As Crisis Grips Haiti, SAJ Remains a Center of Calm and Creativity
The country of Haiti is in the midst of a political and social crisis at the moment with the capitol city consumed with protests, demonstrations, and riots, some of which have turned violent. These events cause effects that ricochet throughout the provinces in a multitude of ways big and small. While we in Jacmel have also experienced a number of protests lately that have shut down public life with road blocks and people marching in the streets, the real affects are felt in the blockage of goods and services that we haven’t been able to access for more than 10 days now. Because transportation is unable to come from Port-au-Prince, food, water, gas, propane, and all other necessities have been unavailable during this time. Local businesses including banks have been closed down as well as most schools and clinics and hospital services. We have been in a state of lockdown as we follow the situation in the capitol and wait for things to shift back to normal.
The reasons for these protests are deep and diverse, all springing from a number of factors that have made life more and more difficult for the Haitian people to sustain. The result of which is that each day remains uncertain for Haitians. From day to day they’re not sure if tomorrow they will have a president or functioning government, or food to feed their families, or a doctor to treat them if they fall ill. All they know is that life is getting more expensive and for many they’ve reached their breaking point.
How does this all affect us at the Jacmel Arts Center? In our community, although we are not immune to the violence or unrest, we remain relatively safe and calm. The people of Jacmel, after a few days of complete shut down, have tried to start returning to life as normal despite the chaos that continues to grip much of the country. Even when the unrest has been at its peak, the Arts Center has remained open to serve our artists members and to provide them with a space to gather collectively and express themselves in safe and productive ways. While images of roads blocked by piles of burning tires and crowds of angry protestors fill the news out of Port-au-Prince, within the walls of the Jacmel Arts Center, every day there has continued to be paintings being produced, papier-mache carnival masks being sculpted, drums being beat and dancers moving to the rhythms. The artists assemble and in the midst of creation they are able to discuss the state of their country and process their feelings on what they see developing in the streets.
What’s been missing from the Arts Center are visitors, tourists, and customers. We are usually able to depend on February being one of our busiest times of the year at the center due to the boost that our city’s carnival activities bring to the arts and culture sector here. In fact, ever since similar protests broke out last summer, we have been counting on the carnival business boost to help us make up the ground that we lost in the 7 months that followed those protests which completely depleted travel and tourism for the time. Now these demonstrations have broken out even worse than those of the summer and have set us even farther back than before. The vast majority of those who had planned to visit Jacmel for carnival have now canceled their plans, deeming the country too dangerous to visit at this time. Even the majority of foreign expatriates that live in the country long-term have decided to evacuate and wait for safer times to return. The United States State Department has increased the travel warning for Haiti to a Level 4, telling people to absolutely not travel here at this time.
We can’t tell you just how devastating this is to a business like ours that depends so greatly on a healthy tourism industry to sustain our own operations. We were already barely hanging on financially to keep our doors open, but now with this setback, we are truly unsure about our own future as an arts center as well. Every day that we are able to stay open and operating to bring our community’s culture to the public, is a blessing that we do not take for granted. Our center is a vital resource to our more than 100 member artists, our more than 50 students, our resident dance troupes and theater groups, the children that take part in our youth programs and the public that rely on us to bring them the best in local art and culture. For all of them we need to remain a place of stability and inspiration.
That is why we are asking your help in this time of crisis to aid us in raising an emergency fund of $10,000 to help ensure that stability now and into the near future. This money will be used to secure our rent during the months that our business has fallen victim to the circumstances of the country. We will also use these funds to begin offering a daily meal to our artists within the arts center compound. Many of our artists spend their entire days at the center producing and rehearsing and nourishing them in a time of scarcity has become a priority to us so that they may keep creating the art that their culture demands. During times of instability such as this, most schools in the area also remain closed, so we would like to use these funds to offer new opportunities for children to come express themselves creatively in a safe and affirming environment as well. By donating today, you will help us accomplish all of this. Use this link to make your contribution to our emergency fund.
The Artists and Administration of the Jacmel Arts Center