July 16, 2006 – A photograph of V.I. artist Albert Daniel looks down over the main room of the historic Penha House, present home to the V.I. Humanities Council, serving as a visible reminder of the council's mission as a standard bearer of V.I. culture.
Behind a table holding a dozen books on V.I. history and culture is an antique shell mirror found during renovation of another historic house across the street from VIHC on Kongens Gade, also known as Education Street.
At the helm, VIHC Executive Director Mabel Maduro is committed to fulfilling VICH's mission to "bring humanities programs, which promote a love of learning, encourage dialogue, enhance understanding, and broaden people's judgment" to Virgin Islanders.
In 2006 VIHC went a long way toward that goal with the "We the People" project, which included the Chautauqua Series, "The Three Queens."
Maduro says she was gratified and surprised by the turnout at the three events held on St. Thomas, St. Croix and St. John. She says she expected at most 20 people to attend the first-person historical monologues of Quenn Breffau of the St. John Revolt of 1733-34, Queen Mary of St. Croix's Fireburn of 1878 and Queen Coziah, who started the St. Thomas Mexican Silver Riot of 1892. Nearly 300 people attended the interactive performances on all three islands.
"What is great about a Chautauqua is that the audience can participate by asking questions directly of the performers," Maduro says. "You could ask Queen Mary what made her decide to start that fire, and Queen Mary can answer you."
"We the People" (WTP) was funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities Council. The project also included: a televised forum entitled "An Objective Overview of the V.I. Constitutional Conventions"; a lecture, "Women's Suffrage and Role in Self-Governance"; and development of a Web page that includes source material for the 2005 and 2006 "We the People" projects.
The goal for WTP and the Humanities Council, Maduro says, is to get Virgin Islanders excited about the humanities and their culture.
In the WTP project's 2007 edition, Maduro hopes to meld culture with tourism and take the humanities to another level by accessing the economic possibilities intertwined with cultural heritage tourism. If the plans that arose from a conference Maduro attended in Washington, D.C., with Myron Jackson of the State Historic Preservation Office and Betty Mahoney of the V.I. Council on the Arts come to fruition, VIHC will host a cultural tourism conference mid-2007 that will link V.I. hospitality industry leaders with international experts who have achieved success in the development of cultural heritage tourism.
In her rationale for the project Maduro wrote, "The rich culture and heritage of the Virgin Islands have great economic and social potential."
Maduro says after the Washington conference that she "felt obligated to come back and make something happen."
She says taking an economic approach will engage members of the community who might not otherwise have interest in the humanities. She says more opportunities to engage the local population will be provided through showcasing food, dance, art and music.
"People think the humanities are for intellectuals," Maduro says. But really it is about the everyday parts of the culture, she believes.
Another project geared to engage the local population is the Humanities Resource Center, a lending library that Maduro wants to see upgraded and made more accessible.
She is hoping for a windfall in the form of a $25,000 contribution from the private sector that will allow her to renovate a room in a building behind the Penha House that can house the collection of programs and projects developed by VIHC grantees and numerous books on Caribbean, American and African-American history and heritage. Due to the lack of air conditioning, many of the projects, which include videos and environmentally sensitive materials, are stored in one of the offices in the main house, which is air conditioned.
But Maduro says that makes it difficult for teachers and other to be able to access and use the vast resources compiled by the council.
She has already obtained a design for the lending library from Jaredian Design Group, which includes having comfortable tables and chairs along with viewing equipment, shelves and proper housing for the projects.
All VIHC grantees are required to leave their projects with the council, so every project funded since 1984, when the VIHC was founded, has a home at the council offices, but not necessarily one that makes them readily available to the general public, which is the point of having them there, Maduro says. The council offers mini-grants of up to $3,500 and major grants of up to $10,000.
"Transfer Day Perspectives," an educational documentary funded by the council and produced by Eric Miles, won a major ADDY award in 2006 from the Ad Club of the Virgin Islands. Copies of the documentary were widely distributed to the territory's schools and libraries.
Through the council and its education projects, Maduro hopes to "cultivate and empower the masses." She feels that cultural awareness builds self-esteem.
In the further development of the cultural tourism product, Maduro says, "Virgin Islanders can have a piece of what is our main industry – tourism."
For more on the V.I. Humanities Council, go to its Web site.
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