The Haiti Friends Art program serves to fulfill a two-part strategy:
a) Preserve Haiti’s unique artistic and cultural heritage
b) Foster economic sustainability for Artists, their families, and the community
Since it’s founding in 1985, the Friends has amassed a diverse and vibrant collection of Haitian artwork. Working directly with Haitian artists, the program supports the creative economy of Haiti and especially in the Artibonite Valley, through offering consistent support for Artibonite artists and through initiating community arts initiatives in Haiti. In the US, the Friends art collection is made available for sale and available for traveling educational exhibitions.
Art is a means of bringing Haiti to the rest of the world, sharing Haiti’s energy and creativity, while also the complex problems of a troubled country. Through art and education, we hope to build understanding and support for the great need in the country of Haiti and in particular the region known as the Artibonite Valley.
Educational exhibitions of Haitian artwork are mounted in educational and cultural venues, with the aim to advocate for Haiti and its population. In addition to small local art shows and sales, we have on numerous occasions collaborated with schools, universities, and museums nationwide.
Other public programming includes collaborations with museums, such as the January 2010 exhibition Upside Down: Haitian Art in the Aftermath of Chaos at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh PA. Regular exhibitions at Pittsburgh galleries, pop-up art sales, and the Friends’ annual H’Art & Soul of Haiti celebration also open access to the amazing art and culture of Haiti to more people.
HISTORY OF HAITIAN ART
As early as 1807, Henri Christophe, who succeeded General Jean-Jacques Dessalines, one of Haiti’s founding fathers, encouraged the development artists in the newly independent republic. Christophe had a high regard for culture and a passion to make “Haitians the most civilized, educated and creative people on earth”. In 1816 President Alexandre Petion helped French artists establish an art school in Port-au-Prince.
In the 1820’s French artists were invited to promote and train Haitian artists. The beginning of the French oriented academies in the country began with Barincourt who started a school of art in Port-au-Prince.
The artists who were trained and received schooling from the French-oriented academies were often commissioned to paint and decorate public buildings and houses of the wealthy citizens. At this time, and throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the paintings were not representative of the people or any particular tradition, yet a tradition of artistry was emerging.
The arrival of an American named Dewitt Peters in 1943 marked the beginning of a true revolution of Haitian arts. Dewitt, a watercolorist on a wartime assignment, wanted to open a centre to oversee the genuine development of the Haitian artists. He observed that the country did not have any visible painting activity nor any art gallery. This was contrary to the great physical beauty of the country and with a people so gifted with “pictorial language of color and form.” Dewitt embarked on a mission that would modernize Haitian arts and introduced it to the world. The early painters who worked with Dewitt were known as the “first generation” artists.
Many of the artists who have helped Haitian art flourish since then have been illiterate and self-taught, but the stories told through the artwork are as rich and diverse as the Haitian people.