6th Annual St. John Arts Festival Brings Island Youth Together

By Eliza Magro

Anetha Barton, above, displays her items made from palm fronds and coconuts.

Bringing together the community of children on St. John, and uniting art from the North and the South was Jill Olesker’s vision for the “North meets South” art event, which took place in Coral Bay at Guy H. Benjamin School on Thursday, Feb. 16.

“This was a first ever event, and we now hope to have it annually,” Olesker said.

Olesker wanted to bring all the island school kids together with varied art experiences from locals and others.

Students from The St. John School on Gift Hill, The Julius E. Sprauve School and The Guy Benjamin School—about 250 in all—gathered for kite making, puppetry, singing, drama, music and dance. The idea of being one community of school children was important for Olesker when she organized the event.


Glen Davidson, above, instructs the children in kite making.

“Some of these kids have never met one another,” Olesker said. “Art is an optimistic thing and in this world we need that.”

All the children, some parents, teachers, artists and musicians came together to lay the foundation for what Olesker envisioned an optimistic community full of color, culture, movement and voice.

Olesker, originally from Manhattan, was trained as a kindergarten teacher, and quickly found that she enjoyed teaching drama and storytelling the most. She has worked with children her whole life and says that it never gets old.

“There is always something new,” she said. “I love hearing how children think, and opening up their curiosity.”

“Jill is magical and powerful. She sees the big picture and what’s important in life,” said Bill Fiore, co-teacher. “She really wants to bridge the art communities between the North and South.”

Olesker taught kindergarten in Coral Bay at Guy Benjamin School for the 2004-2005 school year. After seeing the St. John Blues Festival, she said she was inspired to organize an event for all the children on St. John which would include music and art workshops.

Olesker proposed the idea before returning to New York, where she now lives.

Her vision was well received. Frank Langley, founder and organizer of the annual St. John Arts Festival, suggested it be part of the festival. He offered a lot of support with his knowledge and grant money.

The event was a collaborative effort between teachers, parents, children and artists. Olesker organized two different benefits in New York to raise funds for the event.


St. John musician Ital Anthony, above, livens up the rhythm with his drumming, while some of the children get their grove on.

“I had a community of arts educators to put this together.” Olesker said. “I didn’t have to go find people.”

Teachers from three island schools signed up to participate in the arts event.

Several other people helped make the day a success, including Eddie Bruce, Laurie Odenbach, Ronni Ford and all the artists and musicians that participated workshops. Starfish Market also contributed 240 bottles of water.

“To create change we must work one group at a time, you have to be small,” Olesker said.