The Arts In St Barts

From the days of very first settlers until the middle of the last century, there was little place for the arts in St Barthélemy. It required all of the islanders’ efforts just to survive, find work, conserve water and feed themselves. Music and dance were probably practiced as a welcome source of escapism and relaxation after endless days of hard work.

However, there was no shortage of clever, talented people with a creative bent, but this had to be profitable in commercial terms. This is why a large number of inhabitants of St Barts, predominantly the poorest people, began weaving the leaves of the latan palm trees imported in 1890 by a priest, Father Morvan, to make hats, brooms, rope, bags and fans. This artisan activity continues to this day out of tradition, mostly in Corossol village. However, as is often the case, the skills are being lost as there are not enough young people interested in this long-standing art.

The artistic community

Life is more straightforward these days and the number of artists (painters, musicians, poets and writers) is rising continuously, boosted by the arrival of artists from mainland France and Americans who have come to settle in this environment which is conducive to creativity. Among the latter, Mike Kelley and Richard Prince were won over as early as 1980 by the charms of the island and its exceptional luminosity, unique ambiance and its own special buzz.

The people of St Barts themselves have finally made time to be creative. Many of them have taken up painting, including Pompi and Robert Danet - to cite but some of the most productive - both inspiring and being inspired by encounters with some of the most long-established mainland French painters such as Defize, Ballagny, Héckly and also Hermmenge.

The performing arts

Today the island has a very vibrant music scene, with local music by groups such as Les Romantiques, traditional Caribbean music with musicians from La Pointe who are “Gwo Ka” experts and also the many rock, hip-hop and reggae groups springing up in the wake of surfers and holidaymakers.

Dance is particularly well represented with two good dance schools which showcase exceptional dancers every year, who win an astonishing number of national prizes.

Theater has finally found its feet and appeals to larger audiences every year, especially the SB Artist company and also Ti Téat, Nicole Gréaux’s patois theater, which preserves the historical tradition of St Barts.

St Barts has organized itself, and non-profit organizations have emerged in the general and social sphere initially and now in more specialized areas. The number of major events is growing, ranging from cinema, music, theater and dance to short story or painting competitions. Commercial developments have followed on from this and some very good modern and contemporary art galleries have opened.

Saint Barts is vibrant. The island has a lot to show off and wants everybody to know about it. Cultural life here is becoming increasingly rich and it would come as no surprise if it were soon to become one of the major centers for art and the art market in the Caribbean.

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