After the earthquake that hit Port-au-Prince in January of 2010, many of Haiti’s pre-existing infrastructure gaps almost instantly escalated to major national and international crises. Because Port-au-Prince was the cultural capital of Haiti, in addition to the economic and governmental center, the issue of cultural sustainability in Haiti was no exception.
Many of Haiti’s greatest cultural assets were instantly destroyed. This includes historic buildings, museums, churches, murals, cultural artifacts, works of art, not to mention scores of working artists who lost their lives, or their livelihoods as a result of the disaster.
Even before the earthquake brought this issue rather dramatically to the forefront, issues of cultural preservation in Haiti and of the continued sustainability of the arts in Haiti were always a major concern. Many visual artists in Haiti use whatever supplies that are available to them, including house paints and found materials which often become subject to rapid decay.
Paintings are everywhere in Haiti, and some of its most important paintings were destroyed during the earthquake because the buildings that housed them were not properly supported to withstand the devastating impact of the 7.0 magnitude quake. Haiti’s tropical climate only adds to the country’s unique art preservation issues. Similarly, much of Haiti’s worded history, its stories, legends, songs, and religious traditions are not recorded in writing, but rather handed down verbally and accompanied by paintings.
Stories, histories, and traditions are carried by the people who heard or lived them formerly, and unless those stories are passed on in some way, they will die with those who hold them.
The Friends has successfully nurtured the careers of artists living in the department of the Artibonite in Haiti. The current regional style in Artibonite painting is unique and easily identifiable. Much of its intricate surface work is traceable to the late 20th century regional master, Ismaël Saincilus.
Supporting artists in the Artibonite Valley Region is important, as the region is difficult for many tourists and art collectors to access on their own. Without representation, many artists may have felt the need to relocate to larger cities, such as Port-au-Prince, where their styles might become susceptible to market-driven pressures.
The Friends is proud to have contributed to the creative economy of the Artibonite through consistent support of individual artists in the region. The Friends not only purchases original works of art, but also occasionally provides materials such as acrylic paint, canvas, and brushes to master artists.
The Friends have amassed a collection of over 3,000 unique works of art. While most of the collection is made available for purchase, a portion of the collection is preserved exclusively for educational exhibitions. Pieces in the Friends’ permanent collection include works depicting Haitian history, but also works of significant cultural or historic value.
Artworks from many other important regions and artistic movements are also represented in the Friends’ collection, including works from the Jacmel school and the Saint-Soleil group. In this way, we hope to ensure the cultural sustainability of Haitian art can be preserved and shared with an increasingly attentive international audience.