By Candice Russell
Just as I made a plea to Haitian President Michel Martelly on behalf of the earthquake-demolished Le Centre d’Art, I am making another request that I hope he can fulfill — if not through his own government, through the help of non-governmental agencies, even foreign ones with French and Kreyol-speaking volunteers, to get the job done.
I make this request in light of the fact that Martelly is himself a musician and therefore more in touch with the value of artistic expression than his predecessors and successors in office. Knowing that your country is subject to cataclysmic weather events, from earthquakes to floods, here is my suggestion: please formulate an encyclopedic list of ALL the artists — visual artists, musicians, poets, dancers, singers — in Haiti. Concentrate on one city or region at a time. Gather information that is biographical about birthdates and addresses/contact information currently of domiciles, studios, and places of performance, and information about contacts like friends and relatives.
Why am I making this request? In part, it’s a remarkable record of Haiti’s cultural heritage at the moment. In part, it’s a means of knowing or trying to know who is still alive after a major weather disaster. At this point, there is still no official record of which visual artists died during the earthquake, nearly five years after the event. And then there is the aspect of cultural tourism, which is partly why the airport in Cap-Haitien was recently opened, in the hope of bringing foreigners to the city to visit the famed Citadelle fortess.
Imagine if there were such a directory of artists. Tour organizers in Haiti and outside could craft group trips of interested people who wanted to visit the studios of ten artists in less than a week and buy their art directly from them, as well as from galleries. What a boon that would be to the tourist industry, especially if travel writers spread the word about their positive experiences on such a tour in the American media — most major newspapers still have Sunday Travel sections where such stories could appear with splashy photographs.
This is something unique and different that Martelly could do, instead of just focusing on the political. Focus on the larger picture and your legacy in the future to help the Haitian people as they live. Haitian art in Haiti needs a boost. Once the infrastructure of roads is improved and criminal activity is lessened, Haiti-focused people may be more likely to want to visit with a purpose in mind — seeing and buying art. That activity of artistic creation continues; the earthquake didn’t stop it, though many, many lives were lost.
Martelly could even put out a call for people to come to Haiti to help him in doing the interviews and visiting the artists. Where are they? All over. My friend Jean (last name unknown) could always be found on downtown streets. We would pick him up in a car and he knew the directions to every artist’s house (though he didn’t own a car or drive) and all the artistic activities going on in the capital. How he knew these things, I don’t know. My point is – this information is out there and easily available. It just needs to be harnessed, organized and compiled for the benefit of Haiti and the world.