Usually I tend to focus my thoughts, and by extension my words, on matters that deal with the environment; on the conservation of our natural resources and the need for us, as a Small Island Developing State, to develop sustainably. But sometimes one experiences something that shows that we indeed live in a society where the needs are felt most in sectors which are crucial to the development of Sint Maarten as a people and as a country. I had one of these experiences last Saturday when we witnessed what can only be described as Beauty, or more specifically Hope manifested through Beauty.
During last Saturday’s Art Saves Lives recital, where students who took part in the program dazzled the audience with the skills they have learned over five days of being exposed to Art in all of its myriad forms, I sat there sometimes moved to tears, sometimes moved to laughter and always moved to awe, inspired by young people guided by those most dedicated to our community and by professionals in their respective fields. And all my thoughts, in seeing these young men and women, where heightened by the knowledge that, if we as a country continue to develop these talents, talents which we have so much of, then there is great hope for our Sweet Home St. Maarten. But alas herein lies the dilemma.
Art saves, creates and molds life. And therefore it is essential that we focus heavily on ensuring that our youth continue to develop and continue to grow and express themselves through artistic expression; that the opportunity exists for our people to tap into that infinite stream of creativity that has made humanity the most unique of species.
Although some may regard art and art education as a luxury, simple creative activities are some of the building blocks of child development. Learning to create and appreciate visual aesthetics may be more important than ever to the development of the next generation of St. Maarteners.
According to a report by Americans for the Arts, art education strengthens problem-solving and critical-thinking skills and the experience of making decisions and choices in the course of creating art carries over into other parts of life. And when children are encouraged to express themselves and take risks in creating art they develop a sense of innovation that will be important in their adult lives. The kind of people our society needs to make it move forward are thinking, inventive people who seek new ways and improvements, not people who can only follow directions. And this is crucial to developing and nurturing an identity, both individually and nationally.
And why were we so moved and did we feel so viscerally the importance of what we were seeing on thatSaturday? It is because humans instinctively know the importance of why we as a species evolved the ability to create art. “Imagine society without the civilizing influence of the arts and you’ll have to strip out what is most pleasurable in life – and much that is educationally vital”, commented Sir Peter Bazelgette, Chair of the English Art Council when asked why art is important. “Take the collective memory from our museums; remove the bands from our schools and choirs from our communities; lose the empathetic plays and dance from our theatres or the books from our libraries; expunge our festivals, literature and painting, and you’re left with a society bereft of a national conversation about its identity or anything else,” continued the scholar. But the reverse is also true: if we struggle to have these things to begin with then we in fact will always struggle to have a national conversation or identity for that matter.
So what then is the dilemma mentioned earlier? It was amazing to see last Saturday our local students interacting and learning from some of the most respected names in the Arts anywhere: from St. Maarten to New York. But the most striking and disconcerting theme of the whole evening was; “We Do Not Have A National Performing Arts Centre!” We do not have a space, an area, where our future can be mapped out in terms of being dedicated to art. We lack that space, amidst all of the developments happening on the island, where we can give, receive, exchange, showcase and develop art within our community. We desperately need a professionally built center for no other reason but to develop our people and develop our nation artistically. Not for money, not for profit, but for us. This should be priority on the list of things that should happen in our country so that the spirit, the energy and the drive which all of us experienced During that Art Saves Lives recital can continue to ensure that St. Maarten becomes a better place. Without that all of the hope I mentioned earlier, all that manifestation of beauty and energy and creativity, all of the benefits associated with art, will be lost. And so will St. Maarten.
I apologize to the Editor for dipping my toe, so to speak, in something that is not conservation or environment related. But then again I guess I am talking about the same coin here, just a different side. Indeed the conservation of our natural resources and the development of arts within our society can only lead to a better development of St. Maarten and her people. A development that is sustainable, inclusive and progressive for this small country with big possibilities. And finally to the organizers of Arts Saves Lives, as the students sang in their presentation: indeed you are flashlights. Daresay you are beacons, lighting the way for so many souls into a brighter and more creative future. Into a brighter and more creative St. Maarten. Thank you.