Carnaval des Artistes 2018

This Friday, the 26th, Join us at Sant d’A Jakmel for our Carnaval des Artistes! The program will be packed with all of the best music, dance, and theater that Jacmel has to offer. The night will be capped off with a battle between two of Jacmel’s favorite rara bands, Fresh Stil and Bel Plezi. You do not want to miss this show! Only 150 gdes at the door and you’ll get a complimentary drink at the bar. Get your Carnaval 2018 off to the right start with Sant d’A Jakmel!

Carnaval des Artistes 2018

The next weekend, during Kanaval National, we will also be offering a special 3-day papier-mache workshop open to everyone! The cost is only $25 and everyone will get their own creation to keep and parade with during Kanaval. The workshop will also include a special training on Kanaval make-up and face painting.

Papier Mache Workshop


January Artist of the Month – Obelto Desire


“Art isn’t something that you just do for a day, it is a lifetime journey that you have to decide to follow if you don’t want to lose yourself.” This is how Obelto Desire allows his art to guide him and it has led him on a journey from the mountains of LaMontagne where he grew up in the countryside west of Jacmel. He was always interested in art but was never presented with the opportunity to pursue it until he moved to the city to live with relatives when he was in his early twenties. There was an artist who was friends with the family there and would paint at their house. Eventually he began to teach Obelto different techniques and became a mentor to him. Under this mentor, Obelto began to understand how to create paintings but everything that he was creating looked exactly like his teacher’s work. His friend Ambroise Anderson recognized that he had a lot of talent and suggested that he enroll in FOSAJ, which Obelto did in 2004. There at FOSAJ he began to understand the different movements of art and was able to explore his own style.

IMG_1360Now at age 43, Obelto has developed an intentionally naive style that reflects the countryside life that he was raised in but often with a slight twist of social commentary that one doesn’t notice at first glance. He is also inspired to portray the world of vodou in his work even though he is not a practitioner of vodou himself. To him it represents independence and an essential part of his country’s history, so even though he is not an initiate of the belief system, as a Haitian, it gives him pride to continue to tell the stories that have influenced his culture. He says that the original revolutionaries that led the fight for freedom were not physically stronger and certainly did not have more sophisticated weaponry or military experience than their oppressors, but it was the vodou of their culture that provided them the strength that they needed to overpower the colonists and succeed at the first slave revolution ever to create the first free black republic. No matter what one’s spiritual beliefs, that is a history and culture that one should celebrate.

Beyond his work as a painter, Obelto is also one of the more unique artists actively involved in sending colorful and provocative costumes and creations into the streets of Jacmel for every Kanaval. He is part of a Kanaval artists collective called “Bel Fatra” which translates as “Beautiful Garbage”. They use discarded plastic such as wrappers for chips and cookies and cheesy puffs to cover their papeir-mache sculptures and to even design clothing and masks out of. Obelto welcomes the chance to make a statement each year to the public with their offerings for Kanaval and hopes to spread awareness of the dangers that such plastics pose to their environment. He says that Kanaval is an especially effective time for them to present this message because through the Kanaval parades, there are thousands of people that see their art that would never walk into a gallery to see his other work.IMG_1760

Now that he has had such diverse experiences along the journey that his art has taken him on, Obelto hopes that he is able to create opportunities for other young people in the countryside who have a desire to pursue the arts but don’t have access to learning about them. He realizes how fortunate he has been to find people and spaces to train and encourage him as an artist, but many young people outside of the city never get that chance. He hopes that he can help bring that chance to them. He sees the Jacmel Arts Center as an essential hub in this region for facilitating such opportunities. He knows that if SAJ didn’t exist, he wouldn’t exist as an artist either because he would have never had the resources to search for training elsewhere. He says that SAJ is the only serious institution around offering such diverse and substantial training for artists. “Without SAJ,” he says, “Jacmel wouldn’t have any flavor. You can cook a meal but if you don’t put any seasonings in the food, it won’t have any flavor. SAJ is the seasoning to this city and the city would be nothing without it.”

SOS for SAJ, Save the Jacmel Arts Center

IMG_E4813A Letter from the Director:

Hello Friends of the Jacmel Arts Center,

Those of you who have had the chance to visit the Jacmel Arts Center over this last year or sometime in the past have witnessed first-hand just what an iconic institution it is for the arts community of Jacmel. Even though we have been working hard over the last year to create a new identity for ourselves to reflect a more inclusive energy and more comprehensive programming, the space that the Arts Center operates out of has been serving the arts community of this region for 15 years. It has become known as the number one destination to view professional quality visual art of diverse styles as well as the most respected arts school in the region where young artists can come learn from the professionals and develop their own unique artistic voices. With our recent expansion of programming focused on the musical and theatrical arts including our brand new performance space in the backyard, we are now, more than ever, seen as an essential part of the identity of this city as the artistic capitol of Haiti. Over the last year we have grown our membership to over 100 professional artists and more than 70 art students in addition to the numerous dance, music, and theater groups that use our space for rehearsals and performance. There is no other place like SAJ in Jacmel that is able to offer support to such a wide array of talented creative individuals and groups. And we hope to be able to continue to offer our services to the artists long into the future. We are able to see what the future looks like through the deep well of potential in our students and young artists, and we want to continue to be a part of it!

IMG_4906It’s not easy though, and today we are asking for your help to keep our center alive. The Jacmel Arts Center is in danger of closing down because we are unable to pay the rent necessary for the building that we are in. The historic Boucard & Co building was built in the early 1800’s as a sorting and distribution center for a huge coffee business that profited from the use of the port located right out back of the building. The coffee business closed down during the tumultuous political times of the 1970’s and remained unused until it was established as an arts center under the name FOSAJ in 2003. Ever since then it has been dedicated as a space for use by the artists of the community. The artists under the direction of FOSAJ were in the process of purchasing the building in 2010 right at the time that the fateful earthquake struck on January 12th of that year. As the quake took the life of the director at the time, Flo McGarrell, and also greatly damaged the building, the purchase was never completed, leaving the future of the artists uncertain. Now with our new leadership team and organizational structure, we have re-entered into an agreement with the building owners to begin renting the building again so that it may continue to be used for the artists. We know that there are many other businesses in the area that would love to have the location and would be ready to pay much more than we are able to. The owners have generously allowed us to stay in the building for this past year while we developed our new structure and built a strategy for the future, without requiring rent from us. But now it has been a year and if we are not able to pay, we will be evicted so that the space could be used by someone else. We need to raise $1200 USD per month for the rent but we are far from being able to pay it based on our sales profits. Even on our best months this past year, we were lucky to bring in $400-$500 in profits, and most months were much less than that. We have started submitting some grant proposals and planning larger fundraisers for the future, but those do not bring in immediate funds to help cover the urgent need of paying rent for this month and the next.

IMG_E4228So we are sending out this urgent SOS for SAJ, help save the Jacmel Arts Center today! Please help us raise the money that we need to pay the rent for the next couple of months until our other fundraising efforts start to produce results. Donations of any amount are appreciated! You can make a donation today through our Paypal link:

Thank you so much for your support of the arts of Jacmel! As long as we are still here, we’re looking forward to an exciting calendar full of new and innovative arts events! Next time you’re in Jacmel, whether it’s during Carnival, or anytime throughout the year, make sure to stop by and see what new art we have on exhibit and what new events we have scheduled that you can participate in.

Until then, wishing you all a liberated and creative 2018!


Lee Rainboth

Executive Director

Jacmel Arts Center SAJ

2017 by Numbers

December Artist of the Month – Betina Georges


Betina Georges has always known that Dance is the life force that runs through her veins. As a little girl she would dance in front of a mirror by herself when no one was looking and it would make her feel alive. She had to dance in secret because she knew that her parents didn’t approve. She started dancing with some of her friends and would even sneak off to rehearsals with them, but if her parents found out, they would come and pull her out of the rehearsal and take her home to be punished for wasting her time with such a worthless pastime. They would tell her that she’s abusing her body for nothing. Eventually she started meeting other older individuals who danced professionally and proved to her that dancing could truly be a realistic pursuit for her. Henry Fritzner and Yonel Charles became mentors of hers early on and she joined their folk dance troupe, Gran Lakou. It was through Gran Lakou that she was trained in the different styles of folk dance and how it can be used as a tool for storytelling and cultural preservation.


Now at the age of 27 Betina is a mother herself to a six-year-old daughter named Sankofa. Sankofa loves to dance too and Betina is making sure that she encourages her to follow whatever passions she feels in her heart. Betina prefers to dance in the folk style of her country because it is a source of pride for her as a Haitian and by carrying on such a long held tradition, she hopes to keep that same pride alive for her fellow Haitians as well. One of her favorite parts of being a dancer is the community of other dancers in the Jacmel area that have become a new family to her and are always there to lift one another up. At SAJ she says that she has found even greater connection to that community and that provides strength to her dancing.

Even though there is little support for dancers such as Betina in Haiti, she continues to press on using her talents to share her country’s culture and sustain its traditions. She hopes that the work she is able to do as a dancer not only brings joy to those that watch her perform, but also proves the value of dance to a society that often disregards the worth of such creative expressions. Betina is confident, though, of dance and art as an essential part of the fabric of their identity as Haitian people. She hopes to elevate the public perception of dance so that more young people may believe in the power of the arts in general. Despite the obstacles, she encourages more young people to get involved in dance. She says, “Dance is something you do because you love it and for no other reason. If it’s within you, then you have to allow that urge within your soul to guide you.” She’s seen in her own life that if you maintain positive and keep working towards your goals, dance can help you get there. You just can’t give up.

(Click the image below to view a video of Betina dancing the traditional Makawon)

Fullscreen capture 12222017 125018 PM.bmp

Jacmel Arts Ambassadors Headed for Gainesville!


UPDATE: Due to complications with the visa application process and a lack of sufficient funding support, this trip has been postponed until April 2018. We are looking forward to spending then next few months until then building stronger relationships with our partners in Gainesville and planning an even better cultural exchange experience for all involved. You can still support these artists through the links below knowing that we hope to start early on the process for securing visas and plane tickets for the Spring. Thank you!

The Jacmel Arts Center is proud to partner with Sister Cities International to facilitate a cultural exchange between the city of Gainesville, Florida, and Jacmel in November! We will be sending a delegation of 14 of Jacmel’s most talented artists across multiple disciplines to represent our city and our region in a number of festivals, performances, and community art projects in our sister city next month. This is an excellent opportunity for these artists to grow in their skills and discover new inspiration for their art. We are looking forward to sharing our culture with a broader international audience and building our network of friends and creative collaborators that will help us continue to discover greater liberation through the arts!

The Sister Cities program and the organization From Gainesville with Love will be covering all of the team’s expenses once we reach the States, but we need your support to help us to be able to pay for the plane tickets. You can learn more about each of the artists below and sponsor one by clicking on the link in their bio. The cost to sponsor a single artist is just $400 but it will provide a priceless opportunity that will influence them and their community for a lifetime! If you are unable to commit to the full sponsorship amount but would still like to support one of these artists, you can make a donation of any amount with the button below. You can choose to include a message to designate the donation to a specific artist or make it a general gift to the program and it will go towards unsponsored artists. Thank you!




Joanne Celestin

Age 33 – Painting, Folk Singing

Joanne, a mother of 3, has been painting since 2010 when she began learning from her husband, Frantz Augustave, who is also part of the team to Gainesville. She later received formal training through the FOSAJ school and developed her own unique style of intricate geometric patterns and bright colors that depict spiritual symbolism from her Haitian culture. In Florida she looks forward to meeting other artists to see how they interpret their culture creatively and to discover to ideas that she can apply to her own art.

Sponsor Joanne as a Jacmel Arts Ambassador!


Ronald Colin

Age 47 – Painting

Ronald Colin was born into a family of artists and began learning how to paint at a young age from some of Jacmel’s greats that all happened to be related to him, Ig Domond, Elossaint Vitale, and Prefete Duffaut. He has a daughter himself and hopes she carries on the family tradition of art. He enjoys the challenge that creating a painting presents him and attacks each work as if it was an opponent in a contest for him to beat. He depicts scenes of Haitian country life, often with a mystical twist. While on the trip he is excited to see new things that he never imagined he would see knowing that seeing new things inspires the creation of new things.

Sponsor Ronald as a Jacmel Arts Ambassador!

IMG_4313Mackendy Jolicoeur

Age 22 – Dance

Mackendy has been dancing for half of his life since he was 11. He used to wear dance clothes under his school uniform and would go by an orphanage where they taught dance on his way home from school to practice. When his parents found out they discouraged him saying that dance wouldn’t lead anywhere in his life. But he persisted and ended up being able to pay for his own school and support himself through dance. He enjoys dancing both folk styles and hip hop. He is proud to take part in this trip because it will prove to himself and so many others that didn’t believe in him that dance really can lead you places!

Sponsor Mackendy as a Jacmel Arts Ambassor!

IMG_4330Georges William Marshall

Age 57 – Papier Mache

Marshall has been a foundational part of the arts community in Jacmel since the very early days of papier mache creation in the city. Before Jacmel ever became known as the home of the most extravagent papier mache kanaval costumes in the world, Marshall and his friends were introducing the craft to the public through smaller creations. He is now known as leading the effort of innovation in papier mache masks can be. He has raised 3 children all as artists in their own right and enjoys seeing what the new generation of Jacmel artists are creating. He looks forward to the conversations that he will be able to have with new people that he will meet on this trip that will help him gain a deeper understanding of his own art.

Sponsor Marshall as a Jacmel Arts Ambassador!

IMG_4301Edy Louis

Age 29 – Drumming

Edy has been drumming since 2006 when he began apprenticing under the musicians of the Explosion Dance Troupe in Jacmel. He loves drumming because he says it represents a music that vibrates deep within his soul and fills his spirit. If he wasn’t drumming, he says he would be denying a large part of himself that needs to be shared with the world. Through this trip he hopes to share the deep respect that he has for drumming and great value that it has for Haitian culture with others who might not understand the power of the drum.

Sponsor Edy as a Jacmel Arts Ambassador!

IMG_4311Rose Marie Lamour

Age 38 – Painting

Rose Marie was initiated into the world of Haitian painting through the atelier of artist, Parizot Domond, in 2004. After getting her introduction there she enrolled in FOSAJ to finish her art training and now manages her own gallery on the historic Rue du Commerce in Jacmel. She has had the honor of exhibiting her work around the world and has traveled to Europe and around the Caribbean, but this will be her first trip to the US. In Gainesville she hopes that all of the artists present themselves in a way that brings great pride to their home community of Jacmel. It’s a chance to introduce more people around the world to what their city has to offer.

Sponsor Rose Marie as a Jacmel Arts Ambassador!

IMG_4291Jhwins Lamitie

Age 38 – Painting, Papier Mache, Staff Leader

Jhwins has been interested in the arts ever since he was a teenager and was taught the art of papier mache in the studio of the Lambert family. He later enrolled in FOSAJ where he learned painting and developed his craft. He has remained a consistent source of support for the artists of Jacmel as a daily volunteer at the Arts Center where he loves to meet new people and serve the arts community. He is ready to do his part to use the opportunity offered in Gainesville to mobilize even greater support for the Arts Center and build a stronger future for the artists of Jacmel.

Sponsor Jhwins as a Jacmel Arts Ambassador!

IMG_4296Jacques Philippe Jean Pierre

Age 44 – Painting

Jacques Philippe is a self taught artist who has always pushed himself to learn from the community of artists that surrounded him in Jacmel. He works primarily in abstracts and landscapes with a focus on scenes that involve water because it brings him peace. He likes to create scenes in his paintings that remind viewers of the Haiti that existed years ago with the beauty of nature. He looks forward to sharing the diversity and creativity of his city with others that he will encounter in Gainesville.

Sponsor Jacques Philippe as a Jacmel Arts Ambassador!


Frantz Aladin

Age 30 – Papier Mache

Frantz has always been inspired by the reputation that his city has had as one of the greatest centers of papier mache creation in the world. As a kid, he saw the papier mache artists in his community as superstars and wanted to be just like them. He got his chance when the master Didier Cyvil began training him in 1999. He now has become one of the most sought after artists for masks and stage and street decorations for kanaval each year. He prides himself on taking a stronger, more unique approach to papier mache, but he knows that there are many different techniques used for the craft and looks forward to learning some of those to improve his skill during his participation in the cultural exchange.

Sponsor Frantz Aladin as a Jacmel Arts Ambassador!

IMG_4315Manasse Belizaire

Age 26 – Drumming

Manasse has been drumming ever since he was a kid in his neighborhood’s rara band. When he grew older he enrolled in the Dessaix Baptiste music school in Jacmel and later went on to apprentice under the drumming master, Eddy Jean, in Port-au-Prince. It’s the language of the rhythms and the symbolism that they carry that make Manasse love drumming. He believes that it is much more than a beat to accompany a music, but a source of sacred power that can transform any moment into something magical. He hopes that through the music he is able to build bridges and bring greater understanding between cultures during the trip to Gainesville.

Sponsor Manasse as a Jacmel Arts Ambassador!

IMG_4302Betina Georges

Age 27 – Dance

Betina describes dance as a life force that pulses through her veins. Growing up she always loved dancing in front of a mirror by herself, but was discouraged by others to pursue it seriously because it didn’t represent a realistic life path, but that didn’t stop her. When she was given the chance to join Gran Lakou folk dance troupe and learn from Henry Fritzner and Yonel Charles, it changed her life and she began to embrace the importance of dance in her own life. She believes that sharing her culture through dance is a vital part of preserving their history and looks forward to using this travel opportunity as a way to bring greater value to dance as an artform among her home community.

Sponsor Betina as a Jacmel Arts Ambassador!

IMG_4332Erick Lafond

Age 48 – Papier Mache, Painting

Erick is a multi-talented artist who provides tremendous support to the Arts Center not just as a painter and craftsman, but also as our primary project manager for all construction and repair projects. He began his career as an artisan being trained by an architect in Port-au-Prince where he learned to create meticulously detailed models of Haiti’s historic buildings and public spaces. This work to him represents more than just art, but an important effort towards recycling and protecting the environment because of the materials that he uses. He has raised 3 kids that are all also interested in the arts, mainly music. He knows that on this trip he will see things that he has never seen before and that will inspire him to create things that he’s never thought of before.

Sponsor Erick as a Jacmel Arts Ambassador!

IMG_4307Frantz Augustave

Age 39 – Painting, Drumming

Frantz has been painting since 1997 when he began his formal art training at ENARTS in Port-au-Prince. Before he was able to graduate, however, his mother fell ill and he moved back to Jacmel to care for her. Once in Jacmel, he enrolled in FOSAJ and completed his training there. He now creates paintings in diverse styles with imagery from his voudun beliefs and symbols of his country’s culture. He is also a drummer who learned at a young age from his father who was a musician too. During the trip to Gainesville he looks forward to planting seeds that will grow into dynamic and effective partnerships for the artists of Jacmel that will have positive results for generations to come.

Sponsor Frantz Augustave as a Jacmel Arts Ambassador!

IMG_4317Gerald Joanis

Age 37 – Dance

Gerald is a passionate dancer who began as a child just dancing in the street to whatever music he would hear. He went on to apprentice under other Haitian dance professionals in racine and folk styles and he now shares those styles in a modern context all around his country and around the world. He feels it is his duty as a dancer to carry on the heritage of his culture and use it to teach others what it means to be Haitian. He has traveled to Gainesville before and is looking forward to returning and seeing friends he has made their while making new ones. He is also excited to collaborate with the new diverse team of artists that will be able to show the people of Gainesville a new side of Haitian art and culture that they have never seen before.

Sponsor Gerald as a Jacmel Arts Ambassador!

Congratulations to these artists! We can’t wait to see the results of the trip and hear the stories of the art and culture that they will be able to share!

Thank you so much for your support! You can use the button at the top of the page, or this link to donate any amount to any of the Arts Ambassadors.  If you do sponsor an artist at the full amount, we will be sure to send you personalized updates from the trip specific to your artist.

October Artist of the Month -Danipy Georges


“If art is what’s in your heart, then be an artist.” That is the mantra that our October Artist of the Month, Danipy Georges, lives by. That attitude has influenced him ever since he was a child. He grew up in the arts district of Jacmel, in the Rue Sainte Anne area, so he was always surrounded by an environment of art and creativity. He can remember as young as four-years-old, seeing other artists around the neighborhood working on paintings, and extravagant papier mache creations and he would start drawing pictures himself. As he grew, he knew that he was meant to be an artist and started to pursue opportunities to be trained and develop his skills. Although his parents may have encouraged him to explore more financially stable career paths, he looked around at what was happening in his country and decided that the best way to become a role model in society was through the arts.

IMG_3911He began his formal training in 2010 by enrolling in classes at the Alliance Francaise and then also at FOSAJ. Through his experience he began to learn more about contemporary Haitian artists and even got chances to work with and exhibit with such modern masters as Ronald Mevs and Killy. This influenced his own art in tremendous ways. He began to integrate these influences into his own unique style. It is a style that he know applies to working in multiple different mediums including painting, sculpture, and recycled assemblage. Every piece that he creates is inspired by the spiritual voice of Haiti and the culture of the African diaspora. He doesn’t always plan out an image before he approaches his canvas or surface but rather relies on revelations of a cosmic nature to guide the imagery as it emerges organically from within him. Much of his work utilizes recycled materials because he sees it as an artist’s responsibility to take trash that others have discarded as disposable and give it a new life and reinterpret its value. “Once someone throws something away that can’t be degraded, that pollution becomes part of our environment. It’s our job as artists to transform into something beautiful again.”

IMG_3923Danipy believes that artists exist to help orient others to the mysteries of life that are otherwise hard to understand. Art can provide others with clarity and open their eyes to perspectives that provide balance to life. His hope is that the rest of his country would start to understand the value of artists in this sense so that Haiti may one day reclaim it’s global reputation as a country of incomparable painters. He also hopes that they can develop more museums in the country, throughout all of the departments so that artists in every corner of the country can experience art of the highest quality and learn more about the legacy that they are part of as Haitian artists. At the Jacmel Arts Center, specifically, he hopes that it can continue on it’s trajectory of encouraging local artists and raising up the future generations. “I hope that some day I see my nieces and nephews come up through the education programs at SAJ and discover their own artistic voice.” He may be encouraging to his younger family members, but when asked what his parents think about his decision to be a professional artist these days he says that his mother still tells him to get a haircut, but she’s accepted that he’s doing what he was meant to be and even though life might not always be easy as an artist, he’s doing what he loves. We’re thrilled that he decided to stay right here with us in the same neighborhood he grew up in and proud to provide him a space to keep doing what he loves.


Shelter from the Storm

Last week the region of Jacmel was spared the brunt of Hurricane Irma’s destruction as it passed through the Caribbean leaving devastation behind it in many other areas and moved towards the United States. For those who were forced to evacuate their homes and continue to deal with the floods and damage to houses and public buildings, we here at the Jacmel Arts Center send out our thoughts, prayers, and creative energies for a speedy recovery. We understand the overwhelming task of trying to piece things back together after such a disaster because we have weathered many of our own storms through the years. Even the most common of rain showers reminds us of the damage that we’ve sustained in the past and the ongoing effects of that damage on our building and the activities that happen here. Every time that it rains, our artisan boutique floods with water pouring in down the walls from the top. This affects the art below and there’s a whole side of the room that is essentially unusable to us because the leaking and flooding gets so bad. In the main gallery our west wall gets less and less stable with the water damage that weakens it’s integrity each time we get rain. In our artist’s studio space and art school classroom space on the upstairs levels there are entire portions of walls that were collapsed in the earthquake of 2010 and have never been rebuilt. Any strong wind shakes these walls, gusting through the large cracks and puts the artists and students that work there in danger.








Although we do not have the resources to carry out a major reconstruction effort to the building, there are smaller simple steps that we can take to improve the safety and stability of our space so that artists and students can continue to use it and visitors can continue to have such a destination to experience the diverse art of Jacmel. On the second floor we hope to build an awning over the west side and improve the framework of the roof. This will help keep the walls dry when it rains and provide some necessary stability in the winds. After that we would like to repair the damaged cement work on the walls of the boutique to improve the condition of the space and expand what we are able to display there. It will allow us to offer more opportunities to local artisans and exhibit a larger variety of products. Finally we would like to install a gutter along the east side of our building in between us and the neighboring hotel to prevent the water from building up in the gallery walls and causing more internal damage. This will also help us keep the valuable paintings within the gallery safe.









To accomplish all of this work, we simply need to raise $2500 total. We know that with all of the needs in the world right now, there are a lot of places that people can choose to donate their money. And we encourage our friends and supporters to seek out other local organizations that are working on the ground in the zones affected by Hurricane Irma if they would like to support immediate disaster relief and recovery efforts. But at the same time we would like to ask you to consider making a donation to help the long term goals of our center as well, so that little by little we can restore it to be a building that can continue to serve as a refuge for artists and creative thought in our region long into the future no matter what the weather may bring.

If you would like to make a donation to help us address these needs, please go to our Get Involved page today and give any amount that you are able. Thank you!

September Artist of the Month – Bruno Rene

IMG_3035Bruno Rene says that he’s been an artist ever since he was in his mama’s belly. He has early childhood memories of creating art out of whatever he could find. One day when he was 8 years old, he went down to the river with his mother and while she was doing laundry, he sculpted a little duck out of mud on the bank of the river. Another woman who was passing by stopped to talk to his mother and saw the duck and exclaimed, “Wow! Is your boy an artist?” His mother responded that no he wasn’t, but he loved to draw and was always making things. “Well then, he’s an artist!” the woman said. She then told his mother about an organization she knew of that helped teach children like him the arts and offered to register him in their programs. That organization was Arts Creation Foundation for Children, ACFFC, and that moment was the beginning of Bruno’s journey to becoming a professional artist. He started classes at ACFFC in 2004 and soon after began learning how to create paintings on canvas. He was also taught papier mache and other artisan techniques like how to create art out of recycled materials. He also found a love early on for mosaics, which is what ACFFC is really known for. Jacmel has become famous for it’s vibrant mosaics in public spaces all around the city and many of those Bruno was involved in sketching the designs for. Through the mosaic work, Bruno even got the chance to travel to Miami with ACFFC to create some mosaic murals at Toussaint Louverture school there.

20369684_1399271650169562_7305315340838102553_oOnce he began developing his own unique style of painting, he also joined FOSAJ to exhibit his works and expand his artistic skills. At the age of 24, Bruno is one of our youngest active artists at the Jacmel Arts Center but he has also quickly become one of our most notable, appreciated for his unique style and the intricate details of his paintings. Bruno says that he never wants to create art that can be described as “simple”. He prides himself on the complexity of his compositions and loves to fill each piece with nuanced symbolism. He likes to make viewers of his art spend time looking intently at his works to discover all of the hidden elements that he integrates into the painting. One of those elements that he references over and over in his work is the sea, which he says has always represented his biggest enemy. It can be an overwhelming and destructive force, capable of swallowing us up whole, and he likes to recreate that feeling of immense power that dwells in something so aesthetically beautiful in his work. It’s also why his favorite color to work with is blue. Sometimes he’ll even sign his works with the name “Magic Blue”. He likes to create images that are full of fantasy and a sense of wonder. Bruno also believes in using art as a way to face his demons and conquer his fears. Many times his subject matter will also recreate a more idyllic time in Haitian history before the pollution and environmental destruction that the population has brought upon their own country. In almost every pieces he makes there is some sort of struggle between mankind and nature.

IMG_3031Even when Bruno is selling paintings, he says that he never makes art because of the money but because of the life that it gives his spirit and the opportunity to develop his skills. “If I’m making money, then I’m making art too,” he says, “but if I’m completely broke, then I’m making even more and working even harder.”

These days Bruno has become a teacher himself at ACFFC and loves encouraging the children to discover the art that is already within their souls. He tells them not to let anyone else try to tell them that they are not artists. He knows from his own experience that if you have it in your heart, then the art will manifest itself in your life no matter what anyone else says. He hopes that one day these kids will be able to grow up and be artists in a society that will truly understand the value of art and respect the people who create it. In the same way he hopes that institutions like the Jacmel Arts Center can become highly regarded so that the artists who are active there may be seen as the leaders and change makers that their communities need them to be. All of us at SAJ are hopeful for that same future and are confident that with talent and enthusiasm from the young artists like Bruno, we’ll be able to realize that dream together.


June Artist of the Month – Manasse Belizaire

Photo by Anna Maria Lopez

As a teenager, Manasse Belizaire always enjoyed playing music with his local rara band in Jacmel where they would use horns and drums made from bamboo, tin funnels, and metal barrels. He loved the way the the rhythms made him feel alive and the way that the music was able to bring the whole community together in a celebration of their collective culture. It was in the rara that his passion for percussion was sparked. He decided to search out an opportunity to study percussion formally and registered as a student at the Dessaix Baptiste music school in Jacmel in 2015. After that he spent some time in Port-au-Prince learning the art of folk drumming from Haitian drumming master, Eddy Jean. During his apprenticeship with Jean he really fell in love with the folk style of drumming because of all of the history and symbolism that flowed through it.

IMG_1708He returned to Jacmel a talented and experienced folk drummer and embarked on his professional drumming career by joining a number of Jacmel musical groups including the popular dance troupe, Explosion. He has since become a much sought after teacher and performer around the city having worked with Gran Soley, Haiti Dance Co, and more. He says that drumming has already opened doors for him that he never expected and recalls one of his proudest moments as a drummer was getting to perform with the famed Martha Graham Dance Company from New York earlier this year. We are thrilled to have him be a part of our work at the Jacmel Arts Center as well where he accompanies some of our performance troupes here including Jacomelo and Racine Zantray. This month he is also starting a drumming class at the Arts Center to teach others the techniques to true Haitian drumming. He is looking forward to passing along his knowledge and experience because he understands the value that drums have in preserving the culture of Haiti and he hopes that more people can embrace the power that drummer provides.

You can listen to examples of Manasse’s drumming on the Jacmel Arts Center’s new Sound Cloud page. Each rhythm that you hear has it’s own story, symbolism, and special time and place to be performed. Some represent independence and freedom, others serve as gateways and prayers to the spiritual world.

He says that he is committed to helping share that part of his culture until the day that his hands fall off. At 26-years-old, he has many years of drumming ahead of him and he looks forwards to the new paths that it will chart for him. He is hoping that in the future he is able to use his cultural talents to impact the lives of children and youth in his community in a much bigger way. He sees it as a way to provide purpose and direction to younger Haitians who might feel lost in their lives. He also hopes that drumming and music provide an outlet for the Jacmel Arts Center to grow and expand it’s influence in the community as well.

If you would like to support our drumming program at the Jacmel Arts Center, please consider making a donation today to help us purchase drums for the students to practice on. Thank you!


May Artist of the Month – Jean Paul Sylvaince

18379202_10154563089672844_526355878_oIn the mid 90’s, Jean Paul Sylvaince had been looking for work in Port-au-Prince trying to find a way to make a living but having no luck. Then one night while he was sleeping he had a dream where a woman came to him holding out a large cardboard box behind a long wooden table. The woman said to Jean Paul, “Why are you killing yourself looking for work like this when you know exactly what you should be doing?” Jean Paul took the box from the woman and opened it up to find it full of paints and brushes. Soon after that dream, Jean Paul started apprenticing under the Haitian impressionist painter, Ernst Louis Zor who mentored him for several years. He took a few other classes from professional artists in Port-au-Prince before moving to Jacmel in 2002 where he became friends with Didier Civil who taught him how to utilize color to express his ideas. He started developing his own colorful impressionist style with the influences of these artists and perfected the use of painting with a knife. This is now the style that Jean Paul has become known for as an independent painter.

IMG_1493The stories that he tells through his paintings share the religious and spiritual realities of Haitian culture as well as the country’s painful history. The use of the knife itself lends a sense of violence and intensity to the images with thick layers of oil paints applied to the canvas like hardened scars from the past. Many of his images come out of voudun traditions depicting the spirits and powers that influence life here. Other images are allegorical or sometimes more traditional interpretations of everyday Haitian life. He uses paintings as a way to deal with his own pain and problems in life and hopes that viewers of his work can feel the deep emotion tied to each piece.

Jean Paul is 46 years old, married, and has 3 kids. Even though he doesn’t sell a painting every day, or even every month, he is happy that he listened to the woman in his dream and pursued a life as an artist. Even though that life isn’t always easy, he is thankful for the income that he has made from his craft that has been able to help him care for his family. IMG_0993In fact, one of his sons celebrated his First Communion at their church this weekend and it was because of Jean Paul’s art and his involvement at the Jacmel Arts Center that he was able to hold a reception for the occasion. He continues to hope, however, that the local government and international tourism industry will continue to work together to provide a better support system for the artists of this country so that things will become less difficult. That way, no matter way his life leads him in the future, even if he is never able to travel, he knows that his paintings are traveling and with each one a little piece of him goes with it. Even if his feet never land on a different country’s ground, his name and his creative voice can travel the whole world.