Steel Unlimited with Rudy Wells copyIn 1970, a steel band program was established through the St. John Community Arts Foundation directed by Rudy Wells. The band, “Steel Unlimited”, was comprised of twenty eight young St. Johnians with Ruth “Sis” Frank as manager. It was “The Pride and Joy of St. John” with performances in the Rose Bowl parade, Disneyland, Lincoln Center, and Shea Stadium, and recordings at Criteria Studios in Miami. Out of the success of the steel band, the concept for the St. John School of the Arts (SJSA) was born. Through private donations, land was purchased in 1981 to build a school, which took 10 years to complete with mostly volunteer labor.

During the building of the school, classes in art, musical theatre, photography, piano and Orff music were taught at different locations like churches, restaurants, etc. on St. John. In-school Orff music programs were established in public and private schools on St. John.

Steel Unliimited II in Denmark copyBy 1990, SJSA’s building was complete and Steel Unlimited II created. This band had 60 island performances yearly, and month-long tours in Denmark, Germany, and New York, and later in France and Switzerland. With our beautiful facility completed, workshops in women’s self defense, Isadora Duncan movement, an introduction to yoga and an Orff workshop for 18 teachers from surrounding islands were offered within the first year and “Steel Unlimited II” continued touring Europe and the US. As the years progressed the school adopted modern dance; ballet; tap; ballroom dance; strings; brass and woodwinds into the curriculum. Later creative movement, steel band, and art were added to the in-school programs.

By 1998 SJSA hired Kim Wild to run the office and computerize school files. Mr. Wells continued to teach steel pan in programs like the Beacon after school program, in-school program for high school students at Coral Bay School (now Gifft Hill School) as well as outreach programs to students in Bucharest, Romania and Rome, NY. Additional in-school programs in dance, recorder and art were extended to St. John Christian Academy (SJCA) and Julius E. Sprauve School (JESS). Collaborating with Arts Alive and Tortola, SJSA established an annual concert series, bringing in professional, high caliber musicians, ranging from classical to blues.

In 2001 eight students from Bates College, Maine traveled to St. John to participate in a 10-week steel pan intensive program directed by Wells. In 2004 Jan Kinder was named Assistant Director and Kazumi Schaub was hired as office assistant the year before. SJSA collaborated with Columbia College Black Music Research and Alton Adams Music Research and hosted Summit on St. John. This event honored and recognized local traditional music bearers.

In 2006 Ms. Frank stepped down as Executive Director and Jan Kinder took the position while Ms. Wild was named Assistant Director. For the next few years, classes continued to expand for after school and in-school programming with a Total Arts Program (TAP) for JESS. Kindergarten through 9th grade students came once a week to SJSA to receive a variety of classes in music, movement and art for the entire school year.

madhotIn partnership with Pond Bay Club in 2009, Mad Hot Ballroom came to St. John. This program engaged our youth and adults, teaching ballroom dances as well as respect and classical tradition. A year later, SJSA partnered with Guy Benjamin School in the 21st Century Grant, which was an after school program offering drumming, theater, guitar, art, yoga and tumbling. This year also marks the passing of Ms. Frank on November 25, 2010.

In 2011 “Broadway Comes to St. John” was the very successful fundraiser and born from the mind of SJSA’s Board of Directors Vice President Ronnie Lee, raising over 30K. Five Broadway actors came to St. John for 2 weeks, created an original musical and worked with 4th grade students from all St. John schools. The Westin Resort hosted Dream, Wish, Believe that produced a fabulous night of entertainment for over 300 people, which included acting, singing, dancing and puppetry. Afterward, “angel” ticket holders dined at local restaurants that donated the dinners.

A local artist Kat Sowa painted a portrait of Ms. Frank and SJSA hosted a dedication for the occasion. The building was renamed as Sis Frank Performance Hall. Later in the year, Kinder stepped down as Executive Director with Wild becoming Acting Director and Mr. Eddie Bruce as Music Education Director. SJSA partners with Dion Parson who is director/founder of 21st Century Band and “Mentoring Through the Arts through Music” program. This program was designed to work with students who show promise on a musical instrument and prepare them to perform as a band. Sis Frank Estate Auction was a success with an on-line and silent auction for Frank’s jewelry and silver pieces. R & I Patton Goldsmithing donated their time and expertise in valuing the jewelry and other items as well as hosted the silent auction at their store. Close to $23,000 was raised.

wtstelzer-fandancersAnother “Broadway Comes to St. John” event raised $45,000 and brought the audience to standing ovations. March of 2012, the Board of Directors named Kim Wild as Executive Director. With the success of New York Empire Trio that performed earlier in the year, the Sis Frank Concert Series was formed to bring back 4 concerts a year, including classical, jazz and a faculty concert of varied performances. Local artist Kimberly Boulon created “Caribbanese – A Fusion of Caribbean and Japanese Art,” three different themes throughout the year: People, Land and Sea. SJSA was named the recipient of raffle ticket sales, and we also performed our own interpretation of Caribbanese through movement. Eddie Bruce and Jarod Warren composed music for the first event in December.

2013 proves to be a turning point for SJSA. The concert of the Sis Frank Concert Series was a wonderful success with Garry Dial and Luba Dolgopolsky’s jazz concert, followed by high energy and musical talents of three Korean sisters – The Ahn Trio. They have performed at SJSA for many years and dedicated this concert to Sis. “Broadway Comes to St. John,” One World, One Heart raised over $40,000 with the Westin Resort St. John hosting the production as well as the dinner…an exceptional night for all. Jude Woodcock’s interpretation of Caribbanese with adults performing was well received as was the third and final Caribbanese with our younger students performing.

Sis and Steel Unlimited copyWe are eternally grateful to Rudy Wells and Sis Frank. It is through their perseverance and dedication that the SJSA is what it is today, helping each student reach his/her artistic potential in a supportive nurturing environment.

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