12th Annual St. John Arts Festival — Short, But Very Sweet

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The Caribbean Ritual Dancers put on a show for the crowd at Frank Powell Park during the annual St. John Arts Festival, above.

Local church choirs performed a Gospel concert on Sunday morning in Frank Powell Park, above.

This year’s St. John Arts Festival, which ran from Saturday, February 18, through Wednesday, February 22, proved to be a jewel despite it being shortened to five days due to funding restrictions.

Saturday and Sunday had both day and evening events, all of which were highly successful and Monday literally blew the top off the popularity poll with an extravaganza performance by the Caribbean Ritual Dancers (CRD) and Mocko Jumbies in the newly renovated Franklin Powell Park to a big, enthusiastic crowd of visitors and locals alike, several of whom commented on what a great show it was.

Diana Brown, director of CRD, pulled out all the stops, bringing seven vibrant and energetic young Bamboula dancers and seven Mocko Jumbies in brilliant costumes.

The newly renovated Cruz Bay park was a perfect venue for the performances and the Department of Tourism’s Visitor’s Center, in the little park next door, was great as a “green room” for the performers.

Members of the audience were invited to join the dancers and Mocko Jumbies in the closing performance and a great time was had by all.

Not forgetting Koko’s scratch band which preceded and followed the CRD as a perfect introduction and follow-up concert.

Saturday’s Love City Pan Dragons and Love City Leapers introduced the festivities, giving first place to the youth of the island, from the very young to the older children. Needless to say, these two events attracted a good audience.

However, many visitors, and locals too, missed the Caribbean Food, Arts and Craft Exhibition in Franklin Powell Park, which normally complimented the music and dance events in previous years, due to the  new “No Tents” ordinance imposed on the park by the Department of Housing, Parks and Recreation. It gave the impression that the exhibition had been canceled.

As a stop-gap measure, five of the normally 25 booths were set up in the little park adjacent to Franklin Powell Park, where the DOT’s Visitor’s Center Office is, courtesy of and with much help from the DOT.

To help make up for the loss of bandstand music, a steel pan solo player, Carl Freeman, was hired to perform every morning to draw visitors looking for the exhibition.

In some ways, such obstacles can be viewed as all part of the rocky road of pioneering and maintaining the otherwise unique Annual Arts Festival in the U.S. Virgin Islands, compared to other countries in the world.

On the positive side, the limited five booth Exhibition was the creme-de-la-creme of island folk arts and crafts with a touch of recycled glassware and underwater images of fish-life from Maho Bay Campground, which all-in-all met the criteria of small, but good quality.

Of course, the St. John Arts Festival is not just the daily music concerts and Arts and Crafts Exhibition in the Franklin Powell Park, Cruz Bay.

Subject to budgetary considerations, the St. John Arts Festival has brought in music, crafts and cultures from other lands as a way of enriching and stimulating the creative talents of islanders, including Kakuta from Kenya, artists from Ghana, folk music from Argentina and even a mariachi band from Puerto Rico. The saying that “travel broadens the mind” can also be achieved by artists and emissaries from other lands.

On Saturday evening at the St. John School of the Arts, Janet Cook-Rutnik and Sigi Torinus put together a collection of 10 short films by island film makers representing such a variety of concepts and subjects, one would never find even in independent movies. The film festival was definitely mind-broadening.

Look for a separate review of this film festival in order to give justice to the many fascinating facets of the films, some exploratory and experimental, but all food for thought.

Sunday was again a great day for the Festival. A Gospel concert by local church choirs in the park bandstand from four island churches gave voice to the spirit and soul of the people of this island. Pastor Sampson of the Nazareth Lutheran Church gave the opening benediction. The weather was perfect and the mood soothing and reflective.

Following the Gospel concert was a great traditional dance performance by 12 couples of the Mungo Niles Cultural Dancers directed by Carlos Woods, again in the newly renovated park. It was a perfect setting and many spectators joined in finale dancing. The performance was very colorful and most charming and refreshing. It was truly in the good tradition of St. John.

Such events peel away the materialistic facade we otherwise encounter everyday and bring us back home to what this island used to be.

On Sunday evening, the St. John School of the Arts had a packed audience for the students’ show, which ranged from tiny tots on keyboards to older students playing piano and violin as well as a solo violinist. All of the performances were much applauded and a short screening of the “World of Dreams” musical brought the house down.

Due to the age-old lack of a suitable venue for paintings, Rosemary Richards of the Gifft Hill School and Karen Samuels of St. John School of the Arts displayed children’s art in two empty store windows on the second floor of The Marketplace. It’s good to see things the way children see things; thank goodness for children.

The final two days of the festival hosted great local bands, Inner Visions for Reggae buffs and Sambacombo for modern South American Jazz.