VIAC Blog

VIAC Hires Consultants for Strategic Development Process

(Christiansted, St. Croix – November 19, 2021) – The Virgin Islands Architecture Center for Built Heritage and Crafts, Inc. (VIAC) is pleased to announce that it has hired Alan D. Spooner as its Project Development Consultant and Anquanette Gaspard as its Events Planner.

“I am pleased to welcome both Alan and Anquanette to the VIAC team as we move into a year of strategic development for the organization,” said Board Chair Mary Dema.  “Alan is a non-profit development strategist who has led organizations in Philadelphia and San Francisco through the critical stages of strategic development. He also has a track record in stakeholder engagement and fundraising.  He will be leading the team as it conducts a feasibility study, hosts a strategic development conference and produces a five-year plan,” she added. “Alan moved to St. Croix two years ago from Philadelphia and we are pleased to have the benefit of his skillset at this time.  Anquanette is a Crucian entrepreneur and food blogger who is an expert at event planning, marketing. branding and customer relations. Anquanette will be organizing VIAC’s events in the upcoming year,” Dema said.  “We are pleased to have both of them onboard and look forward to a fruitful, productive year for our project.”

VIAC is a St. Croix non-profit, 501(c)3, with a focus on community economic development. Its mission is to transform the Old Barracks property on Hospital Street, Christiansted, St. Croix into an urban campus and educational institute that will teach, train, and certify Virgin Islands young people in the building arts of stone, wood, iron, and other crafts prevalent in Virgin Islands and other historic U.S. and Caribbean towns. The school curriculum is envisioned as a two-year program that will provide a Certificate for students in Architecture. It will support students interested in achieving a Professional Architectural Degree through partnerships with architectural schools in Puerto Rico, US, Denmark, and Ghana. VIAC also intends to train its students to own and operate businesses connected to these crafts and be the catalyst for a cultural economic development corridor in the town of Christiansted.

Funding for this project has been provided by a technical assistance grant from the U.S. Department of Interior’s Office of Insular Affairs.  For more information, email VIAC at info@viacstx.com.

New Members Join VIAC Board/Advisory Council

(Christiansted, St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands – October 18, 2021) — The Virgin Islands Architecture Center for Built Heritage and Crafts, Inc. (VIAC) continues its mission as a catalyst for growth and development in the St. Croix community.  Recently, the VIAC team elected a new Board of Directors and Advisory Council to govern the organization for the next three years, as it moves forward with its goals for the revitalization of Virgin Islands towns.

New and Re-elected Board Members

Mary O’Reilly Dema – was re-elected Board President. Originally from Rhode Island, Mary has lived on St. Croix since the mid-70s.  As an entrepreneur, she has owned and managed two iconic Christiansted businesses, Tranberg Travel in the 70s and 80s and Quin House Galleries from 1989 through 2014.  Mary is a founding member of the Christiansted Community Alliance and since 2018, first treasurer and now Board President of VIAC.

Donna Christian-Christensenis the newly elected Board Vice President. The Honorable Donna M. Christian-Christensen served the Virgin Islands as a family doctor and health care administrator for over 20 years before being elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and serving as Virgin Islands Delegate to Congress from 1997 to 2014.  Dr. Christensen served on the House Committees of Energy and Commerce; Natural Resources and Subcommittees on Parks and Insular Affairs; Small Business and Homeland Security.  Her public service to the Virgin Islands includes past tenure with the Queen Louise Home, St. Croix Environmental Association, Women’s Coalition of St. Croix, Central High PTA, Caribbean Dance Company and Faith Moravian Church. She recently established the Christensen Institute for Community Health and Empowerment; she chairs the IGT Scientific, Academic and Medical Council and is a board member of Consumers4QualityCare.

Jerri Weber Farrante – is the newly elected Board Secretary.  With a degree in economics, Jerri returned to her home island of St. Croix after the devastation of Hurricane Hugo to help in the rebuilding.  Jerri has managed the Law Office of Joel H. Holt for over 25 years. Jerri has an MBA from the University of Phoenix and shares the goal of seeing the historic towns of St. Croix revived and rejuvenated. She is a married mother of three.

Christiana Williams – is the newly elected Board Treasurer.  As President and CEO of Bank of St. Croix – United Fidelity Bank, Christiana manages branch operations on St. Croix.  A native Virgin Islander, she started her banking career at Barclays Bank in 1989 and since its founding in 1995, has worked in various capacities at Bank of St. Croix to include retail and electronic banking, executive administration, human resources, operations, and compliance.  Christiana has a B.A. from Allegheny College and has completed training in consumer and residential mortgage lending and commercial lending at Southern Methodist University and bank management training through the American Bankers Association.

Bo Manderup-Jensen – was re-elected as a VIAC board member.  Bo is President and CEO of EU Consult International; Member of the Municipal Council of Vordingborg, Denmark, Chair of Denmark’s Liberal Democracy Programme, DLDP, former President of UNESCO Denmark, Former Director General and Chief of Staff of the European Parliament and Director at the European Commission.

Dr. Chenzira Davis-Kahina is a newly elected VIAC board member. Dr. Davis-Kahina is the Managing Director of Per Ankh Khamniversity Institute that promotes Culture, Healing, Arts, Technology and Spirituality for Life, Inspiration, Freedom and Education (CHATS4LIFE©) and works as the Director of the Virgin Islands Caribbean Cultural Center and adjunct faculty at the University of the Virgin Islands. Dr. Chen as she is known is an educator, artist, cultural and community activist, mother, and grandmother. She is President of St. Croix Toastmasters Club #933 and Vice-President of the Caribbean Studies Association. She served on VIAC’s advisory board from 2018 to 2021.

Robert “Bobby” Schuster is a newly elected board member.  As a Math and Technology Educator for 34 years and an entrepreneur, Bobby brings a wealth of knowledge and experience in the mechanical, electronic, electrical and telecommunications fields.  He has extensive hands-on knowledge in computer science, computer education, information technology, multimedia, and hypermedia environments, drafting, graphic design and simulation. A Vietnam veteran, Bobby who holds a Bachelor of Science in Math and Physics and an MBA, he is a problem solver accomplished in logistics, contract negotiation, general project management and operations.  He is fluent in English and Spanish.

New and Re-elected Advisory Council Members

Roland E. Roebuck is the retired Multicultural Programs Director at the DC Department of Human Services.  Roland is active an active member of the Virgin Islands Social History Associates, the UVI Caribbean Cultural Center, and the Afro-Latino Caucus.

Deanna James is the President of the St. Croix Foundation for Community Development.  She serves on the Board of Directors of the Southeastern Council of Foundations.

Garth Rockcastle is a founding principal of MSR Design and leader of its Maryland Branch office.  He has served as a Professor and Head of Architecture at the University of Minnesota and Dean of Architecture at the University of Maryland.

Frandelle Gerard is the Executive Director of the Crucian Heritage and Nature Tourism (CHANT).  She has served on the Public Finance Authority, the West Indian Company, the St. Croix Foundation for Community Development, the Caribbean Dance Company, the Women’s Coalition of St. Croix.  She is a former advisor for the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

John Paul Huguley is the founder of the American College of Building Arts in Charleston, South Carolina. He is the Principal of Building Art, a for profit company that connects the graduates of the American College of Building Arts with clients in need of their expertise.  Building Art designs and builds with time tested techniques, materials, and craftsmanship.

Gerville Larsen is the owner of TALLER LARJAS, LLC, an architecture firm and art gallery located in Christiansted, St.Croix. He is a V.I. Registered Architect and a member of the American Institute of Architects. He is presently a National Trust for Historic Preservation Advisor, a member of the St. Croix Historic Preservation Committee and a former Chair of the St. Croix Landmarks Society. 

Mogens Morgen is a Professor of Architecture at the Aarhus School of Architecture in Denmark.

Arne Hoj is head of the Royal Danish Academy School of Architecture’s Institute of Architecture and Culture.

Birthe Luel Formand is President of the Historic Houses of Denmark, which provided seed money for the In Search of Identity project.

VIAC Receives TAP Grant from Interior Insular Affairs to Plan Architecture College

(Christiansted, St. Croix – July 9, 2021) – The Virgin Islands Architecture Center for Built Heritage and Crafts, Inc. (VIAC) is excited to announce that it has received funding for its Project Development Conference for Design, Construction and Curriculum from the U.S. Department of Interior’s Office of Insular Affairs.  VIAC received $286,310 for technical assistance to hire expertise to develop a feasibility study, convene the conference and produce a strategic development plan for design, construction, and curriculum.

“This funding is critical in helping us to meet our Phase One goals, and I would like to thank the Department of Interior’s Office of Insular Affairs,” said VIAC Board Chair Mary Dema. “We will be hiring a Project Development Consultant and others in the near future to assist us in laying the groundwork for raising the $10 million needed for completion of this project.”

Old Barracks Property, Hospital Street, Christiansted, St. Croix

VIAC is a St. Croix non-profit, 501(c)3, with a focus on community economic development. Its mission is to transform the Old Barracks property on Hospital Street, Christiansted, St. Croix into an urban campus and educational institute that will teach, train, and certify Virgin Islands young people in the building arts of stone, wood, iron, and other crafts prevalent in Virgin Islands and other historic U.S. and Caribbean towns. The school curriculum is envisioned as a two-year program that will provide a Certificate for students in Architecture. It will support students interested in achieving a Professional Architectural Degree through partnerships with architectural schools in Puerto Rico, US, Denmark, and Ghana. VIAC also intends to train its students to own and operate businesses connected to these crafts and be the catalyst for a cultural economic development corridor in the town of Christiansted.

VIAC’s vision is community driven as the idea for an architecture school that focuses on the African Danish built heritage of Virgin Islands towns came from town plan charettes sponsored by the Virgin Islands Economic Development Authority.  The community agreed that the development of a school that studied and recognized traditions while creating the opportunity for skills training, job creation, entrepreneurial activity and economic development could lead to the revitalization of Christiansted town.  Through collaboration in the centennial In Search of Identity Project, seed funding was provided by the Virgin Islands Legislature, the Historic Houses of Denmark, and the Danish government.

“We are grateful for the support of Governor Bryan, Delegate Plaskett, Senate President Frett-Gregory, Senators Vialet, Francis, Whitaker, VIEDA, the St. Croix Foundation, the National Park Service and many others in the community as we move forward to make this vision come alive,” Dema added.

For more information visit our website at http://www.viacstx.com or email us at info@viacstx.com.

Welcome to our project. The Virgin Islands Architecture Center for Built Heritage and Crafts, Inc. (VIAC)

For several decades people who love the town of Christiansted and who have a history here as natives, residents, property owners, historians, community planners, shopkeepers and others with vested interest have been exchanging ideas about how to restore its unique character, while enabling it to answer some of the pressing questions of the present, and positioning it to be a foundation of a sustainable Virgin Islands future.

There have been town plan charettes, architectural renderings and symposiums, historical research, collaborations between government and non-profit agencies and legislation.  This activity led to participation of VIAC’s founding members in the Transfer Centennial’s In Search of Identity Project and ultimately the formation of the non-profit Virgin Islands Architecture Center for Built Heritage and Crafts, Inc. (VIAC).

What is VIAC?  We are a non-profit organization that wants to create a school that will train the young people of the territory with the skills needed to renovate and rehabilitate the buildings in the historic towns on all three Virgin Islands.  We believe that the establishment of an architectural school in the town of Christiansted at the Old Barracks property can create the demand for housing, small businesses, and other economic activity within the town.  We believe that a school that also has coursework in the history of the town, in small business development and entrepreneurship, and in environmental and community sustainability can be a catalyst for the revitalization of not only Christiansted, but other Virgin Islands, Caribbean and historic towns.  We believe that the creation of the school can be an engagement project that involves all sectors of our community.

St. Croix architect Gerville Larsen whose concepts for the school won the town planning charettes sponsored by the Virgin Islands Economic Development Authority posed the following questions at a December 2017 workshop of community stakeholders.

Question: What are the current problems concerning built heritage?

Answer: Lack of resources and means; lack of skilled craftsmen, damages caused by hurricanes.

Question: Would you support the concept of a school of architecture and crafts?

Answer: Yes.Important for government, non-profit community, the private sector and the people to support the project.

Question: Would you endorse or support the school?

Answer: Yes.With basic funding and proper marketing support.

Question: Is this the right time to set up such an institution?

Answer:  Yes.There is a heavy demand for skilled craftsmen and more knowledge and education on the history of the town, its architecture, and its craftsmen.  The need is now before the centuries old structures are destroyed.

With VIAC, we have begun the journey of answering these questions and the larger overarching question of whether cultural heritage can be an economic driver in the Virgin Islands providing a pathway to training, jobs, small business ownership, preservation and sustainability.

Larsen often speaks of the architecture in Christiansted as “Afro-Danish fusion,” an acknowledgement while the Danes invested codes, capital, aesthetics and design to the town, it was the skills of enslaved Africans and their descendants that were crucial to the building and history of the two-and-three-quarter-century-old town.  Larsen echoes the scholarship of historian George Tyson who in his 2011 paper on the history of Christiansted for the Society of Virgin Islands Historians wrote that:

“The exceptional historic buildings that comprise the Christiansted Historic District, as well as the many neglected and rapidly deteriorating vernacular buildings that once graced the remainder of the town and sustained family and community life, constitute a significant legacy of these skilled workers to present and future generations. All of these buildings stand as monuments to the outstanding Afro-Crucian craft tradition that materialized through their production. Their craft tradition allowed enslaved and free African/Crucians to express their creativity and fashion their own aesthetic.”

The In Search of Identity Project and VIAC envisions a 21st century collaboration between Virgin Islands, Danish, West African, Caribbean and American partners.  It imagines a collaboration that will bring history, education, and economic development together to benefit community and be the catalyst in the evolution of a town.  To learn more about VIAC, its history, vision, and progress, visit our website at www.viacstx.com.