PHILIPSBURG, St. Maarten – The Art Saves Lives Foundation (ASLF) celebrated its 10th anniversary in record-breaking style offering a variety of musical and artistic classes to more than 200 young artists and adults during its annual workshop held June 26 to July 1, 2023 across the island.
‘Art, Activism and Cultural Advocacy’ was the theme of the Art Saves Lives Summer Intensive 2023, which has blossomed into a global and cross-cultural exchange since its inception ten years ago. Participants 12 years and older experienced classes in St. Maarten Folk Dance, Drumming, Ballet, Hip-Hop, West African Dance, Afro-Soca, Spoken Word, Mural Design, Filmmaking, Content Creation, and Musical Theatre Dance, among others.
Nicole DeWeever, founder of ASLF, said after ten years the work has not gotten easier but the impact of the organisation continues to be felt in many artistic spheres. “It’s rewarding to see many of the students who started with us come full circle. Now they are at college studying dance, some return as volunteers and others are now performing on international stages such as Natorii Illidge in Tina on The West End. Jay Mills was a backup dancer with Miss Elliot at Essence Music Festival. There are many others thriving with their art and it’s a beautiful thing.”
This year, there were 30 international students, parents and chaperones who came to the island for the week of training and performances. Students came from the Learning & Empowerment through the Arts Program (LEAP) on St. Kitts & Nevis, the Houston Texas Culture Arts Initiative, and I Dance Movement in New York.
“Attending the Art Saves Lives Summer Intensive is now part of our annual calendar at LEAP, as this is the second summer we have taken part, and we do intend to return next year,” shared Genieve Hanley, Managing Director of LEAP. “The ASL event is a unique one, pooling together major talents across various genres to teach children in a highly engaging and inspiring way. It’s an honour to have our LEAP kids be a part of it, considering their strong ambitions to have careers in the performing and visual arts.”
These dancers were a part of the 180 students participating in the Magnet Intensive program held at Indisu Dance Theater of St. Maarten. There were also opportunities to learn with the ASLF Youth Orchestra program in collaboration with All Caribbean Youth Orchestra (ACYO), which was led by Conductor Marlon Daniel of New York. In partnership with Association Cobraced, 43 students took part in workshops at the Jean Vanterpool Stadium on French St. Martin.
The international cadre of instructors and mentors included Alicia Graf Mack, Dale Allsopp, Jacquelyn Allsopp, Maud Arnold, Nicole Baker, Kristina Blunt, Tula Green, Lee Gumbs, Karisma Jay, Eleanor Jewel, Shakira Marshall, Ann McCormack, Ryan Miller, Vivian Nixon, Darian Parker, Clara Reyes, Leslie Samuel, Jazzston Williams, Tracy-Ann Simmonds, Nikeva Stapleton, Queen GodIs, Zillah Duzon Hazel, Richard Fields, Alison Gaines, Ville Mankkinen and Claudio Arnell.
“The Art Saves Lives Program surely invigorates our dancers, pushing them outside of their comfort zone. They get to meet and interact with dancers from around the region and beyond, which is highly stimulating and motivational. They return home to St. Kitts & Nevis excited and even more eager to expand their skills and knowledge to prepare for their careers,” Hanley added.
After experiencing ASL for the first time in 2022, Morenika Arrindell encouraged her colleagues at SZV and other government departments to join her for the adult program which offered free yoga in the morning and Afro-Caribbean and Afro-Fusion dance at night.
“At first they were concerned because some of them had never taken a formal dance. By the end of the week they really enjoyed how the steps were broken down for them in manageable bites. They couldn’t believe such a program would be for free and wanted to give something back in a tangible way to show their appreciation for the experience they gained.”
The group pooled resources to fund the prints of the work students did in the photography class which was a new addition to this year’s intensive. “It was so great to pay it forward. Most of us are excited about taking more classes next year,” added Arrindell, who is also a popular vocalist on St. Maarten.
The foundation president acknowledged that the annual activity would not be possible without the financial support of the local business community, volunteers, and generous sponsors such as LemonDropCove LLC. Run by Fred Grigsby Jr. and Carol Pope, the real estate company gave ASLF its largest contribution to date. “Without their generosity ASLF Summer Intensive 2023 would not have been possible,” DeWeever stated.
The founder, who is a former Broadway dancer, acknowledged the ongoing contributions of the St. Martin Tourisme Office with their donation of 16 airfares, round the island speedboat tours and lunch at Anse Marcel for the instructors. In addition, the tourism office hosted a press conference and closing cocktail reception at a villa in La Samanna to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the foundation. A joint contribution from the St. Maarten Government’s Tourism Bureau and Department of Culture, Youth & Sports enabled the organization to meet its commitments. DeWeever also recognized the sponsorship from the Chloe and Maud Foundation (NYC) to this year’s program.
Following the traditional closing night performance at the Philipsburg Cultural Center, an additional opportunity afforded to the students this year, was to participate in St. Maarten’s Emancipation Day celebration on Saturday, July 1. Organised by the Department of Culture, students performed at the daybreak beachside ceremony celebrating the journey of their ancestors from Africa to the Caribbean.
Alumni and current students of the annual workshop benefit from the star-studded and well-connected instructors who volunteer their time and resources to support the growth and expansion of the creatives. Young dancer Faith Peterson was granted a scholarship to attend the Debbie Allen Dance Academy in Los Angeles this summer after being spotted in the 2022 intensive. Other students have been granted scholarships to participate in online video production classes after this year’s workshop. Shortly, the foundation will announce recipients of a new scholarship to participate in a dance program at the famed Julliard School in New York.
“We have a lot of incredibly exceptional young people from St. Martin that are thriving in their careers. We are producing young people that are doing things beyond our local sand. We are defying all challenges, even if there are limited resources at home. Art Saves Lives is about teaching young people to honor and give reverence to their culture. We are standing on the backs of great people and for that we will continue celebrating many victories,” said DeWeever.
Follow the journey of Art Saves Lives Foundation on Facebook or on their website at artsaveslivesfoundation.org
About Art Saves Lives Foundation
Art Saves Lives Foundation is a cross-cultural exchange between youth in need and experienced practicing artists who seek to use their talents for positive change. Each summer the foundation coordinates a Summer Intensive which caters to over 180 children. This collaborative project selects renowned artists from around the world who use the arts to introduce participants to global and local traditions and empower them with the life skills necessary to effectively deal with the demands and challenges of everyday life. The Summer Intensive also provides guidance for young artists with aspirations in pursuing a career in the arts.
Contact: Nicole De Weever – firstname.lastname@example.org