Letter to Editor: Save the Dragons

By Elaine Penn, Board President

St. John’s small but beloved only steel band is in imminent danger of being lost to the Virgin Islands fiscal crisis. I am reaching out with our story to try to forestall this calamity.

The Love City Pan Dragons Youth Steel Orchestra has been a year-round presence on the Virgin Islands cultural scene for close to 30 years. Visitors and locals alike enjoy our music at St. John and St. Thomas carnival events, at holiday celebrations, and at fundraisers for our own and other community organizations. We provide ensembles for private engagements. We have performed in Tortola, Antigua and St Croix, and traveled to Trinidad to tour the birthplace of steel pan.

The band has been as large as 35 members, although current membership hovers around 20, including both youngsters and a new smattering of adults, now welcomed as players/mentors in the only opportunity on St. John to be part of a steel orchestra. We have a mother-and-son team and a player returning after 15 years away. In fulfilling our mission as an after-school youth activity, we estimate that over 200 players have grown up behind our instruments over the years, learning not only music, but positive ways to interact with one another and with our community.

For the last few years we have been able to cover the bulk of our modest operations budget with an annual grant from the Department of Sports, Parks and Recreation, who had funds earmarked for established independent youth programs that fit their mandate. This grant made it possible for us to keep our single paid staff – our professional instructor/arranger — coming from St. Thomas twice a week to guide our young players on the road to musicianship.

Although funds were approved again by SP&R for 2017, the request has sat for several months in the Office of Management and Budget, which has so far been unable to bring us to the top of their long list. We have just enough left to keep our doors open through St. John’s Fourth of July parade. We do not want this appearance to be our swan song. We do not want to close the doors, even temporarily, of this much loved little steel band after 30 years of continuous service to the youth and culture of our St John community.

Our other small annual grant from VI Council on the Arts, which covers about a month of expenses, may also be in jeopardy. We hear whispers that the National Endowment for the Arts, which provides funds toward VICA’s grants, is under threat from the new federal administration. This would be an incalculable loss to the progress of culture and the arts made since the Kennedy years, and a painful loss to Virgin Islands artists and organizations like ourselves.

So what’s the point? As board president with 20 years of hands-on involvement in band operations on every level, I’m Volunteer-in-Chief. And after four years of dependable funding, I’m back to begging – for sponsors public or private, for donations small or large, for paid engagements for our band or ensemble, for new volunteers as fascinated by the steel band phenomenon as I have been for 20 years, for someone with fresh ideas and contacts to help us keep our doors open, for $1,500 right now to hire a pan tuner before our busy Carnival schedule.

You can reach me any time: 340-998-3726 call or text, or by email at pandragonmom@gmail.com. Our green doors beside the SP&R Center in Cruz Bay are typically open for our weekly practices 4 – 7pm on Fridays and 11am – 4pm on Saturdays if you would like to visit.

Photo by Judi Shimel.

To donate, visit the Go Fund Me account created by Leslie McKibben on behalf of the Love City Pan Dragons, https://www.gofundme.com/st-john-love-city-pan-dragon-steel.


  1. The letter is great but who needs to be contacted at OMB to get the ball rolling on funding released. Same at VICA… neither has any budget info accessible online so kind of useless to see what the need might be.