St. John School of the Arts Reopens with New Classes, World-Class Concert Series, and Art Auction

Nearly two years ago, the St. John School of the Arts suspended all programs, including classes, concerts, and special events, because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This year, the school is making up for lost time with an expanding roster of classes for adults and children, a robust concert series designed to appeal to a wide range of audiences, and several special events.

The St. John School of the Arts, now painted in tropical colors, is still accepting registration for classes. (Source photo by Amy H. Roberts)

It hasn’t been easy, especially as Kim Wild, the executive director for nine years, relocated to the States in December.

Fortunately, School of the Arts board member Beth Knight agreed to step in as interim director assisted by fellow board member Angie Warren; with guidance from Wild from afar, they’ve figured out ways to fully reopen the school on Feb. 1 in spite of a pandemic that won’t go away.

Knight is uniquely equipped to take on this challenge. She retired in 2020 as head of the Lower Campus of the Gifft Hill School, a position she held since 2001 when it was still the Pine Peace School.

Knight returns to the classroom to read to young children every week, and her connection to the Gifft Hill School has kept her up to date with the latest COVID-19 protocols. “Gifft Hill has done a phenomenal job,” said Knight, noting that the Gifft Hill School has successfully managed in-class instruction almost without exception since September of 2020.

Students listen to instruction during a rehearsal for a summer camp musical. (Source photo by Amy H. Roberts)

“They’ve done it by having little pods – the kindergarteners stay with kindergarteners, the first graders with first graders,” she said. “But the School of the Arts accepts children from the Julius E. Sprauve School, the St. John Christian Academy, the Gifft Hill School, homeschoolers, and those attending schools on St. Thomas, so that makes it more challenging.”

SJSA students wear masks they made in the July 4 Festival parade in 2018. (Source photo by Amy H. Roberts)

Technology makes it all possible. As students climb the stairs to the school’s entrance, their temperatures are taken by a new ThermoTrace thermometer. “It automatically reads your temperature from your forehead without contact,” said Knight, adding that “the littlest people,” who aren’t tall enough for their heads to reach the sensor, can reach up and present their hands instead.

Students are screened for COVID before entering the studios and classrooms. (Photo by Beth Knight)

From the entrance, students proceed to the hand sanitizing stations available in every classroom. Before and after each class, each room is sanitized by a misting device.

To mark a new beginning, the school has undergone a “makeover,” including a new brightly-painted exterior and covered porch entrance.

In October 2021, the school began offering a limited number of classes. As of this month, children can enroll in tumbling, creative movement, art, and theater. Adults can take classes in ballet, art, and writing. It’s not too late to enroll. “We are welcoming new students to join,” said Knight. A complete course schedule is available on the SJSA’s website Adults must be fully vaccinated to enroll in classes.

Sis Frank Concert Series Begins Friday

The same COVID protocols – and more – will be used for the Sis Frank Concert Series, which begins Friday with a performance by the Victor Provost/Alex Brown Group featuring Dan Wilson. Tickets are no longer available as the Department of Health requires the School of the Arts to submit proof of vaccination for all who plan to attend the concert five days prior to the event.

The concert series is named in honor of SJSA’s cofounder Sis Frank, shown in this portrait by Kat Sowa. (Source photo by Amy H. Roberts)

However, tickets are available for the next four concerts in the series.

Ticket sales are limited to allow for more social distancing in the school’s performance space. (Source photo by Amy H. Roberts)

Next on the lineup is a performance on Thursday, Feb. 24, of the Harlem Quartet featuring pianist Aldo López-Gavilán. His brother, Ilmar Gavilán, is the violinist for Harlem Quartet.

Both were born in Cuba in the 1970s to a family of internationally acclaimed classical musicians, and their story is one of the reasons Kim Wild grabbed the opportunity to book them to perform at the School of the Arts.

At age 14, violinist Ilmar went to Russia to study music and eventually moved to the United States; Aldo, who also studied abroad, returned to live in Cuba. For decades the two brothers did not have a chance to collaborate until visa restrictions were loosened in 2014 under the Obama administration.

Their tale is told in a documentary, Los Hermanos/The Brothers, which will be screened by the St. John Film Society on February 26 at 7 pm at Bajo El Sol Gallery in Cruz Bay.

Friday’s performance of the Harlem Quartet is made possible through the ArtsConnect program supported by the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts.

The brothers’ compelling story is only one reason that Wild was excited to book them for a performance. The other is that they exemplify classical musicians who broaden their repertoire to include jazz, Latin, and contemporary elements.

For several years, Wild has been attempting to include musicians in the Sis Frank Concert Series who appeal to wider audiences. “I’m always looking for diversity and classical groups that add a certain flair that appeals to younger audiences,” she said.

The March 11th performance of the American Spiritual Ensemble – the third concert in the series – continues the School of the Arts’ mission to appeal to different segments of the community. The group’s repertoire ranges from opera to spirituals to Broadway.

Founded by Everett McCorvey in 1995, the American Spiritual Ensemble’s mission is to keep the American Negro Spiritual alive. Its members have sung in theaters and opera houses around the world, including the Metropolitan Opera, New York City Opera, Houston Grand Opera, The Kennedy Center, Carnegie Hall, and abroad in Italy, Germany, Britain, Scotland, Spain, China, and Japan.

The series’ fourth concert, on Friday, March 25, was originally scheduled for 2020 but never took place because of the COVID lockdown. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette describes Brooklyn Rider as “four classical musicians performing with the energy of young rock stars jamming on their guitars, a Beethoven-goes-indie foray into making classical music accessible but also celebrating why it was good in the first place. ”

This concert is made possible through the Special Presenter’s Initiative program supported by the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, said Wild. “We are very pleased to be able to include Brooklyn Rider in this year’s lineup.”

The final concert features classical pianist Joy Cline Phinney who performed in SJSA’s concert series many years ago.

For the Friday, April 8, performance, she is bringing Violin L’Etoile Duo – violinists Miguel Pérez-Espejo Cárdenas and Hsin-Lin Tsai. All three musicians have performed extensively throughout the United States and Europe.

To allow for greater social distancing at the concerts, the School of the Arts is limiting the number of tickets sold to 80; ticket prices have increased slightly, to $50, to cover production costs.

Art Auction Opened February 1

At the height of the pandemic in 2020, the School of the Arts brainstormed ways to support local artists while bringing in funds for their online programs. One method they tried was an online arts auction, and it was such a success that they’ve made it an annual event.

The auction, which opened Feb. 1, features work by 23 St. John artists and artisans. The St. John School of the Arts retains 40 percent of the proceeds for programming and scholarships, and the remaining 60 percent goes back to the artists.

Kimberly Boulon’s original oil painting, “Welcome Gorgeous 2020, Trunk Bay, 1/1/20,” is the prize for a raffle drawing to be held on March 1. Raffle tickets sell for $50.

In order to place bids or buy a raffle ticket, participants must register through the school’s website. The auction will continue through the end of February, with the last bids allowed at 11:59 p.m. on February 28. Donations to the school can also be made on this website. For further information, please click here.