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Charlotte Amalie
Wednesday, May 29, 2024


Nov. 16, 2001 – An exhibition of recent work by students of the School of Visual Arts and Careers will open Sunday afternoon in conjunction with the annual meeting of the St. Thomas-St. John Arts Council in the Fort Christian Museum.
Ten students are showing their creative output — about 70 pieces in all, representing their study of life drawing, photography, acrylic painting, pastels and graphite tonal drawing last summer and this fall.
The young artists are Ricardo Bacchus, Tony Bongiovi, Nalia Buckley, Ashton Frett, Maireni de Jesus, Carolina de Lyrot, Adrienne Miller, Tachelle Newton, William Payne and Solomon Webson. Their principal instructor is Edie Paljavcsik Johnson.
Working with a live model this fall was a new experience for most of the students, Johnson said. "She came to the class on six different days," Johnson said, "and the students did a great job."
According to SVAC director Phebe Schwartz, students in the afterschool and summer art enrichment program are "mostly from the public high schools, ranging in age from 14 to 19." The school focuses on preparing secondary students to go on to college-level art studies by encouraging them to hone their talents in a variety of mediums and to develop portfolios demonstrating their abilities.
On Sunday, in addition to exhibiting their work, the students will be conducting mini-tours of their work space in the fort for Arts Council members and guests, according to outgoing council president Susan Edwards.
The fort, begun by the Danes in 1666, the year they first settled on St. Thomas, is the oldest structure in continuous use in the Virgin Islands. In colonial days, it served as a fort, house of government, house of worship, government offices, courthouse and prison. Prisoners were still housed there into the 1970s, until the criminal justice complex on the waterfront opened. The fort was designated a museum in 1971. The art school was founded 18 years ago.
In the 1990s, after Hurricane Hugo severely damaged the gallery and studio space in the museum, the school moved into quarters with just enough room for a few work tables, stools and shelves piled high with materials. For exhibition space — utilized by professional artists as well as the students — two former dungeons near the museum entrance were fixed up with white paint and overhead lights. That's still where the "temporary gallery" is.
This year, the SVAC students were moved downstairs into the "basement dungeons" on the lower level, an area that had earlier been used as work space for museum staff. "It's a much larger space," Johnson said. The former classroom is now the office space for the museum curator.
However, the facility has been without a curator since the retirement of Dolores Jowers in July after 30 years of service. Franklin Omarrow, a longtime museum staff member who is in charge of the facility on a day-to-day basis, noted another change: The Hospitality Lounge, most recently located in the Tourism Department complex on the western side of Emancipation Garden and before that housed in the Grand Hotel along the north side of the park, has now taken up residence in what was formerly the museum gift shop.
The timing of Sunday's Arts Council annual meeting and student show opening — from 4 to 6 p.m. — will allow members to "enjoy the sunset and the students," while also participating in the annual election of board members, Edwards said. The slate of nominees for the seats to be filled consists of Aphrodite Backhaus, Rick Berry, Ginny Edwards and Nanci Prince.
The public is invited to the Sunday event, and refreshments will be served.
The Arts Council is the territory's only membership-based visual and performing arts advocacy organization. Only members current with their annual dues may vote in the Arts Council election or on other matters that may arise during the brief business meeting. Non-members are invited to become members at the meeting.
All of the artwork on exhibit is for sale, Johnson said, except for a silkscreened T-shirt, which is last summer's design for the school's annual fund-raising project of creating and selling shirts at the St. John Festival. "That's just a sample," she said. "The shirts sold out, like they always do."
The not-for-profit school has typically attracted about an equal number of male and female students. Except for a nominal annual registration fee, instruction and materials are provided without charge. SVAC this year has received grants from the V.I. Council on the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts and the Law Enforcment Planning Commission.
The show will hang through January 2002, Johnson said.

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