July Excursions – by Régine M. Roumain

In July, I had the opportunity to step out of my daily role as director of Haiti Cultural Exchange and explore my passion for Haiti and the arts wearing a somewhat different hat: cultural tour organizer and travel guide. Advancing Haitian arts through HCX has been such a transformative experience, and it was exciting to try on this new role and engage with other arts and culture advocates who share my passion!

Here’s a glimpse of my July excursions:

On July 1st, I traveled to Port-au-Prince with members of the National Performance Network, a New Orleans-based organization that supports artists in the creation and touring of contemporary performances and visual arts.  The trip marked the first tour of Haiti for this group of arts executives and curators, and initially I was a bit anxious: in six short days, and in the midst of Haiti’s World Cup frenzy, I was tasked with introducing them to the performing arts scene in Haiti, in all its breadth, depth, color and richness. A tall task indeed!

photo 2 (4) photo 1 (2)

With some advanced planning from New York to lay the groundwork, we touched down in Haiti with an itinerary packed with experiences and encounters that took us to some of my favorite places in PAP – Kenscoff, Martissant Park, Croix des Bouquet, Hotel Oloffson, and a pit stop by the beach (a MUST for me!).  For this short stretch, the capital remained our geographic focus, and in many ways we merely scratched the surface of the artistic production centered there. But it was immensely gratifying to be able to introduce my guests to a small slice of Haiti, to see them respond and engage immediately with the work, to see potential partnerships and collaborations begin to form, and to learn from folks who have been doing this work for years.

We began our exploration with a visit to Jean-Réné Delsoin’s dance school.  The company he founded 15 years ago was part of a recent tour by the New England Foundation for the Arts.  Jean-Réné organized a one-hour presentation of some of the troupe’s iconic performances over the years.  It was a great way to start the trip – drums, sweat and powerful storytelling through movement.

The next day, my friend and musician BeLO organized an amazing showcase of musical talent, representing a range of genres and some terrific new talent, including Rutschelle Guillaume, Darline Desca, Lakou Mizik, and Rebel Lyon.  While visiting FOKAL, we were literally transfixed by the young theater troupe, Collectif Hors Jeu.  They were gracious enough to let us sit in on their rehearsal of their upcoming performance, Symphonie Urbaine, a mixture of slam poetry, music, and spoken word focused on the plight of urban youth in Haiti.  At the Oloffson, Haitian born and Boston-based choreographer Jean Apollon was teaching a summer intensive in folkloric and modern dance, as well as yoga meditation.  It was beautiful to meet Jean and see his dedication to these students first-hand.

I look forward to visiting my newfound colleagues at the National Performance Network, to continue introducing them to Haitian artists, and to see the work of these visionaries and innovators come to life through performance.

Read more about the trip from Executive Director of the Miami-based Rhythm Foundation, Laura Quinlan, who was traveling with us as a guest of NPN: http://www.knightarts.org/community/miami/visiting-haiti-with-rhythm-foundation-director-laura-quinlan

Later in the month, the Pan American Development Foundation (PADF) in Washington, D.C. invited me to participate in a panel discussion as part of an ongoing series of conversations on the intersection of arts and development at the Liaison Capitol Hill Hotel. It was a beautiful evening on the hotel rooftop, where I was joined by co-panelists gallery owner Gael Monnin, Jimmy Jean-Louis, the actor and philanthropist, and Cine Institute founder David Belle.  Nathalie Liautaud of PADF led us in an informal conversation about the role of the art sector in fostering development in Haiti.

photo 3

As someone who has worked to present Haitian artists in New York, I spoke about the need to support working artists in Haiti, who are creating under difficult circumstances and with limited financial support, to provide professional development opportunities for these artists, and to foster a wider market outside of Haiti for their work. Gael Monnin stressed the importance of developing a stable and strong infrastructure in Haiti, in particular for the visual arts. David Belle spoke of the future of Haitian cinema and emerging opportunities in the broadcast market; and Jimmy Jean-Louis spoke of the need to do more to support artists and allow them to develop their own authentic voices and visions. He also urged folks to travel to Haiti and support the artistic sector.  The rooftop setting – complete with a performance by songstress Melanie Charles! – made for an engaging and free-flowing dialogue about the critical intersection between art, commerce, development and sustainability. I’m grateful to both the PADF and the National Performance Network for allowing me to add the voice of Haiti Cultural Exchange to the conversation, and hope to be able to contribute more to these conversations and collaborations in the months ahead.

This entry was posted on Monday, August 4th, 2014 at 12:48 pm and is filed under Arts, Music. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.