“St. John Through the Ages”

7th Annual St. John Arts Festival 
February 23 – March 2

The 2007 St. John Arts Festival will run from February 23 to March 2. The theme of the Festival will be “St. John Through the Ages,” tracing back to the original formation of the island some 100 million years ago under the sea until the present day using the media of art, crafts, music and drama to portray the natural and anthropological history of the island.

The island’s school children will be heavily involved in this year’s festival through workshops in the schools and exhibits in Franklin Powell Sr. Park, Cruz Bay, plus short plays/tableaux to illustrate life as it used to be in the various phases of the evolution of the island. Exhibits will show the undersea life in all its forms and the flora and fauna of land-based life, distinguishing between native versus foreign specimens introduced over the years as well as medicinal plants and herbs used even today by St. Johnians.

History of Human Inhabitants
The history of human inhabitants appears to have started about 3,000 years ago, as evidenced by the archaeological remains unearthed by professional archaeologists of the National Park Service in the form of ceramic pottery, tools, etc., but later these early inhabitants had apparently disappeared when Columbus sailed by in 1493.

An excellent exhibition of artifacts can be seen at the Cinnamon Bay dig, courtesy of Ken Wild, National Park archaeologist, and his associates.  

Music and dance are enduring records of human history, hence live music will be played everyday of the Festival in the Park to show the musical development from basic percussion instruments to simple scratch band and ultimately today’s mixture of instruments and electronics.

“Jamesie: King of Scratch”
One of the highlights of the music program will be a film produced and directed by Andrea Leland of St. John entitled: “Jamesie: King of  Scratch”  to be shown at the St. John School of the Arts which traces the origins of scratch or quelbe music, (which is, incidentally, exclusive to the U.S. Virgin Islands), almost 100 years ago.

Jamesie, the nickname of 79-year-old James Brewster, will also give performances with Koko of St. John as well as workshops for the island schools down to making a banjo from simple materials and tools the way they used to make them when times were not easy, but nonetheless rich in community ties.

A play entitled “Dear Ana/Dear Peter” by St. John playwright Clarence Cuthbertson, set in the 1848 time-frame of the Danish emancipation of slaves, will also be performed at the St. John School of Arts.

“Folk Life Festival”
Also, during the Festival week, will be the annual National Park “Folk Life Festival,” organized by Denise Georges of the National Park Service, where traditional St. John crafts are still to be seen in the making and as finished work.

It is good to see that, with the passing of those dark days of human exploitation and suffering, we now have a very rich culture uniquely Caribbean in its music, food, art, dance and crafts due to the blending of the European and African cultures (even to such  early European dances as the Polish Mazurka emerging Caribbean-style according to recent studies by the Alton Augustus Adams Music Research Institute).

Exclusively Caribbean Food
The food and craft fairs will provide exclusively Caribbean dishes, spices, baked goods and crafts. Obtaining sufficient purely St. John-made crafts, or Caribbean-made for that matter, to support a Craft Fair per se has been difficult to achieve in the past, but it is hoped to be achieved in this year’s festival.

A complete detailed program is planned to be published later this month.

Although staffed entirely by volunteers, partial support for major artistic events is gratefully acknowledged from the Virgin Islands Council of the Arts as is similar support from the Virgin Islands Department of Tourism for promotion of this major St. John celebration in past years.