After months of a holding pattern, we’ve managed to get moving with the Artist Residency at the Caribbean Museum Center For the Arts in Frederiksted, St. Croix. Our flight, stopping in San Juan, PR and landing in Frederiksted, St. Croix took us over many blue roofs and damaged structures. Now that we are directly working with affected kids we’re getting a sense for how long the effects of this past hurricane season will have changed the lives of nearly all the island residents in the region.  Things are certainly better – power is mostly up in the two main towns, water services have been restored in places – but with many friends who live not far out of either of the two towns on the islands being told they may be without those services until March or after, you get a sense for how serious this is. Although the damage and struggles that folks here are having to endure is nothing we’d would wish on anyone, the damage to the local school system is even more detrimental.

Badly damaged home just South of Frederiksted, St. Croix

Our initial plan for this residency was to come in mid-September and work with children from Arthur Richards Elementary, the school local to CMCArts, a museum in Frederiksted with lovely acoustics and a wonderful grand piano, and help supplement their music education with some techniques in sight singing, sight reading and writing music along with some jam sessions and free concerts throughout the month for local residents. Both Irma an Maria have taken their toll to elicit some challenges in making this all happen, but we’ve gone to the school to meet the students, and are now in the first week of the Residency – and decidedly glad we still moved forward with the plan.

A severely damaged school is seen from a Marine Corps MV-22 Osprey surveying the aftermath from Hurricane Maria in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands September 21, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake

The children from this particular school have been told that the building has been condemned – yes, unusable and slated for destruction – and are currently sharing the building of the local High School (Complex High School) in split-session format. Which means that both they and the the High School students are not receiving a full education, and won’t until the situation of a new building is rectified – even on the well-stocked mainland this could take quite a while, and some of these kids will miss opportunities normally granted during this point in their lives. It would be a shame for them to miss out, especially considering the many problems these kids face in just thinking about the environmental concerns that Climate Change brings to the Caribbean as a whole.

The fact of the matter is that regardless of the cause, Climate Change IS happening. Never before have we seen such activity. 52″ of rain on the great Houston area from Harvey and two Category 5 hurricanes following a path so close within just a few weeks it made us cringe. Just after Irma, St. Croix and Puerto Rico were acting as extremely important staging grounds for aid to the ravaged islands of the North Virgins (US and British), Anguilla and St. Martin – enter Maria and everything changed. Infrastructure, schools, roads, water and sewage treatment, shipping – all intrinsically disrupted in islands that already have serious logistics issues when it comes to what modern society deems as “the basics.” The results of climate change for the region? It would seem that small and isolated populations are being made to deal directly with the effects brought on by the world as a whole. It’s high time that we gave some serious thought as to how global society takes care of “it’s own,” as in “the human race.” It’s not the result of a proxy war implemented by far-away politicians, not a land grab seeking exploitation of mineral or water rights, and very unfairly weighted onto the shoulders of the few. We needn’t mention what we think the actions of the many should be in response.

“Introduction” day with the Arthur Richards students, taken at Complex High School

There is light, though – the population here is highly resillient – the region has been through so many changes, land grabs and proxy wars over the last few centuries it takes a PhD to fully understand it all. The people have been through many disasters and calamities, and yet remain a non-violent people with rich culture and amazing laid back attitude. The children are no different – they are dealing with this latest round better than most adults stateside. They know folks are doing their best, and just keep moving on day by day. In most cases, their talent and pleasant attitude are truly noteworthy. Their propensity for talent in the arts is in most cases quite astonishing.

“West End Jazz Institute” with students from Complex High School. Autumn Leaves, anyone?

Along with the Elementary and Junior High students of Arthur Richards, we have decided to do some extra time with the High School students from Complex – we found a group of kids from the band hanging out with some jazz fake books they acquired on St. Thomas, and have put together a “jazz workshop” series with them. For High School kids on a Caribbean island, they’ve all got such a great handle on picking up jazz standards that not doing it would be a crime.

Also included in our stint here is a series of free concerts on Sunday afternoons in the gallery space – again, outfit with a lovely grand piano and amazing acoustics. The luck of the building being a couple of hundred years old and built like a tank got it through the storms much better than newer structures, which makes it a beacon of hope in the area where so many are still without roofs, without power. The response from many friends we have here is that having programs like this really help to center their minds, get out of disaster mode and focus again on their individual places in their community just through a moment of relaxation and enjoyment. For us, that is the greatest honor of all, that the music we share can positively alter one’s state of mind.

Our goal is to keep raising funds to continue the programming. We’ve acquired fiscal sponsorship from CMCArts, a 501 3(c) organization, who has agreed to manage funding for the programming. If we are successful, we can help to make this a part of the “new normal,” and be a part of positive change in the area during this difficult time.

About snuggs

Hello, I am Jarad Astin from band, Stell & Snuggs.

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