June Artist of the Month – Fritzner Henry

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When Fritner Henry was growing up he always knew that he had a style to life that was different from everyone else but he never knew how to define himself or where he fit in. As he grew into his teenage years and began understanding more about the world, he began to realize that he was gay, even though he didn’t have a word for it yet. All that he knew was that it was a lifestyle that wasn’t respected or accepted in his society and so he began to search for a place where he would be accepted and understood. It was in Haitian folk dance that he found his tribe. Through dance he was able to express the more feminine side to his spirit more freely around other individuals that each had a unique style to carrying themselves as well. However, living as an openly gay man was still looked down upon and criticized even in the dance community. Even though that is where many queer Haitians gravitated, they were still consistently discriminated against for not conforming to gender norms.

It was after participating in a seminar held by a group called Konesans Fanmi on sexual education and sexual health that he began to brainstorm about how to form his own group that would utilize the folk arts of dance and music that he loved so much to defend and lift up the LGBTQ community of Haitians that he had come to consider his family. It was shortly after that seminar that Fritzner met Flo McGarrell at an event at the Alliance Francaise. Flo was the director of FOSAJ at the time, and introduced Fritner to the concept of transgender identity for the first time and the two of them became quick friends. Fritzner shared with Flo his dream of building a folk dance troupe that would use the folk arts expressly to combat discrimination and stigmatization within Haitian society and with Flo’s support they founded Gran Lakou. Gran Lakou was started as a place where everyone would feel welcomed and affirmed, especially those who felt marginalized by the other popular dance troupes of the area. From the start, Fritzner recruited the talent of singer, Yonel Charles, and together they set out to use their passion for dance and music in a way that would challenge gender stereotypes and decolonize ingrained perspectives on sexuality.

IMG_0488Before the earthquake of 2010, Gran Lakou had grown into an organization that not only created a safe space for many young Haitians to express themselves through dance, but also worked within the community to organize their own workshops and conferences centered around advocating for the rights of LGBTQ Haitians and also promoting healthy sexual practices for all Haitians regardless of orientation. Through this work they began to garner respect within society because others came to see them first and foremost as artists and activists before judging their personal lifestyles. In the earthquake, however, Gran Lakou suffered a great loss when their primary cheerleader, fundraiser, and network builder, Flo, died in the disaster. Through their grief, Gran Lakou continued on, but struggled to grow without Flo’s strength and support to bolster them. They lost all of the international contacts that once partnered with their work and Fritzner’s wish is that all of the people that had been friends of Gran Lakou’s by virtue of Flo would know that Gran Lakou is still alive and still dancing and still fighting the good fight for justice and equality in Haiti. He hopes that they find a way to get reconnected.

Today, Gran Lakou enjoys a revitalized relationship with Sant d’A Jakmel as one of our resident dance troupes and is able to collaborate with our full membership of artists on a number of events. Locally, Fritzner says that he can see a change in mentality evolve towards LGBTQ persons and more and more Haitians are opening up. Where several years back he can recount instances of direct violence towards himself and friends of his for simply living their lives, now he says he can walk down the streets in Jacmel at anytime and always feel safe and proud to be himself. Through their seminars, they’ve even been able to build relationships with the local police forces and cultivate a partnership where LGBTQ Jacmeliennes are now knowingly protected where they once were targeted. He hopes that someday all gay and lesbian Haitians may know that same freedom as other parts of the country continue to live in hate towards their queer brothers and sisters. He, for his part, is definitely doing all he can to bring that change about and we at SAJ are proud to stand beside him and all of Gran Lakou as they do. “Every time that we speak out publicly or put on a public dance performance, it’s giving people a chance to change their minds and it’s moving the light of progress forward.”

You can watch videos of Gran Lakou performing on our YouTube page. If you would like to support the work of Gran Lakou to help facilitate more training opportunities and advocacy projects or to support their needs for their dance performances, please make a donation through The Jacmel Arts Center today! And if you are in Jacmel on Friday June 22nd, make sure to catch Gran Lakou performing at our Boukan Sen Jen Grand Event at 8pm on our newly remodeled backyard stage!

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How Artist Exchange Trips Make a Difference

Last week, after almost a month in Indianapolis, Indiana, four artists from the Jacmel Arts Center sat on a plane to return home to Haiti when Gerald Joanis struck up a conversation with the bilingual Haitian-American flight attendant. When she learned that we were artists and were traveling to share Haiti’s culture, she asked to know more and Gerald showed her some photos from our trip including the murals we painted and the groups of youth that we provided workshops for, as well as videos of him dancing at various events in Indianapolis. You could see the pride in the attendant’s eyes as she said to us all in Creole, “That’s right! You show them who Haiti really is! Too many people out there are putting our country down, insulting us without ever knowing who we truly are. Keep showing them all of the beauty we have!” After that we exchanged information and she promised to visit sometime and take some classes from our artists.

This, to me, summarized the importance of why we choose to travel with our artists so that they may share their art beyond Jacmel in cities around the world. There are many reasons why this sort of exchange is beneficial to our artists and the community that they belong to, but when we travel we become cultural ambassadors for the entire country, carrying a powerful message of Haiti’s true culture and identity through the arts that we share. In this way, our art becomes a tool to break down misconceptions and challenge stereotypes about who Haiti is. 33502371_10155534070567844_1848165530305822720_n

On our recent trip to Indianapolis, we had many chances to do just that through the work of our arts ambassadors who traveled. In addition to folk dancer, Gerald Joanis, there were also painters, Meger Samedi, and Bruno Rene, with myself, Lee Rainboth, the executive director of SAJ. We traveled to Indianapolis through a partnership with local arts organization, Indy Convergence, which strives to empower and connect artists and communities from all backgrounds to each other in an inclusive, collaborative environment. Indy Convergence has maintained a strong relationship with the Jacmel arts community for years as they have partnered with local community center, Sa-k-La-k-Wel, to build an amphitheater in the neighborhood of Oban using earthship technologies. This exchange trip opportunity that was realized last month was the result of years of dreaming and planning and hard work to get some of Jacmel’s artists to visit Indianapolis.

33344837_10155534200442844_6516180693360312320_nWhile there, our month’s agenda was packed full with opportunities to introduce the Indianapolis community to our Haitian culture while collaborating with local artists on a variety of artistic service projects. Some of the activities that made the biggest impact on our own artists were the ones where they got to interact with the youth of Indianapolis through programs designed to build character and develop skills and awareness of the world. We met with a group of young men in a juvenile detention alternative program who loved learning about Haitian folk music and dance traditions from Gerald as we were able to connect the revolutionary spirit of these traditions with modern day hip-hop music. We also held multiple workshops in sequin art with teenage girls in a program called E-STEAM in partnership with Kheprw Insititute where the girls were drawn in by the sparkle of the art but through that they were able to learn about a country and culture that they knew very little about.

33491414_10155534070622844_5518592646722879488_nWith the greater Indianapolis community we had multiple opportunities to share our visual art through exhibits at Clowes Memorial Hall, Calvin Fletcher’s Coffee Company, The Green Room Gallery, and Indy Convergence Gallery, in addition to pop up exhibits at Salesforce and the Church Within. Between all of these locations we exhibited over 120 works of art from over 40 Jacmel artists and are happy that even once these exhibits close, much of the art will remain on display through Indy Convergence and other partners. We were also able to leave our lasting mark on the community by creating two large murals, one at the West Michigan Street Portico and one at the Hawthorne Community Center, 33326926_10155534070502844_342730680754503680_nwhich Gerald noticed the children that walked by “felt like they were in a dream” when they saw it. Bruno and Meger also got to do a live painting demonstration during an Impromptu party at the portico where dozens of guests got to watch them at work. We also had numerous opportunities for Gerald to share Haitian folk dance, most notably through a masterclass workshop with dance students at Indiana University. The public also enjoyed his performances at events such as the Impromptu party and our visit to The Church Within.

33426478_10155534070597844_8698764583629750272_nOverall we had an incredible time and thank everyone who helped make the trip possible. Although there were only 4 artists traveling, we were traveling to represent all of our more than 100 other member artists at the Jacmel Arts Center and the community in Haiti that we come from. So on behalf of us all, we thank everyone who made us feel welcome and helped us show the value that Haitian arts can have across cultures. For Meger, he felt that the relationships he was able to make with all of our new friends and collaborators in Indianapolis was the most valuable part of the trip.

We are already planning our next exchange trip which will happen later this summer to Iowa, and in the fall we will be visiting our Sister City of Gainesville, Florida with a delegation of artists. These trips are an essential part of building the global network of support that we need to remain connected to in order to make all of our programs at SAJ possible. “Art was never meant to stay in one place, it’s meant to travel, it’s meant to be mobile,” as Bruno remarked after our trip, but it also needs a strong and stable base to call home. That’s why no matter how far we travel with our art from Jacmel we always are committed to making sure that the trips serve to strengthen our foundational programs at our center in Jacmel. You can be a part of these unique exchange experiences for our artists by sponsoring some of the travel expenses associated with sending out arts ambassadors out into the world. For the Iowa trip we have 3 artists traveling: Vady Confident, Obelto Desire, and Lee Rainboth, and we need to raise $1,000 for each artist to travel. For this fall’s trip to Gainesville, we hope to take 6 artists to Florida and need to raise $600 per artist to cover those expenses. You can sponsor an artist for these trips or make a donation of any amount through our donation page. Thank you very much. We hope that with your support we can keep “showing them who Haiti really is”!

You can also watch a video tour of the exhibit at Clowes Memorial Hall on our Facebook page.

And you can watch a video of Gerald dancing the Zarenyen dance with local Indy dancer, Jean Paul Weaver, on our YouTube page.

May Artist of the Month – Alix Olivier

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“Gade kadav!” Rigol screams out into the crowd, “Look at the corpses!” implicating everyone in the audience in the scene that he and his fellow actors on stage are painting with their words. What starts out as a dramatic stage performance soon becomes an interactive experience for those who are watching as they are forced to consider their own role in the state of their society that is being illuminated through the carefully crafted act in front of them. When the actors begin to address the audience directly and invite them to respond, the lines between actor and observer are blurred and the witnesses become immersed in a unique artistic experience. Rigol, as the actor Alix Olivier is known on stage, allows the weight of his words to manifest in his entire body and can draw the audience in simply through the precise but intense look in his eyes. When Rigol is finished with the scene, everyone watching is left both emotionally and intellectually challenged by what they just saw and were a part of.

At only 22-years-old, Alix Olivier’s powerful voice has quickly found its place within the culture of Jacmel. He was 15-years-old when he first saw a theater troupe perform in his church and was inspired by their art to pursue acting himself. He started learning from that group and was soon performing at church and around the community. He then pursued more formal training through programs at Jakmel Ekspresyons and Centre Culturel Charles Moravia where he was able to develop his voice, not just through acting, but also writing and poetry. Discovering the potential of these artforms to help tell the stories of his culture, he wanted to help other younger kids begin to learn the dramatic and written arts early on and he became the coordinator of a group called Pegase which trains children in art, theater, poetry, slam, and more.

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Now, as he shares his art through performance throughout the Jacmel community, he says that he really enjoys the opportunity to be involved at the Jacmel Arts Center because he just “always feels more comfortable, more at home, around other artists.” He says, “the rest of the world and those that are high up in society may look at artists like we’re crazy, but other artists like us always understand each other because we come from the same world.” He describes theater as his weapon with which he can battle misunderstanding and injustice in the world. He believes that exposure to art is what helps people grow and transform as individuals and as communities. That is why he uses the stage name, Rigol, which is the Creole word for a sort of canal. He believes that words are a type of irrigation that can water the imaginations of those that hear them or read them.

He has had to work hard to get where he is over the last few years because there is no full programs of higher education for theater in the Jacmel region, so he has had to do his own research, read a lot of books, and search out other opportunities for practice and training. He hopes that someday that can change and there can be better opportunities for education in the performing arts. In Jacmel, the country’s creative capitol, especially, he says that the community needs to have a school offering a performing arts program. They have the country’s largest and most prestigious film school, Cine Institute, so it would only make sense that they also have a formidable education program for acting in the area. For now he is committed to working with other artists at SAJ and around Jacmel to expand opportunities for all. He knows how important collaboration is across disciplines because all arts inform and intersect with others. “We have to lift one another up,” he says, “it’s the only way to create the ambiance we want in the world through our creations.”

Click the image below to watch Rigol perform a fusion of two poems, “Toutouni” by Andre Fouad, and “Lari” an original poem of his own.

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April Artist of the Month – Ernst Payen

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“Art is Education. It enriches the spirit of a person.” Art is, in fact, the only education that Ernst Payen has ever had. As a child, his mother died when he was just 9 and he never knew his father. He spent a short time attending preschool and was even a sponsored child through Plan International for a couple of years while living with his grandparents. But when he was 11-years-old, his grandparents were too old to really care for him and he left their home to live in the streets. After some time he was taken in by a family that housed him as a restavek, a domestic servant, and he never returned to school. Throughout his teenage years he lived with multiple different families in different parts of the country, working for them in their homes and gave up on the hope of ever finishing his education. When he was an adult he decided to return to live in Jacmel, where all of his extended family still lived. He always loved drawing, ever since he was in preschool. Back in Jacmel he started drawing again and hanging his drawings on the walls of his room. One day a friend of his, Macarthur Lamitie, saw these drawings and immediately noticed the tremendous amount of natural talent that Ernst had. Macarthur encouraged Ernst to get involved at FOSAJ where he enrolled in classes to learn painting and meet other artists who were working in Jacmel.

IMG_1454Flo McGarrell, the director of FOSAJ at the time, immediately became a trusted mentor for Ernst and really guided him to develop his skills in painting. At FOSAJ though he was also exposed to a variety of different disciplines of art that sparked his interest. He saw two different documentaries on recycled art assemblage sculptures and was inspired right away to experiment. This led to a revelation that he had in a dream one night to create art out of some animal bones that he had collected. The result was a series of sculptures entitled “Incarnation” which caught the attention of some local writers and art patrons. Expanding on the recycled sculpture he also began experimenting with wood sculpture because he remembered as a child that his grandfather would sculpt utensils and simple statues out of wood and he wanted to adapt this medium to his own artistic expression. He acquired some large pieces of wood that he transformed into a series of surrealist sculptures where human and animal and spiritual forms merge and interact with one another in fluid and emotional ways.

IMG_2096Now he continues to use his painting to explore political and social themes in his work. A current series that he is working on is called “Pep La” and it depicts groups of people with eyes wide open that represent to Ernst the way that the population looks to the politicians to save them, but the politicians are really just distracting them from their real problems. Politicians will tell them where to look and what to do, meanwhile, if the population would take things into their own hands, they would be able to see the power that they really have. He is creating art that he hopes can help people really look at who they are and who they can be. Sometimes in these masses of people that he paints, a lot of children will appear and those almost always represent street kids, reflecting on the times when he, himself, was homeless and living in the street himself as a child. He integrates them into these population portraits because he knows those kids have no one to look to.

When Ernst looks at the state of the Arts in Haiti today, he laments the way that so many artists have sold out and betrayed true expression to make a little money. It’s not worth it, in his view, to abandon the message that you have within you to create something just because you think it will sell. Maintaining that fidelity to his own unique artistic voice has led Ernst to become one of the most recognizable artists in Jacmel. At the age of 34, his art has been to places that he’s not sure he’ll ever see, through exhibits in Spain, New York, and around the Caribbean. He hopes that he’ll be able to travel with his work someday soon, though, and share his art in more places. His art is his way of telling his story, of expressing himself. Having never attended school, he says, he may never be able to become a journalist or a great writer, but art has become his language and through that he is able to respect himself and understand others.

IMG_6600At the Jacmel Arts Center we are proud that we can serve as a platform for Ernst to make his voice heard. Ernst considers the center “the greatest gift that the city of Jacmel could ever have”. He hopes that the center can continue to grow to become a legitimate Arts Academy and a prestigious and sought after gallery. He knows that the more the business of the center can grow, the more artists will be encouraged to create new work and continue to chart paths to discover who they truly are as artists. The more that they can do that while also creating opportunities to work collectively as a team, the stronger each artist’s work will become and the greater their common voice will be amplified as Haitians.

Make a donation today to support artists like Ernst!

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.

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January Artist of the Month – Obelto Desire

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“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: paypal.me/JacmelArtsCenter

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!

Sincerely,

Lee Rainboth

Executive Director

Jacmel Arts Center SAJ

2017 by Numbers

December Artist of the Month – Betina Georges

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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.

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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)

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Jacmel Arts Ambassadors Headed for Gainesville!

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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!

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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!

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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!

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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

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“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.