November Artist of the Month – Blaise Emilson


Blaise Emilson started out his career in the arts as a frog. At the age of 9 he was recruited to dance in a Mardi Gras street performer troupe known as “krapo” which, at the time, was a brand new addition to the Jacmel carnival scene. The troupe dressed all in green like frogs while the smallest and most flexible dancer in the group balances on top of two bamboo poles held in the air by the others and does all sorts of tricks and contortions to the guaranteed cheers of any crowd that gathers to watch. When Blaise was recruited to be a part of the group, he was the one assigned to dance on top of the poles and quickly became widely loved throughout the city for his performances. It was when the krapo troupe performed at a local orphanage called Trinity House that Blaise’s life took a dramatic change. The staff at the children’s home recognized his talent and invited him to come live there with the other children. Although Blaise wasn’t an orphan, his mother was convinced that he’d have a better chance at life if he was raised in the institution rather than in her care, so she registered him to move in to the orphanage. Shortly after moving in, however, the staff decided to move him to their partner location in Port-au-Prince, St. Joseph’s.

At his new home he was enrolled in classes in art, dance, drumming, and piano. He immediately fell in love with all forms of creative expression, especially painting and drumming, and his natural talent was evident from the start. At school he started getting in trouble because instead of taking notes on math or history during class he was always drawing in his notebooks instead. He remembers one teacher in particular who punished him with a severe beating for his drawings in his notebook. He remembers as he was getting the beating he told the teacher that someday she’d see he was going to be a great artist and she’d regret beating him. Sure enough, years later he ran into that teacher in the street and got to prove to her what he’d become by showing her photos of the paintings that he’d created and sold and the success that he’d built for himself. He credits that success to his mentor, a painter from Petionville named Ralph Elan. Blaise was introduced to Elan while living at St. Joseph’s and started taking painting lessons from him. Elan is the one who began teaching Blaise watercolor painting and then later on, acrylics. Blaise really took to the watercolors and remembers the firs42108003_10209580453827961_8717547025370972160_ot one that he sold at the age of 15 to a foreign visitor to the boy’s home. It was a market scene. After that he started painting more and more and everytime visitors came to the orphanage, he would display his watercolors and sell to them to make some money for himself. Eventually others at the home, including the staff, were seeing how much money he was making from his art and it caused some to get jealous of him and that started to make life more difficult for him as they would intentionally leave him out of activities. He didn’t understand why, just like in grade school before, he was being punished for being talented. He was just pursuing his passion and people hated him for it. But he didn’t give up because he knew it’s what it was what he was meant to do. He wasn’t going to let anyone dim the light of his gifts. It only encouraged him to shine brighter. It was the rift in his relationships at the boys’ home that eventually sent him back to Jacmel where he returned to live with his family now as an adult.

He found his strength to press on not only through his art but also through his faith. He said that he would often go to the Bible to find encouragement and guidance. Still to this day he says that much of his inspiration comes from the scriptures because just as those words have a powerful message of how to live, he hopes that his art can also draw viewers closer to God and speak to them in inspirational ways. He does this through a variety of styles, in fact, he says that he doesn’t have any one style. He believes that just as God speaks to people in different ways, so must his art. Art is supposed to be a tool for people to solve their problems in life so different kinds of art can speak to viewers in different ways depending on what they are facing in their life at that moment. That is why you will see Blaise create art that could be described as abstract, or realist, or surrealist, or other styles. He tries to stay versatile. He also wants to make art for a greater purpose than just to sell it. So he wants viewers to find meaning within the work whether they’re rich or poor.


IMG_5502One of his favorite subjects is children because of his own upbringing in children’s homes he has had a very personal look at the different problems that the children of Haiti face. He says that Haiti is a country of more problems than solutions, but he wants his art to be a weapon with which he can fight for greater solutions and justice for those who don’t have a voice of their own. That includes the children that need better access to education and health and so much more. It also includes the merchant women that often are portrayed in his work because they are the most humiliated and disregarded even though they are one of the most vital parts of Haitian society.

Blaise’s concern for the children extends beyond the canvas, however. He now goes back to Trinity House regularly and teaches the children there painting and drumming. He knows that every kid deserves a chance to pursue their dreams and believe in themselves no matter who they are or where they come from. For that reason he’s earned the nickname, “Pastor” from the children for his compassionate approach to working with them. He knows that the work that he will leave behind as an artist may inspire one of them to become the change that their society needs. He knows that everything that he creates will have a life of its own even beyond his own life and that motivates him to keep working. Throughout his life he’s had to fight to prove that his talent was something to embrace and not to resist. Now he’s not taking any opportunity for granted knowing that the future will be brighter if we help others to shine their lights brighter too.


September Artist of the Month – Jadrix Louis



Jadrix was raised with his brother by their single mother who made an income by doing embroidery and lace work, so from a young age he was influenced by her example of creative craft. She passed away when he was only twelve years old, but before she did, she introduced him to some artist friends of hers who began to teach and train him in the arts. He was born and raised in Jacmel, so when FOSAJ opened up in his home community in 2003, he was excited to have access to an arts education locally. He enrolled in FOSAJ’s programs early on and began learning the nuances of being a fine artist and painter from the organization’s founders, Patrick Boucard and Kate Tarcott Cross.

35078153_1977912269188053_122717871460581376_oHe’s always been drawn to abstract styles of painting because he believes it’s the best way to translate the spiritual nature of art into visual form. Painting has always been a sort of spiritual practice for him, a form of mediation and therapy. Whenever he is stressed or overwhelmed by the challenges of life, he goes to the canvas. When he is before the canvas and applying the paint, he says he often feels like it is not him anymore creating the art, but simply allowing his body to follow the movements of the spirits. His ultimate goal through his work is to transmit light into the world. He says that he understands that God shines light on everything that is on earth and hopes that his art can be a vehicle for the light and divine energy to be transmitted to every viewer that sees it. In that way, no matter where a work of his might end up, he hopes that it may be a benediction into the world wherever it is displayed.

IMG_3016He draws inspiration for the subjects of his art from many places, mainly from the African roots of his culture and from the elders within his own community. At the age of 38, he looks upon his elders with great respect and is constantly paying attention to the wisdom that they share. That wisdom often echoes in his mind as he paints. He also looks to his environment for inspiration. Often he will find unconventional objects to paint on and integrate into his work such as broken chairs, pieces of driftwood, or even a discarded toilet seat. When he paints on these objects his intention is always to give new life to objects that others discard and never let anything go to waste.

Now a single father raising two children of his own, Jadrix hopes the best for their futures in particular, whether they become artists or not, he knows that art will have an influence in their lives. He sees the work of Sant d’A Jakmel as vital to the community for Haitians of all ages. He worries about the children who are sick in the hospital who will never get the chance to discover their artistic gifts because their circumstances in life that are exacerbated by the poverty they live in, prevent them from learning art and discovering their skills. He regrets all of the older generation of Haitians that were never free to pursue their artistic paths because the demands of life in such a difficult environment never allowed them the freedom to become artists. There are so many of his fellow Haitians that have the natural talents to become great artists but don’t have access to the opportunities to nurture those talents. So the more and more that the services of SAJ can reach more and more people in his region and his country, the more hope that he feels his society will have for the future.

Thank you to all of our friends and supporters who make those programs possible for artists like Jadrix. May his art and all of the art from our center continue to be a blessing to you all.

July Artist of the Month – Gre Ronald

Art has always come naturally to 33-year-old, Gre Ronald, who was always doodling in his school notebooks and any scrap of paper that he could find at home. When he was a child and his father noticed his interest in drawing he encouraged him to go spend some time learning from a cousin of his who knew how to paint. It was with his cousin that Gre began to learn how to turn his doodles into art and translate sketches into paintings. When he was older he enrolled in ENARTS in Port-au-Prince in 2005 to begin his formal training in the arts. He stayed working in Port-au-Prince until 2010 when after the earthquake he moved back to Jacmel where his mother lived. Once in Jacmel, he learned about FOSAJ and enrolled as a student in 2012.

Although he’s been trained in a variety of styles, he has always gravitated towards reinterpreting the traditional Haitian market scenes that have become such a definitive part of Haitian folk art. To him, creating these paintings is a process of transferring the energy and life that he feels in the public markets onto canvas. Whenever he walks into a market he is fascinated by the complex web of communications and relationships that happens within the space between the vendors with other vendors and the customers and every element within the market plays a specific role. He likes to paint the market as a living organism itself, made up of many smaller parts that all contribute to the vitality of the whole. With his detailed compositions he hopes the viewers of his art are able to feel this immense sense of life and energy that consumes Haitian markets.

Even more so than the market paintings, though, he feels that the most powerful kind of art that he can create is abstract. Abstract is his preferred style because he finds joy in playing with colors and exploring what they mean when you compose them in certain ways allowing them to speak for themselves. Color to him is his soul, his blood. He put it this way, “All of my bones together make me a human, but my bones are made of color and paint.” When he imagines how the spirit of people can transform in ways beyond what our eyes can see he likes to portray that through his abstract compositions. The colors can show us that. Marrying colors together represents the way we want to live together and when colors aren’t in harmony, it means we are not creating the world that we want to live in. It’s through abstraction that he’s able to send a stronger message to anyone who looks at his work whether it is a politician, a teacher, another artist, or anyone in his country. He is able to express his hopes for life through his colors and abstraction. Art to him is a reflection of what his heart believes. Art is his life and love. Anytime he walks by a painting he feels like it gives him life.

Gre is newly married to a woman that he met in university while he was studying journalism. His wife is currently finishing up her degree in medicine. They married in June. Gre, like most of our artists at the Jacmel Arts Center, is a father and is able to support his children and provide for their educations thanks to his work as an artist and the opportunity that he has to sell his work to make an income. For this reason, the Jacmel Arts Center means a lot to Gre because it helps him support his family. He hopes that the center finds the support that it needs to continue to grow and thrive. He believes that this will happen based on the quality of the work that the artists here continue to create.

We are thankful for Gre as one of our members and his contributions to making sure we always have quality work on display to represent all of our artists and our community!

June Artist of the Month – Fritzner Henry


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!



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


“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.


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.



April Artist of the Month – Ernst Payen


“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.

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