Carnaval in St Maarten

Cultural canvas

Discover island culture with Clara Reyes.


By Daniella De Windt



When thinking about culture in St. Maarten/St. Martin, Clara Reyes comes to mind. She has dedicated her life to the arts and culture, specifically the culture of the island she grew up on, as she considers this her calling.


Reyes holds a Master of Fine Arts degree in dance and choreography and has many years of training in dance, visual arts, photography, film, musicals, drama, and storytelling under her belt. Not only is Reyes the co-founder and co-director of the distinguished National Institute of Arts (NIA), but the artist has dedicated herself to advancing the island’s culture as the Head of the Department of Culture of St. Maarten since 2018.


When the Head of Culture has visitors, she makes it her mission to show them the “real St. Maarten/St. Martin” by taking them off the beaten track. So, who better to take us on a tour to discover St. Maarten/St. Martin and its culture in a new way?


According to Reyes, it is important to celebrate the island’s culture in its totality and its “interdisciplinary nature of living in all its myriad and voices of expression.”


Some of those voices belong to the island’s many great artists, such as Sir Roland Richardson and Ruby Bute. “I always tell people, if you want to know about the island, connect to the artists,” Reyes says. “Artists are the mirror that keeps telling the story of the island. St. Maarten/St. Martin has a rich history of very renowned artists who have been unfolding the story in so many interdisciplinary ways.”


Another way to discover the story of “The Friendly Island” is by connecting to the local community. That is why she always recommends taking a bus. “What is good about St. Maarten is that our buses are very safe. I would say, take a bus ride. Start with that. Because if you take a bus, you’re taken into the community.” While on the bus, you can learn more about the island through the eyes of its friendly locals; and you might even get some good recommendations, Reyes says.


If you want to try some local food, she recommends asking the bus driver to stop at one of the island’s many roadside grills, such as The Original Fat Boy Jimmy’s, for good food and cheap drinks. “You can go to a chic restaurant, but you can also pull up by a food truck. Because once you are by a food truck, you are part of the community and meet all kinds of marvelous characters,” Reyes says.


For a literal off-the-beaten-track experience, she suggests hiking to any of the island’s rolling green hills. The artist believes “the best way to see St. Maarten/St. Martin is from any hilltop.” Here, you’ll see the island from a different perspective while meeting nature-loving tourists and locals alike.


Lastly, Reyes recommends considering the cultural offerings you enjoy at home and looking into similar offerings in St. Maarten/St. Martin. She emphasizes that though the island is known for its nightlife, there are many other ways to discover music and dance.


Those looking to see some of St. Maarten/St. Martin’s talented dancers and visual performances can check out NIA or Indisu. For those looking for a beautiful spiritual experience, Reyes suggests checking out one of the many churches for inspiring gospel performances and religious services.





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