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PhotoVoice

Elevated Thought | June 2019

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Case Study | Haitian Artist Assembly of Massachusetts | June 2019

reaction
& Impact.

Research Question.

How does the Haitian Artists Assembly of Massachusetts (HAAM) address the responsibility of having ownership over cultural identity to create REACTION & IMPACT to others with the work they are doing in the arts and storytelling to meet the prevalent needs of their community?

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Who is the HAAM Community?

In 1995 HAAM was created by a group of artists in various disciplines wanting to address the need and fulfilling the call of art-making and expression for practicing Haitian artist and storytellers that migrated to America. HAAM is a collective of individuals with different walks of life and shared experiences. The artists and storytellers have different views, styles, medium, and interpretations that capture their everyday lives impacted by issues on migration, self-identity, therapeutic healing, mental health, public health, food scarcity, education, and so on.

The Assembly consist of sixty-four Haitian spread throughout Massachusetts, what connects them are the certain common traits influenced by origin, particular causes, ideologies, the nostalgia of "back home" and the elasticity, creativity, and sustainability of the Haitian people and culture through migration. These experiences connect them through longevity, trials, tribulations, and successes as an assembly.

Over the past 20 years, this Assembly has focused on producing dozens of cultural and artistic shows in New England.

“Community is an umbrella concept that a group and individuals have a common background, purpose, interest, and issues to address shared themes through the individual and collective lens to find solutions and grow as a community. “

- Charlot Lucien, Haitian born storyteller

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IN THE BEGINNING. 

The story began in 1994, Charlot Lucien, founder of HAAM was having an informal discussion with a few artists, in conversation, he discovered prominent Haitian artists he recognized from living in Haiti were residing in Massachusetts. With amazement, it lead him to ask the question, "What are they doing? Unfortunately, the artist were not producing any work, just dealing with their daily lives and trying to survive economically.

This finding lead the artists to have a more massive gathering of any artist they could find, and that's how in 1995 the birth of the assembly began. This group brought together visual artist, storytellers, and performers.

The goal was to assemble, conceive and produce work without the complication of being an organization with one location.


WHAT IS UNIQUE
ABOUT THIS GROUP?

The unique and purposeful decision to be an Assembly and not just a non-profit organization allows for the freedom and flexibility to connect to all Haitian artist and not just limited by a specific location, although the assembly is primarily housed in Massachusetts the assembly gathers in different locations several times a year to connect to work on themed projects.

According to the founder, one physical location doesn't allow for access and exploration of shared experiences. Gathering in various places allows for exhibits displayed everywhere for education, discussion of issues, and the revitalization/branding of Haitian’s in America.

The sustainability of this group is through the causes and shared pains and joys of being Haitian in America. It is through events like President Trump saying something negative about the Haitian people, or the displacement of Haitians due to major natural disasters or the negative perception that people have of the Haitian people due to false claims, drives the artist to take a Visual Activist stance to force the discussion needed through the arts. The Assembly services as a healing through individual and collective efforts. “The need for intra-community strength is even more urgent, because strong communities are an important factor in creating both policy and social change.” (Brea M. Heidelberg, Arts & America: Arts & Inter-Community Strength, p.53)

“Whatever is happening in our lives, we as the dreamers, the writers, the artist, the singers, the musicians, everybody has an input and a calling to service others.”

- Myrléne “Mimi” Desir, Artist and Member of HAAM


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Data Collection

My investigation began with my initial question;  How does migration influence Haitian culture through the arts from a multi-generational lens? I started researching keywords that referred to Haitian art, Haitian artist, in Massachusetts, and specific cities. This method allowed me to find my first Interviewee, Myrléne “Mimi” Desir, self-taught painter, who came to America as a young woman. I found an article written about her work in wickedlocal.com. The story was about her painting “Illusions of the Pearl” serving as a tribute to Haiti, Desir’s homeland. Featured at West Bridgewater Public Library.  The Initial ideal was to reach out to her to find out about her gallery space in Attleboro and her knowledge of any local Haitian art communities.  I was having trouble with find a physical group in specific locations.  I continued to investigate and in my findings I came across a publication called “Migrating Colors, Haitian Art in New England.”  The book was produced by artist, poets, and storytellers throughout the New England area by the Haitian Artist Assembly of Massachusetts. 

While interviewing with Mimi, I learned that she was apart of the book ”Migrating Colors” and was a member of the Haitian Artist Assembly of Massachusetts (HAAM). She referred me to Charlot Lucien, founder of HAAM and Storyteller to learn more about the work they do together as an assembly.  It wasn’t until I met with Mimi I discovered that HAAM was more than just an online presence. I had seen lots of articles and there Facebook presences online but couldn’t find a point of contact. I scheduled a meeting with Charlot and met him at his studio and learned about the history of the Assembly, the inspiring artists and collective mission of the group. 

I also interviewed Duken Delpe, 45 of age, Haitian born; another artist member referred to me by Charlot. Duken is a younger member of the Assembly. Unlike the other HAAM artist, Duken does not define his work by his cultural identity; rather, his work focuses on the current social events and issues that are happening today. He appreciates the work that is happening with the Assembly but would like to see an evolution of HAAM where they are in a fixed community that people can travel to and learn about the culture.

As for Brockton Arts their community partner located in Brockton, their relationship together has produced the Jacmel Revitalization Project an Art Academy and a second one in Île-à-Vache, Haiti.

The interviews with the HAAM members made me rethink my initial question and focus. After hearing the stories, I discovered a familiar narrative from both interviewees of having ownership over cultural identity through the arts and storytelling. Which lead me to my research question:

How does the Haitian Artists Assembly of Massachusetts (HAAM) address the responsibility of having ownership over cultural identity to create REACTION & IMPACT to others with the work they are doing in the arts and storytelling to meet the prevalent needs of their community?

DOCUMENTATION
Web Research | June 11 - July 15, 2019 | 5 Hours
Interview | Myrléne “Mimi” Desir | June 20, 2019 | 1 Hour - Attleboro Public Library
Interview | Charlot Lucien | June 22, 2019 | 1 Hour - Private Studio, Norwood Mass
Interview | Duken Delpe | July 12, 2019 | 1 Hour - Attleboro Public Library
Interview | Arnie Danielson & Fritz Ducheine | July 15, 2019 | 1 Hour - Brockton Art, 33 Gallery

Myrléne “Mimi” Desir, “Illusions of the Pearl” Featured at West Bridgewater Public Library https://www.wickedlocal.com/news/20180116/artists-tribute-to-her-native-haiti-on-display-at-west-bridgewater-library

Community Partner

Haitian artist preserve its culture through visual arts and storytelling with community partners.

Brockton Arts | Who is Brockton Arts?

“Located in the newly renovated Stacy Adams Cultural Arts Building at 33 Dover Street in Brockton MA, Gallery Thirty Three is dedicated to celebrating the artistic and creative renaissance that is the pulsing beating heart of the re-imagination and re-emergence of the wonderful city of Brockton Massachusetts.

Brockton Arts and Gallery Thirty Three are a part of the renaissance and the revitalization of the arts in Brockton, MA. They offer programming in The Brockton Poetry Series, The Night Slam, The Brockton Poetry Writing Workshop, The Downtown Brockton Arts and Music Festival, and their film festival.”

footnote: https://www.gallerythirtythree.org/

Arnie Danielson founder of the Brockton Arts has worked with the building’s developers and the building’s tenants to nurture, foster, and support the city of Brockton’s developing and vibrant arts scene. The relationship between Brockton Arts and HAAM started with Danielle Legros Georges, Professor, M.F.A, at Lesley University.

Danielle invited Arnie Danielson to meet Charlot Lucien at a HAAM meeting in Hype Park. HAAM’s community members were discussing how to support the fractured Haitian Diaspora after the 2010 earthquake that shattered the country. It was decided that they would raise money for supplies to be sent to friends in Haiti, "Please paint how you feel" was the message that went to them. The artwork that was produced by the call to action was frightening, the work captured broken people, frighten people, funeral homes, collapsing buildings, etc. HAAM and the work from the Haitian artist in Haiti and Brockton arts decided to stage a series of art shows in Brockton, Boston, and Gloucester, MA to start. They marketed the artwork and told the stories, from there they were able to sell some of the artwork return the money to the artist in Haiti and repeat the process over and over again. Because of this, they were able to sell over $35,000 of artwork for more than seven years. This was also how they funded the publication of "Migrating Colors". The relationship between Brockton arts and HAAM that they are their fiduciary. How it works; 75% of the sale of artwork goes back to the artist, 15% does to HAAM and 10% to Brockton Arts.

This relationship has yielded several Arts Academy in Jacmel and Île-à-Vache Haiti as well as the financial support of the artist in Haiti. The relationship between the two has cultivated a social and economic development for everyone apart of the organization. The Academy has four instructors and teaches up to 90 children.

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Publication:
About Migrating Colors

This book is the result of 20 years of cultural advocacy and partnerships with cultural, state, city institutions, poets and storytellers throughout the New England area. It benefited from the support of professional photographers, editors and art partners from Rhodes Island to New Hampshire. The books contains foreword comments by Haitian American author Edwidge Danticat, recipient of the 2009 MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship, Massachusetts State Senator Linda Dorcena Forry and Edmund Barry Gaither, Director and Curator of the National Center of Afro-American Artists (NCAAA) who has since the Haiti earthquake helped curate various exhibitions of the Assembly.

- Charlot Lucien, Haitian born storyteller interviewed by frenchculturalcenter.org

 

What is Community?


Community is about people. Community is both a feeling and a set of relationships among people. People form and maintain communities to meet emotional, spiritual, physical and intellectual need to feel a sense of belonging and foundation in self.

Local HAAM artists.

Local HAAM artists.


Key Findings

“I think we also have to ask the hard questions of ourselves and our work. Do we really want to shift the systems that leave us with winners and losers? Haves and have nots? Are we ready to deepen coalitions and build a new world? So, maybe history is only in our periphery? I’m being dramatic, perhaps, but I wonder if there is room to learn from elders while we are thinking about new ways of doing this work. That’s something I’m always curious about. I feel like there are lessons that could help us along this journey.

What happens when there’s a new generation of practitioners who might’ve benefited from stories like yours? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this idea of holding history and visions for the future as cultural workers. How do we do that?” (Marty Pottenger & Jess Solomon, Artists & Communities: Accidentally on Purpose, p.8)

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Overview

STRENGTHS

Ultimately, the communities strength is in the collective individuals walks of life and shared experiences. These experiences connect them through longevity, trials, tribulations, and successes. Having a collective lens allows them as an assembly to find solutions, share their cultural pride, and grow others as well as their community.

WEAKNESS

What is missing in this community is not having enough younger members and members that create other forms of art outside storytellers, poets/writers, performers, and painters. Growing their artist pool of photographers, videographers, sculptures, graphic artist, and illustrators can help invite younger Haitian artist and cultivate the community generationally.

OPPORTUNITIES

A great opportunity is to expand from the exhibitions and forums to include and introduce a formal curriculum, teaching the history of Haiti through the arts, artists, storytellers, writers, and performers. Having a structured curriculum will allow for the next generation Haitians/Haitian Americans, other cultures to learn and carry the past, present, and hopefully future traditions. As well as a Multi-generational roundtable discussion. Another opportunity is to consider finding a physical location, suggested by Duken’s to evolve the mission of HAAM and allow for further exposure to others and expansion of new younger artist.


Recommdation

Multi-generational Roundtable Discussion

After having the privilege of spending time with the many different stakeholders, I've observed that the communities strength is in the collective individuals walks of life and shared experiences. These experiences connect them through longevity, trials, tribulations, and successes. Having a collective lens allows them as an Assembly to find solutions, share their cultural pride, and grow others as well as their community.

What I see is missing is the community not having enough younger members and members that create other forms of art outside of storytellers, poets/writers, performers, and painters. Growing their artist pool of photographers, videographers, sculptures, graphic artist, and illustrators can help invite younger Haitian artist and cultivate the community generationally.

A great opportunity is to expand from the exhibitions and forums to include and introduce a formal curriculum, teaching the history of Haiti through the arts, artists, storytellers, writers, and performers. Having a structured curriculum will allow for the next generation Haitians/Haitian Americans, other cultures to learn and carry the past, present, and hopefully future traditions. But to begin, I suggest a multi-generational roundtable discussion to open the dialogue and start a conversation where everyone feels like an equal at the table.

“It may be illuminating to take a look at what—and who—has come before us, for looking backward helps us focus our thinking about our future." (Clayton Lord, Arts & America: 1780–2015, p. 32)

A multi-generational roundtable discussion can be a meaningful highlight of the needs and wants for this community and help fill in the gaps with younger members. It will help to further the discussion on what it means to be Haitian born, Haitian American, and second-generation artist because everyone has the chance to participate in the conversation.

 

 

Learning Trajectory

 
 
Image produced from assignment question.

Image produced from assignment question.

Learning Moment 1. - Putting together a PhotoVoice for Elevated Thought

Visiting Elevated Thought was a great experience. Seeing the work and the students in action provided a reality that couldn't be captured in another format. What was significant about this community was the activism movement through the arts, how the leaders were the students, and that with the right guidance and motivation, their voice had a platform to "elevate" their situation.

Using the photovoice to document my reflection of this experience created a more impactful process, and using my design experience allowed me to highlight the many aspects of this community.


Learning Moment 2. - The Interviews for the HAAM Research Paper

Having the experience of hearing the stories, formulating questions, and assessing a community allowed me to discover something new about myself. My original idea was to explore the arts in Attleboro. However, the team-building exercise about remembering a positive experience with a community changed my trajectory and inspired me to focus on Haitian artist instead. As I was doing the research lead me to find one nugget that unfolded so much more. If I had not found Mimi, I wouldn't have learned so much about HAAM, the artist individually or that a few of the artist live right here in Attleboro.


Learning Moment 3. - Stakeholder Letter

Migration and a multi-generational lens were essential to me throughout this research exploration. The stakeholder letter became another learning moment for me. It provided me the opportunity to suggest a low hanging fruit solution to sure up the missing voices in this community. Creating a multi-generational roundtable discussion will get the ball rolling in addressing the gaps in HAAM.


Connections

Created by Nadege Tessono | I AM

Created by Nadege Tessono | I AM

Overall, with the discussions we have had, the interviews with HAAM, and my interest in migration, I'm discovering that the links in my research and the experience at Elevated Thought are leading me in the right direction. I want to explore more about how Elevated Thought uses photography, design, videography and fine art to address the needs of the youth and further assess HAAM and their connections to roots, origin, pride, and art as a tool for healing with adults. Both organizations use their art form as a form of activism while educating the masses. Although I know I'm not interested in working in the schools, this experience is a great starting point as I further my studies at Lesley.