Although Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, it is home to extraordinary artistic and cultural riches. Even under very difficult conditions, culture continues to play a central role in the people’s daily lives.Entrance to the National Pantheon Museum.
“Everyone in this country looks at him or herself as an artist,” says Gail Dominique, IDB country specialist in Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince. “It’s something alive that jumps out at you all over the streets. The color, the music, the way people walk, how they talk, how they dress.” The creative potential here is enormous. And with the scant resources available—almost always scraps and castoffs—talented Haitians really do miraculous things.
But making a living as an artist is another story. “What’s incredible is that people don’t get demoralized,” Dominique says. Even though they know that artists and craftspeople do not have much of a future, she notes, “where there used to be 10 artists, today we have 20.”
Saving Haiti’s heritage. Two recent initiatives supported by the IDB Cultural Center’s Cultural Development Program seek to promote these natural talents and preserve Haiti’s centuries-old cultural heritage. Like many other sectors in Haiti, traditional arts and culture need a good dose of assistance because they are at a serious risk of disappearing.
“Haitians don’t visit museums, which means that museums can’t count on help from the general public for their survival,” says Dominique. “They depend on private contributions. Museums are not a priority for the government either.” As a result, Haiti’s cultural heritage is being abandoned, as its artwork is allowed to disintegrate and perhaps to disappear.
The goal of the newly created Haitian Restoration Center within the Musée du Panthéon National Haïtien [Haitian National Pantheon Museum] will be to treat works of art and other cultural objects in order to halt or slow their decomposition and deterioration. The center will offer the services of a professional team to other arts institutions, in addition to becoming a resource for promoting science and job creation and to help raise citizen awareness of Haiti’s national heritage. Three new centers also will inventory objects, train field professionals and establish partnerships with restoration groups in the Western Hemisphere and in Europe.The IDB provided furniture for the haitian center.
Channeling creativity. The other project focuses on strengthening the organization and talent of the many local cultural initiatives known in Haiti as artists’ collectives. Every year, local governments organize cultural events that are attended by tourists. But because there is no systematic preparation of any kind, the towns lose the opportunity to profit from their great effort. The Educational Workshops for Cultural Administrators project will focus on revitalizing the sector in order to improve management of complex activities and help the participating artists and craftspeople create a profitable experience.
The program will offer training in arts event management for cultural agents, promote an exchange of ideas about cultural management, and promote a broader role for cultural agents in public institutions.
The art of the chocolate factory. In the Dominican Republic, “chocopop” is neither a candy nor a dance. It’s simply something to enjoy. The city of Puerto Plata has restored the former Sánchez Chocolate Factory, once owned by the dictator Rafael Trujillo, and turned it into the Atlantic Cultural Center. In 2005, the city organized the III International Conference on Art Performances—also known as “choco” (“chocolate”) “pop” (initials of “Puerto Plata”)—with support from the IDB Cultural Center Cultural Development Program.
Chocopop put together an eclectic, experimental event with Dominican and international artists, aimed especially at children and young people from the surrounding poor areas. Performances at the 2005 conference centered on sound as a way of supporting visual art. “We have a vision for Puerto Plata’s future,” Hungría says. Nicknamed “The Bride of the Atlantic”, Puerto Plata has decided to invest in richer cultural offerings for the tourists who visit from all parts of the world. The restoration of the chocolate factory is part of a larger effort to restore Puerto Plata’s historic downtown area.