Eight students just got back from a trip of a lifetime as they spent five days in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. "We had amazing visits to the Gran Rue, to the hills to meet and see the art of the Saint Soliel artists, as well as Croix des Bouquets," according to Jonathan Secor, MCLA's director of special programs.
"We also took modern dance classes with Jean Rene Delsoin and had jam sessions at the Bamboo Lounge put together by BeLO. There are some great things happening in Port-au-Prince!" Secor said.
Natalie Pozzetti '13 of Portland, Conn., called an opportunity to spend a day with artist Phillipe Dodard an "amazing experience."
Assistant professor of art Melanie Mowinski also accompanied the students on the cultural immersion.
"Getting an in-depth education on the Saint Soleil artists, going into their homes/studios and seeing how they live and work reminded me that when you have that creative urge, you figure out how to make art happen, no matter what your circumstance," Mowinski said.
"I knew almost nothing of the art in Haiti," Pozzetti said. "I was pleased to find a country rich with heritage, pride, and spirit. Everyone from the street artists to the professional, world-renowned artists created beautiful paintings, drawings and sculptures, reflecting their lives in Haiti."
The Haitian people welcomed the group with open arms.
"We did a press conference. We were actually on Caribbean CNN," said Secor. "We were on the U.S. Embassy's home page. There was great interest from the State Department, especially the Cultural Attaché, that Haiti is not portrayed just as a dysfunctional country in need. There also is a rich, rich culture with amazing food, and we all need to work on portraying Haiti in a different way."
"The most amazing thing about my Haiti trip was probably being able to witness the growth that is occurring in the country right now, and how the people are using their culture and their diverse art forms to show that growth and really push it further," said Rachael Nichols '14 of Sturbridge, Mass.
The Haitian people express themselves through their artwork, which they don't create only solely for money, Nichols added. "I feel that in the arts world recently, artists have lost touch with expressing themselves in their work so it was good to see lots of meaning and expression in Haiti."
According to Helena Kemper '15 of Manhattan, N.Y., Haiti's vision of art and culture has made much progress by its relevance to its past.
"The art that we both saw and purchased was made by people who have no formal art training," added Emily Minns '13, of Gardner, Mass. "They didn't go to art school, but created these amazing pieces out of sheer talent and creativity. That was, ultimately, mind blowing."
"As a result of this trip, I have learned that art is best when it comes with a history" said Lauren Feeney '15 of Duxbury, Mass. "I also learned that a country's culture cannot be taken away, no matter what devastation it goes through.
"From poverty in the Grand Rue, the wonders of Haitian music, to high class art featured at Phillipe's studio, I found the Haitian culture fascinating," Feeney continued. "The art is what Haitians thrive on to survive. They are trying to bring a new beginning to Haiti. The passion and hope that I saw in the faces of the Haitian artists will forever be imprinted in my mind."
The trip was made possible by a generous donation from the Alice Shaver Foundation, which has funded similar trips for MCLA students over the past seven years. Additional funding came from the United States State Department and the Cultural Attaché Office in Haiti.