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HomeNewsLocal newsOn Island Profile: The Creative Culture of Tasida Kelch

On Island Profile: The Creative Culture of Tasida Kelch

Tasida Kelch, executive director of V.I. Council on the Arts. (Submitted photo)Tasida Kelch stepped into the spotlight when she was little more than a girl, becoming the Virgin Islands Carnival Queen in 1992 and going on to win pageant titles in Antigua and St. Martin.

Now, as executive director of the V.I. Council on the Arts, she works behind the scenes, playing a supporting role for local arts and artists.

The only child of Hazel and Roben Kelch, the St. Thomas native attended Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic School from kindergarten through senior year of high school. Then it was on to the University of the Virgin Islands where she earned a bachelors of arts degree in speech communication and theater.

“It was a very comprehensive program,” she said, led then by Dennis Parker and Rosary Harper. Students were challenged to get involved in all aspects of the theater, from production to performance.

Kelch said she never thought much about acting as a career.

“I dabbled for a minute,” she said. “But I prefer to be behind the scenes.”

After graduating from UVI, Kelch moved for a short time to Delaware, where she attended graduate school.

“But it was entirely too cold, so I came back home,” she said. “I ended up teaching at Sts. Peter and Paul” for a while.

Then she took a job with the Law Enforcement Planning Commission as grants manager for the juvenile delinquency program and that opened a new world for her. Among the projects she worked on was one that introduced Virgin Islands students to the percussive dance movement that was popularized by African American fraternities across the U.S.

“We went into the schools with Step teams,” daners who demonstrated the intricate, synchronized moves, she explained. The project was a collaborative effort, involving LEPC and the Arts Council, and culminated with a performance at the Reichhold Center for the Arts by Step Afrika, a professional group born out of the movement.

“I like to be more hands on, so I liked the projects that we did” at LEPC, Kelch said. She was less enamored of the large volume of paperwork that came with her position.

So when she was offered a job as special projects coordinator with VICA, she jumped at the opportunity. That was more than 12 years ago.

The mission of the council is to promote and advance the arts. It has the authority and responsibility to select recipients for grant awards, primarily utilizing federal funds. Most of the awards are relatively modest and may be for endeavors across a wide spectrum – anything from writing an historical play to creating a puppet ensemble.

VICA also sponsors its own initiatives. Among recent projects was one putting local artists into preschool settings to introduce children to artistic endeavors at an early age. Another, ongoing program is hosting art exhibits at the council’s office near the Grand Hotel building in downtown Charlotte Amalie. Kelch said there are generally five or six exhibits a year, depending on requests.

“I anticipate this year with the Centennial, we’re going to be quite busy,” she said.

In fact, VICA will be very much involved with a major event commemorating the 1917 transfer of the Virgin Islands from Denmark to the United States. It will coordinate “Playing Ring – in the Yard” – a day of events designed to introduce children to songs, dances, games and other activities with which their ancestors entertained themselves in colonial times and on into the early 20th century. That event will take place on Friday, March 27, and will be followed the next day by a performance at the Reichhold Center for the Arts.

Because the council has a small staff, there’s a lot of cross-training. Kelch said she learned virtually all the various aspects of the organization over the years, so when the director’s position came open, “it was easy for me to transition.”

That’s not to say the job is easy. Kelch said she has big shoes to fill, following the tenure of Betty Mahoney.

It’s the nature of the business that much of the council work happens evenings and weekends.

“There’s no regular hours at VICA,” Kelch said. But that doesn’t bother her. “I love it. I really do. I really enjoy coming to work … Artists are very interesting human beings.”

She makes no claim to artistry herself, but she does like to design and make things.

“I like to use my hands,” she said. “It’s more arts and crafts. There’s always a project happening at my house … In my family I’m the go-to person for parties.”

She’s built up a reputation for event planning and for turning out attractive party favors, keepsakes and decorations. She’s even been paid a few times, but so far she’s resisted making it a sideline; she prefers it as a hobby.

As her work with VICA supports creative ventures in the Virgin Islands, Kelch also has passed her love of the arts on to her four daughters, ages 2 to 17.

“All the girls dance,” she said, adding a long list of other individual talents including singing, theater, and violin. 

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