By Candice Russell
This is an open letter to Michel Martelly, the President of Haiti:
Dear Mr. Martelly,
As a Christmas gift to the Haitian people and the world, I implore you to commit funds and manpower to rebuild the vaunted Center of Art (Le Centre d’Art) in Port-au-Prince. Yes, I know you have had other things on your mind, like political protests and elections for other offices. Yet this is an important topic.
But, being a musician and an artist yourself, you should have cognizance of exactly what le Centre d’Art has meant to the development of Haitian art and the collecting acumen of untold thousands of visitors to the island since the 1940s. It is as much of a landmark for people who know and love Haiti as the Citadelle in Cap-Haitien. It is where so many art careers were begun and nurtured. Who can put a price on the synergistic conversations between artists over the decades that provided them with much-needed encouragement or set them forth on a new path of creation?
As a musician, you know how vital the arts are to a country. But also, Haitian arts of all kind are valuable experts to the rest of the world — much cherished and not duplicated anywhere else. Haitian art, in my opinion, is your best export — worthy of display in museums from Los Angeles to Paris, lionized in books, hanging in homes and offices in countries around the world. For new generations of artists, unfamiliar with the gallery system and in need of nurturing, le Centre d’Art is an indispensable cog in the wheel of discovery. By not rebuilding this vital institution in Port-au-Prince, you are squandering the hopes and dreams of many self-taught artists who need that kind of boost in their careers. Many may also need access to materials to create art that they cannot afford on their own.
My suggestion is to interface with France, Canada or Italy, even the U.S., to funnel funds dedicated to Haiti after the earthquake to be specifically earmarked for rebuilding the Centre d’Art. Yes, private donors may do this in years or decades to come. But why wait, when the need is so great right now? Let this rebuilt institution be a beacon of hope for new generations and a commitment of faith in the artistic promise of Haiti, which is always evolving, no matter what the political climate?
I have fond memories of visiting Le Centre d’Art under the leadership of Francine Murat. I remember marveling at its collection of Jasmin Joseph paintings and asking to go into the back rooms that were locked, home of many treasures.
This decision would be merry-making for many Haitian art lovers, not to mention Haitian artists who need a place to go, to find their artistic voices, to learn, find mentors, talk with other artists, and soar.
Please make it happen, Mr. Martelly. Thank you.