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Charlotte Amalie
Thursday, December 7, 2023


Twice now I have read in the Daily News that a certain Virgin Islands artist is "internationally acclaimed". Oh, I thought, would that it were true. This young artist does have a thing or two in common with some of the internationally acclaimed artists from the Caribbean – corporate and private sponsorship and community support, for starters. Without financial support it is nearly impossible to work as independently and consummately as is necessary to achieve such a lofty goal. It also helps if this same support group is genuinely interested in art and up to the challenge a truly original artist will provide.
There are a few Virgin Island artists trying to swim in international waters – very few, I might add – because there is little support for the artist who strives to make a mark in the world at large. This pursuit requires a sizeable investment in travel and promotion, as well as the ability financially, emotionally and logistically, to live elsewhere for large chunks of time. Fluency in a second or third language is also helpful.
Virgin Islanders' participation in international festivals of painting and international art biennials in the Caribbean is very low, although there are quite a number of them from Puerto Rico to Mexico to Brazil.
To date the Virgin Islands has officially participated in the first three biennials in Santo Domingo organized by that city's Museum of Modern Art. Unfortunately no one has ever gone in an official capacity to "stump" for our artists and attend the many symposia and opportunities to network on our behalf. Unlike Aruba, Curacao and Barbados as well as many Latin countries, we had no government or corporate-sponsored catalog, brochure or other promotional materials to pass out to the judges, curators, professors and museum visitors who attended this exhibition by the thousands.
The lack of support for our participation in these events is very shortsighted. There is a wealth of talent here – unless one goes beyond being a big fish in a little pond, we will never truly know the extent of our development and potential as individual artists and as the art destination the Virgin Islands could become. It is true in the visual arts, as in the performing arts, sports, beauty pageants, etc., that success for the individual is also a win for the Virgin Islands in terms of positive press and promotion on the national and international level.
Incidentally, one of the biggest and most respected international art biennials in the Americas is La Bienal de Habana. In 1999 they will be holding their sixth "edition" – which means that at least twelve years ago they started having international art exhibitions in Havana. This art event generates a tremendous influx of tourist dollars and visitor interest at a time (spring-summer) when it would otherwise be very quiet.
In the English-speaking Caribbean, two young Rastafarians, Ras Ishi and Ras Akym, picked up top prizes for Barbados, which had a very impressive showing at the last International Painting Biennial in Santo Domingo. A private sponsor has paid for a year of study in Cuba for both of them.
All of this is the result of a partnership forged between the public and private sector, government, university and corporate support for the arts. Why are we so late? When we promote Virgin Island artists, we are putting our best images before an international audience and attracting the attention of the well-heeled cultural tourist.
In case you haven't bought an airline ticket lately, the V.I. is becoming a super high-priced destination and not the only place to offer fun in the sun. It's going to take lots more to encourage travelers to spend several thousand dollars here on a week's vacation when they can go to Europe on the same money or other Caribbean locales for much less.
Art is smart, Virgin Islands, take part.
Editors' note: Janet Cook-Rutnik, a fine artist from St. John has shown her work and the work of several Virgin Islands artists all over the world.

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