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Powerhouse Art and Music Festival Starts Thursday, Generates Funds for New Student Scholarship

Pieces on display showcase each artist’s vision of what the territory looks like through their eyes. Painting by Jenny Hawkes (Source photo by Ananta Pancham)

For nearly two decades, the Water Island Music Festival has delivered incredible performances that kept the crowds coming back for more, and this year, a partnership between the Forum and Antilles School has made possible an exciting new layer to the event: a dynamic art show and gallery curated by recognized V.I. artists Lucien Downes and Amy Gibbs.

More than 30 artists across the islands are exhibiting, putting at least 100 pieces up for display in one of the biggest collaborative showings St. Thomas has seen in recent years. The gallery officially opens with a reception on Thursday, Feb. 22 at 6 p.m. in the Prior Jollek Hall Courtyard at Antilles School – buy tickets here – and remains open through the Water Island Music Festival on Friday and Saturday, followed by a free showing on Sunday, Feb. 25 from 12-5 p.m.

For a full schedule of events, click here.

The idea to combine with the Water Island Music Festival was a “no brainer” for Forum Executive Director Nicole Parson, who was pitched the idea a few months ago by Antilles’ Director of Facilities Amy Gurlea.

“I think if you talk about a festival, you expect a bigger picture of the arts,” Parson said. “The Water Island Music Festival, it’s logical that it was just music, but to get the bigger festival experience, then we thought it would be great to have a total presentation of the arts, and that is what the event goer will get. The art is on display in the courtyard, people can appreciate it when they come in and out, and then of course, they can take in the wonderful music – it’s all these different pieces of the arts complimenting one another.”

Downes, a fixture in galleries and showings across St. Croix, was the inspiration behind the collaboration, as he sought to create an event that tied the art world across all the islands together. This is the first team project for him and Gibbs, whom he reached out to as he searched for a venue that could be a “meeting point.” The pair then worked with the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands to create a scholarship fund that would benefit a local high school student interested in pursuing a career in the arts.

Named the Lucien Downes and Amy Gibbs Scholarship Fund, it will be the repository for a portion of the ticket proceeds from the event, and according to both artists, is symbolic of both their dedication to education and the need to support those who choose to make the arts a career.

They will also be meeting on Friday with art students at Antilles to talk about the show – and, really, about making art.

“Growing up, we never really knew about art shows and events like this,” Downes said. “I wanted an educational component that said that the students can understand the difference between something like a print and an original painting – so that they understand someone created this, this is handcrafted, and that it came from somebody’s spirit onto canvas.”

The art show and gallery, meanwhile, also help to highlight the range of talent within the territory, which both Downes and Gibbs said could enhance the local tourism product.

“We have to understand that by educating the community about art and showing them what we can produce, then the mindset of ‘art is not important’ will shift,” he said.

In her Art Explorium in Tillet Gardens, Gibbs has also embraced that philosophy, building the studio years ago as a spot for youngsters to learn and create.

“It is important to see the kids come and understand,” Gibbs said. “For them to be able to see that it’s viable, that you can make a career out of being an artist, to see artists they know, and to showcase the beauty of the Virgin Islands in another way – through the artists’ eyes – that is really what we are building with this event.”


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