By Hilbert Haar
GREAT BAY – With a grant from the Prince Bernhard Fund, artcraft café and art school owner Tess Verheij thought she had it made for at least fifteen underprivileged but talented local children: a weekly art class for a whole year. The funding is there and Verheij is ready to begin but there is one stumbling block: no children. Verheij calls on children aged between 8 and 18 who have not only a talent but also a taste for art to drop in at her business on Old Street to register. She also calls on schools to encourage talented children to join the project.
Free art lessons project is looking for talented youngsters
Verheij is not at all surprised about the seeming lack of interest. Her art school has more than a hundred students, but most of them are of Indian or Dutch descent with only a few locals sprinkled in between.
“There is no cultural background, they don’t teach art in school and parents do not recognize that it is important for children to engage in creative activities.”
Verheij should know. She taught drawing for a couple of years at the Milton Peters College until her attempts to broaden her class into art history were frustrated. She left and started to teach drawing from home until things went out of control. “There were too many people coming to my home.”
That’s when she moved her activities to a small place on Old Street in Philipsburg, on the corner with Back Street. The place had no running water and no bathroom and in the end, it was just too small. Then she moved next to the eatery Les Saveurs de France into her current location on Old Street, where she will soon have the first floor at her disposal as well. This will become the location for the art school, while the gallery remains open downstairs.
Verheij teaches six days a week – one or two groups every afternoon on weekdays, five groups on Saturdays and one on Sundays.
While a customer base of one hundred students may sound impressive, Verheij says that more needs to be done at the basis to awaken the creative talents in especially youngsters – and she has a plan to achieve this.
“I am talking with Education Minister Silveria Jacobs about this,” she says. “My idea is to send youngsters who have finished secondary school and who are interested in art to my company for a basic training of a year. After that, they could get a job teaching in our schools. Such a basic training could also be useful for teachers who are already working in the schools.”
This would bring trained art teachers into the schools, where currently art is a bit of an unwanted stepchild. “It is all so pragmatic,” Verheij says. “They teach reading, writing and math and they give the children a lot of homework. Even my 4-year old son comes home with a little notebook in which he has to write numbers. But kids his age should not get homework; he should do this at school.”
The MAC school is a rare exemption in the field of art education. “In December of last year and earlier this month they organized an art expo. They asked me to be there with my material. The themes were this time animals and plants of St. Maarten. I had outlined them so the children could work with it. And they did it wonderfully, they really came to life. And all that was achieved by one teacher who put her shoulders under this project.”
Verheij landed in St. Maarten back in 2008. Before her arrival, she had an art craft café in Great Britain for four years. It took up all of her time: “I worked too hard, until my daughters said, mom, are we ever going to go to a park for a change? That opened my eyes. I sold everything and we traveled with a camper through Europe for a year. We spent the winter in Egypt.”
Then came the realization that it was time to find another job and to settle down somewhere. Verheij applied to all schools in the Netherlands Antilles – a region she wanted to go to. In the end, Milton Pieters College in St. Maarten hired her in 2008, after a Skype-interview.
Verheij applied for funding to the Prince Bernhard Fund to finance a teaching project for underprivileged children. “There are so many talented children on the island, but their parents do not see the value of art training, or they are unable to pay for it. If we do not do anything for those children, the situation becomes hopeless.”
The Prince Bernhard Fund approved the project and now the door is open for fifteen students to receive free art training for a year in weekly classes of one-and-a-half hour. But a first call for interested children to register fell on deaf ears.
Verheij: “I put so much work in getting the funding and now it appears that I have to start looking for these children as well.”
In that sense, this article should giver that search party at least a little boost. Interested children will have to show their talent to Verheij by submitting three pieces of work they have already done: a portrait, a still life or landscape and a fantasy drawing. “It does not have to be elaborate, it can be done in pencil,” she says. “But those examples will show me if a child has some talent. That is a minimum requirement.”
The closing date for submissions is the end of March, so there is plenty of time to create something. ‘I also want a commitment for children who sign up,” Verheij says. “They have to come every week.”
While this project is in its start-up stage, Verheij has already another inspiring activity up her sleeve: a Valentine’s Day expo on Friday, February 10, starting at 7 p.m.
“All you need is love for the artist – that is the theme of this expo,” Verheij says. “All my students are busy with a piece of art that are an expression of love.”
The results will not only be on display at the expo, the students are also free to sell their work. Professional auctioneer Antoine Mandy will be at hand and select twenty pieces for auctioning. The proceeds will be used to fund the art school.
Photo caption: Artcraft café and art school owner Tess Verheij is desperately looking for talented children. Photo Today / Hilbert Haar