage them to take up the arts. But even before that we need to help them expand their horizons.
The curriculum of our public schools needs to include dynamic art appreciation courses along with hands-on art classes. Especially at the junior high and high school level, rogue children who might otherwise become truants or worse often "find themselves" when they are exposed to theater or music or painting.
There is no excuse for Education not to provide this. Properly allocated, the per capita expenditure here would easily accommodate meaningful arts programs.
The government also has to support the arts. A solid public relations campaign -- which would cost nothing -- on the part of Government House would heighten appreciation in the community for the arts.
And a demand for excellence would enhance our local product. We cannot let our children think that mediocrity will get them anywhere in the real world. As the Daily News revealed in a 1996 series on education, far too many children were being put on honor rolls who were failing national tests. We cannot expect our children to compete in the art world or anywhere else without realistic standards and goals. We cannot keep patting each other on the back saying "great job" when it wasn't, when with practice it could have been truly excellent.
We were saddened last year to observe a performance by a local performing artist — who was terrific — being backed up by a band that appeared to be rehearsing. In fact that's exactly what they were doing because they had never all turned up at the same time the week before for rehearsal.
This kind of performance has to become unacceptable to the community.
Art and culture are big business. We need to support them, enhance them and revere them in the Virgin Islands. Once we do that, we can sell them.
This is not crass commercialism. It is reality.
Tourists spend enormous sums to visit museums, historic sites and cultural attractions around the world. Growing numbers buy original art and crafts as reminders of their visits. We can capitalize on this trend — if we have the vision and the will.