A COLLABORATIVE PROJECT BETWEEN US VIRGIN ISLANDS AND DENMARK ABOUT HISTORY AND IDENTITY

2017 is the Centennial of the observance of Denmark’s sale and transfer of the former Danish West Indian Islands to the United States. “In Search of Identity” is a collaborative project between representatives from Denmark and the Virgin Islands of the United States about our shared history and identity.

Our nearly 250 years of shared commonwealth has left its mark – not only on the physical surroundings and the build heritage – but also in the minds and hearts of the people. We are convinced that knowing one’s own history is essential for a good life. This applies to both the Virgin Islanders and the Danes.

The most visible trace of our common culture and history is the physical heritage. Unfortunately the historic buildings from the Danish period dilapidate faster than ever and we are not far from loosing the physical traces of our shared history. Therefore this project seeks to raise the means to renovate and transform two iconic buildings erected under the Danish rule to a national museum and an academy of architecture and craftsmanship.

This project is a collaboration between representatives from the Department of Public Works, the Virgin Islands Legislature, the Centennial Committee and the Association of Owners of Historic Houses in Denmark (also known as BYFO).
The Danish Schools of Architecture in Copenhagen and Aarhus function as a close collaborator.

A CULTURAL CENTER AND NATIONAL MUSEUM

With the funds raised, a cultural center and National museum will be started in Charlotte Amalie on St. Thomas at the former J. Antonio Jarvis Elementary School, which was once the site of a historic Danish military hospital. The building will be restored and used as a cultural center and an integral museum in cooperation with the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. The new museum will house collections from the Native American period to Columbus, colonial history under Danish administration, and the recent history and culture of the Virgin Islands of the United States. Se more about the project on St. Thomas and the Danish students portfolios here.

AN ACADEMY FOR ARCHITECTS AND CRAFTSMEN

With the funds raised, an academy of craftsmanship will be started in Christiansted on St. Croix, with the old Christiansted barracks creating the framework for the architecture, conservation and heritage dissemination, including a vocational school for the training of craftsmen, so future generations can then have the knowledge to take care of the buildings. In 2017 Aarhus School of Architecture will launch a satellite of the school. See more about the project on St. Croix and the Danish students portfolios here.

A STRONG FUTURE COOPERATION

“In Search of Identity” will come into existence in close cooperation with representatives from the Virgin Islands Legislature and dedicated organizations from Denmark. The project could be the start of a closer cooperation between the Virgin Islands and Denmark on culture, education, trade and economy.

This project’s idea is that the restoration of two significant buildings from the Danish era will create the framework for future training of craftsmen and on that basis, foundation for a National museum. The islands urgently need good scholarship and an upgrade of both working with history, craftsmanship and dissemination. Therefore, the future students will function as the maintenance and dissemination team that will manage the two institutions in the long term.

SHARED HISTORY

No other place outside of Denmark exists such large amounts of Danish building culture. If you would like to see how splendid craftsmen worked in the old days, the towns of Christiansted, Frederiksted, and Charlotte Amalie are a good place to start. In the early 1800s Charlotte Amalie was the second largest city in Denmark. The Danish West Indian cities have urban and street names in common with Danish cities, including Kongensgade, Dronningensgade, and Vimmelskaftsgade.

It is clear that the Danish West Indies have had a tremendous historical and economic importance for Denmark. It is reflected clearly in the many 1700s mansions in Copenhagen, which are the concrete, historical expression of the great fortunes that were earned on St. Thomas, St. Croix and St. John in the nearly 250 years during which they were Danish islands.

THE FUTURE

Tourism is – and will continue to be – one of the mayor sources of revenue. In a time with a great focus on experience economy and cultural tourism, the preservation of our joint building heritage is of great importance.

The built environment on the US Virgin Islands is rich in narratives, craftsmanship and architectural quality, but there hasn’t been a tradition of using this in strategic development e.g. in tourism or branding.

Therefor this project aims at giving the former Danish islands a chance to develop a sustainable market for cultural heritage. By transforming two former Danish buildings the islands have a solid foundation with which the local institutions can develop expertise and skills in the field of cultural tourism, education and procurement.

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