Astrel Joseph is one of the young adults who has been involved with Living Media since the very beginning, having served as proof of the incredibly deep artistic talent that exists in rural Haiti that has been left untapped. Even before the birth of Living Media, Astrel was a student of co-founder, Lee Rainboth’s, and he had been searching for ways to take his art to the next level. Now, as he participates in LMI’s various programs, he has found the opportunity to do just that, reach a new level with his art.
To Astrel, art used to be just a fun pastime, but nothing that could be taken seriously in his society. He always knew that he liked to draw but never imagined that his interest in art could ever turn into anything more. Now at age 23 he has become one of our most popular artists at our gallery alongside professionally trained painters from the cultural capitol of Haiti, the city of Jacmel. Having started out in our original art classes at the Living Media Learning Institute, Astrel pursued his art through every opportunity offered. The day that he sold his first painting through our gallery he still remembers as a time that changed his outlook on life and what was possible. He describes himself as an artist that rotates between creating work to tell conceptual stories on social issues such as religion and injustice, and creating work for purely technical reasons practicing different methods of applying paint and mixing colors. He now depends on his art to support both himself and his family. He has a wife and a 6 month old daughter that he now cares for, and with the income that he gets from his art he is working to build a house for them. He loves his family dearly and says that he is proud to be able to work to provide for them.
But Astrel is not just a painter. As a participant in our Dreamer program, he has been offered the opportunity to explore many more creative endeavors in addition to cultivating his skill in painting. With the support he receives as a Living Media Dreamer he has been able to attend classes to learn screen printing, keyboard, and English. And he not only receives a superior education in the arts but has also formed a very meaningful relationship with his sponsor, Mary, from Iowa, who he considers one of his closest friends. Through this program he has received the encouragement that he needed to believe that his gifts are valuable and have power to help himself and others around him.
As Astrel’s ablilities grow, he has now started to use them to teach others about art as well to share with them the beauty that he has found. One way that he does that is as a co-instructor for our new art students at the Learning Institute helping them experiment with new ways to express themselves through the skills that they learn there. He also has started to teach visiting teams about Haitian art history and basic drawing techniques. This new activity that Living Media has begun offering for our volunteer teams from the US has proven to be a unique opportunity for our foreign guests to take a look through the eyes of our Haitian artists and get the chance to be creative themselves. Astrel says he enjoys this opportunity to share his knowledge and hopes that more visitors to the country begin to see the value in Haitian art and what they can learn from Haitians such as himself.
Astrel enjoys sharing his creativity with his community in any way he can. This has also led him to get involved in music as well as he uses his natural gifts as a writer and artist combined with what he has learned from his coursework to contribute to a local hip hop group called Prophetie Squad in which he sings. “The music allows me to say things that I can’t in my painting and it gives me a voice to say what’s important to me.” Astrel says. He also appreciates the opportunity to be viewed as a role model as many in the community see him perform and use his public platform to bring both joy and a new perspective to those who hear his music. He pours his entire heart into the lyrics that he writes and hopes that audiences and listeners can appreciate that.
We all at Living Media have been inspired by Astrel’s work for sure, and we can’t wait to see what he comes up with next! To support programs such as the ones Astrel benefits from, please visit our Donate page and make a contribution today. Or consider becoming a Pledge Partner with Living Media and sign up for regular donations to help us bring these creative education opportunities to as many people in our communities as possible. You can also view our Online Gallery to see some of Astrel’s work and support him directly through a purchase of a painting or one of the t-shirts that he creates for our Gallery Shop. Thank you for partnering with us to help young Haitians like Astrel discover their gifts and follow their dreams.
Isaac Antoine is a 19-year-old student in the 6th grade at New Life Primary School, where he is always at the top of his class. Isaac has been a student at the school ever since it was still called Foyer St. Jude, now in his fourth year as a student there. Before that he was attending a different private school locally which for the previous two years he had been kicked out of halfway through the school year because his single mother couldn’t pay the fees. When New Life opened up he was excited to be able to get an education that his mother could afford and was surprised to find the quality of instruction that he has received.
He says that he has always enjoyed the teachers at New Life and has always felt valued and respected there. Now in his final year he is looking forward to next year when he will be able to move on to attend a high school in the area, probably the public school in Mizak. It was while at New Life that Isaac started to explore his talent in art through the classes that we offer our children. He’s always enjoyed drawing but he found creative encouragement at New Life that really pushed him to pursue art more seriously.
Because of that Isaac enrolled in the community art classes offered through the LMI Learning Institute where he learned the basics of design and drawing from our volunteer instructor, Sarah Letsche. In this course he learned alongside a group of 8 other young men all wanting to develop their talents in the arts and learn how to use them to create work that could be beneficial for themselves and their communities. Isaac says that although he enjoys school and is committed to his classical studies, it is when he’s learning about art that he really feels like he’s gaining knowledge that will help him in the future.
Even at home he likes to experiment with his creativity with whatever he can find around his home. His aunt recently had a large piece of wood that she was going to burn for cooking but when he saw it he begged her to let him have it so he could sculpt something out of it. As he started to whiddle away at the piece of wood he started to see a face appear and eventually decided to make it into two faces, a male and a female, showing how we can be interconnected and naturally united as humans. He also is constantly trying to find ways to use his craft to make a little money to help himself and his family. His mother is ill and unable to work and he only has one other older brother who lives with them and helps with some fieldwork. So Isaac likes to make items such as bracelets that he is then able to sell through the Living Media Gallery to bring in some extra cash to help provide for himself.
Always looking for new ways to express his creativity, Isaac has also enrolled in a local keyboard class to learn the basics of music and also enjoys writing music. He has written a song for an upcoming Mother’s Day celebration in Mizak that he is excited to perform for the public as a way to honor our Mothers and the women in our lives that help us all be who we are.
Isaac is a perfect example of what it means to not just make art, but to be art! Through your support of Living Media you are helping Isaac and many other youth like him to explore their creative gifts and find ways to use them within their community to make life better. You can make a donation today to help the New Life School, the Learning Institute, or any of our other community programs. Thank you so much! Together we are making life more beautiful.
On the first day of school at New Life, I sat in on the 2nd grade class as teacher, Nicodem, welcomed his students and encouraged them for the upcoming school year. “It is not the walls and the roof that make a great school,” he told the children from ages 6 to 15 years old in his room, “but it is students and teachers working hard together so that we can all learn and grow that makes a great school.” He emphasized to the students that although the construction of the building was not completed yet, it was up to each one of them to come with a good attitude and to do their work so that they could have a successful academic year. You see, we weren’t able to get quite as far on the construction as we were hoping for the school this summer, but we got as much as we could done so that we could at least start the classes in the new location nonetheless. And on the first day of school, we welcomed more than 120 students to the school split between our 7 grades and each one came with an enthusiasm for the education they were going to receive. Although it was frustrating to see the project incomplete when we had worked so hard to accomplish what we had, on that first day the children proved to me what Nicodem told his students was true. It is not the walls and roof that make a great school.
And although we will continue to work on those walls and that roof as we are able to truly create a building that will be a safe and inspirational environment for these kids, one thing that I do know for sure is that we do have great students and great teachers. We have kids in this school that have come there from very difficult backgrounds but each day that they arrive with the light shining from within their hearts and their minds excited to learn, you can see that they have greatness inside of them waiting to be discovered and nurtured. Many of the students would not be accepted at other schools because of special emotional, physical, or behavioral needs, but we accept them at New Life School and are committed to finding ways to teach them and involve them no matter what other schools have told them. Others in the school simply come from families that are unable to afford other schools and they arrive at New Life grateful for the opportunity to receive an education for their young minds.
I also know that we have truly great teachers at the school because I’ve been involved in their recruitment and training from the beginning, but it was when we had a meeting with the parents of our students recently that I was overwhelmed to realize just how important these teachers are to the kids in their classrooms. With over 90 parents crowded into the school on that morning I was prepared to respond to any number of questions that I thought they might ask about the operation and the construction of the school, but instead I sat and listened with the staff of teachers and administrators as parent after parent each stood and sang the praises of our teachers who were pushing their students to succeed and making their kids interested in education. They thanked us for the discipline that ensures the children take their studies seriously and the care with which we provide each student with the individual attention that they deserve.
After the meeting I had multiple parents come up to me personally to thank me for what the school was providing their kids. One mother had a 9-year-old son who had been through 4 different schools in the last 4 years being rejected by each after a couple weeks because of a learning disability that he has that caused him to be labeled “unable to learn”. This mother had given up hope for her son ever getting an education until she heard about New Life and decided to give it one more try. Now, although this student still struggles in the kindergarten classroom where we have placed him, his teacher, Jezula, works with him with patience and understanding able to see his potential beyond his disability. On that day of the meeting, his mother took my hand and thanked me emphatically for making him feel welcome there. Knowing that her son was not the only one who had been labeled by this society as “unable to learn” I was proud to know that our school was creating a place for them to believe in themselves.
I had another mother come up to me with a huge smile on her face, the sunlight reflecting off of her golden capped teeth, and tell me that she praised God every morning for this school in her community. She has four children in the school and she said that her two oldest ones had been having difficulty passing through their grades in the other schools that they had been attending before New Life. But after the first year of each of them in classrooms with our teachers, they were making progress like she’d never seen before. She said that our teachers challenged her kids to work hard but still cared enough about them to make them feel like they had value. She said that she saw a difference with our teachers actually being concerned about the individual children rather than just trying to do a job like she had seen in other schools. That’s why when it came time to send her two younger kids to school as well she was eager to register them in New Life as well with confidence that our teachers and staff will all work to make sure they succeed.
Although I know that we, the leadership of Living Media and New Life, still have a lot of work to do to finish what we have started with the school construction project, for now our students, teachers, and parents are proving to me and to the community every day that there is greatness inside those unfinished walls. It is because of that greatness that we are more committed than ever to make sure that physical space housing it becomes just as great. We still need your help to make it all the way to accomplishing our goals with the school. Our fundraising efforts over the summer got us this far, but we still have a long ways to go to get the building finished with a completed roof, floors, and doors and windows. For those who have already donated, we thank you. It is because of your support that these children are finding a place to belong and a place to learn. If you are waiting for a perk still from our Indiegogo campaign, know that you can expect it soon as we work with the children to complete some of them. And if you would like to donate at this time to help us continue the project, you can do so at anytime right here on our website under the Donate tab. Thank you for showing these children the new life that awaits for them with an education!
By Lee Rainboth, Living Media Executive Director
I was recently doing some research on other Child Sponsorship programs as we work to strengthen our own and came across a new study done by the University of San Francisco analyzing the effectiveness of such sponsorship programs and whether there is a notable difference between children who participated in them with those that didn’t. The report focused primarily on the work of Compassion International, one of the biggest child sponsorship groups out there with over 2 million kids sponsored between 26 different countries. They’ve been in the business of child sponsorship for 65 years and the report seems to have focused on them mostly because they were the most willing to share all of their records. Having worked with Compassion before myself, I was familiar with their methods and was definitely influenced by them a little over 3 years ago when Living Media decided to make child sponsorship one of our very first programs after the need was exasperated by the earthquake. The fact that we only sponsor 120 children so far in one very specific geographic area of one country, means that there are many very obvious differences between what we do and what an organization as experienced and developed as Compassion does, yet this report from USF provides a lot of very powerful evidence for the effectiveness of such programs and I can only hope that years from now our program can be seen to have similar results.
The study looked at over 1,850 formerly Compassion sponsored students in 6 different countries and showed that:
- Former sponsored children stay in school 1 to 1.5 years longer than their non-sponsored peers (In Uganda, the numbers are much higher—2.4 years). An extra year of schooling could have long-lasting impact on a child’s future employment possibilities as an adult.
- Former sponsored children were 27-40 percent more likely to finish secondary education than those who were not enrolled in the child sponsorship program.
- Former sponsored children were 50-80 percent more likely to complete a university education than non-sponsored children.
- As adults, former sponsored children were 14-18 percent more likely to have salaried employment than their non-sponsored peers.
- As adults, former sponsored children were roughly 35 percent more likely to secure white-collar employment than their non-sponsored peers.
- Former sponsored children were 30-75 percent more likely to become community leaders as adults than their non-sponsored peers.
- Former sponsored children were 40-70 percent more likely to become church leaders as adults than their non-sponsored peers
The researchers also noted that what also really set Compassion’s program apart from the other popular sponsorship programs out there was that children spent time every week in after-school programs covering spiritual, physical, social and emotional development. The study is to be published later this month in the Journal of Political Economy.
Neither Compassion or any of the other large sponsorship organizations (World Vision, Plan) work in our area of Mizak which is why we set out to create our own program when the need was identified back in 2010. We in fact reached out to both Compassion and Plan International before starting our program to see if they wouldn’t consider working in the area in an attempt to not reinvent the wheel, but it wasn’t possible for either of them at the time. One of them even used to have a program in the area that they had to close down a couple years earlier and some of the children now registered in our program are children who were previously sponsored through that program. Now 3 years later we are still sponsoring 120 children in elementary school as the only organization in the community offering such an opportunity to parents who struggle to afford their children’s school payments.
Our goals with the program are similar to the results found in the USF study, that these children would have the educational foundations that they need to be successful in both higher education and future employment so that they may become the creative leaders that their society needs to develop. This is why we too partner with local extra curricular clubs for our children to be involved in so that they may grow in ways beyond just academics, such as the Living Media Kids Club at the Baptist Church of LaVoute and the Children’s Cultural Club of Mizak held at a community school in Mizak. Another thing that we share in common with these larger groups is our commitment to support unsponsored children from the moment that they are registered in the program so that they may have the same chance at success as the rest. You can see that although we have 120 children registered we do not have all of them sponsored yet. But their registration in the program is based upon their need, not by their potential to find a sponsor, so we have systems in place to ensure each child registered in the program gets the support that they deserve to succeed in school. Yet the sponsorship of each child is still essential because it sets up that relationship that is so crucial to the child’s emotional development as well. This is one aspect of the program that we are continually working to improve on as we encounter difficulties as a young organization with very limited resources. However we also strive to add elements to our program that are unique such as the connection that it has with our more mature, Sponsor A Dreamer program, through which the children interact with older role models who are also pursuing their educations at the university level.
We thank everyone who has joined us on this journey with these children. Although LMi never intends to sponsor 2 million children around the world, for those children in southern Haiti that benefit from this program, your support is making a huge difference in their futures. We hope to continue to offer this program as long as there is a need and there are sponsors interested in joining us. If you are not already a sponsor, please consider looking through the photos on our Facebook page and selecting a child to sponsor today.
Thank you very much! Kenbe la.
Lee Rainboth, Executive Director
This year, as you are doing your shopping and celebrating, I hope that all of our friends and supporters of Living Media will take some time to stop and remember those Haitians who participate in our programs and think of making the holiday a little brighter for them as well. There are many ways that you can seize the opportunity this season to get your family more involved in helping bring creative education to these children and young adults while bringing awareness to LMI.
Making a donation in honor of your family or someone special to you this Christmas is a gift that will have an impact across cultures and beyond borders far beyond the material value of the gift. You can make a donation of any amount right here on our website on the donate page. If you would like it to be a gift for someone special, simply indicate that in the message field when you make the donation and we will send you a card in the mail acknowledging the gift that you can present to your friend or family member. If you would like a more specific way to give, you can choose any one of the following needs and give a gift at the specified amount.
Sponsor a Child: $150
Staff Support: $275
New Life School Staff Support: $125
Painting Class Supplies: $50
A Literacy Chicken: $25
A Water Filter: $40
Kid’s Club Support: $100
Artist’s Loan: $100
If you choose to provide for any of these gifts, we will send you a unique paper-mache Christmas ornament handmade by one of our artists along with the card. The ornament will be similar to the ones pictured at the right.
Or, if your family decides together that this year they would like to make a larger gift towards Living Media might I suggest one of the following two options:
Sponsor A Dreamer: $1650 Giving the gift of an education to a young adult with big dreams is perhaps the greatest gift you could ever choose to give. By providing a young leader with the opportunity to pursue their educational goals this gift will not only have a huge impact on the individual by giving them valuable knowledge and skills that will lead to economic stability in the future, but it will also positively affect their family and their community. Our dreamers in this program are trained to give back to the community and the younger generation of leaders in a variety of ways. You will also be able to build a relationship with the dreamer that will last a lifetime. You can read more about this program here and here.
A Room at New Life Primary: $2500 We have been working since May to build a new school for our children at New Life Primary but we are still a little ways away from reaching our goal and being able to complete the school. We are hoping to be able to begin classes in the new building after Christmas break, but in order to do that we still need your help. You can build one entire classroom for just $2500 and if you choose to do so we will paint an inspirational Haitian proverb on the interior wall of the room in your honor. Then you will know that this one gift from your family will be a motivation for young imaginations to grow and learn for years to come. You can learn more about the New Life Primary School here and here.
Please consider all of these options and search for a way for your family to celebrate with ours this year. Of course, if you still want something to wrap and put under the tree, you can always head over to our art gallery on facebook and look at all of the beautiful artwork and craft items that we have for sale there. Thank you very much for thinking of us this holiday season and we wish all of our friends and supporters out there the warmest wishes for a beautiful and blessed Christmas.
Peace, Lee Rainboth, Executive Director.
The beginning of the school year has arrived once again and we at Living Media are looking forward once again to working with the staff at our New Life Primary School to make this year full of creative education for the children there. After finishing the last school year with 86 students, we have registered over 30 new students throughout the grades K – 6. We have also added to our staff there with new teachers and a new principal as our previous director moved to the city to work as a firefighter. Over the summer we offered multiple trainings to these staff so that they would be prepared to provide the children with the most effective and creative educations possible. This year we will also be teaching the children more art and English to add to their typical curriculum.
Because of all of this, my staff has told me that this year we have a “zo lekol” which translates directly as “bone school” but it’s a phrase Haitian’s use when something’s very impressive, awesome, “zo”. The community has responded positively to our school and seen that they can count on us for a quality education for their kids, which is reflected in the increased registration.
Our physical environment for the children still isn’t ideal, however. Our plans were to start the new school year in our new building, but we were not able to reach our funding goal in time to complete the construction. We are still about $15,000 short of what we need to complete the school complex. So the children have started the year of classes in the same location that they have been in the past two years. We are hopeful that we will be able to move to the new location after Christmas break. We are also still waiting for new benches. We received a very generous donation of over 30 school benches, each able to hold at least 4 children, from some friends in Minnesota, however they did not arrive on time for the start of school. So we have borrowed benches from our Learning Institute, and there still isn’t enough seating for all of the kids. But that doesn’t stop them from coming and squishing in to learn! The new benches should be arriving any day so that we can get the students more comfortable in their classrooms.
We will once again be able to provide the children with a hot lunch every day thanks to our partnership with Then Feed Just One. We are happy to be able to give the students the nutrition that the need to be able to focus and learn to their greatest potential. As the year goes on and we adjust to the changing needs and resources of our community, we look forward to seeing how the children begin to develop and grow into the bold young leaders that will change their country tomorrow.
“What’s in your stomach is what you believe in,” goes the Haitian proverb. So what does that mean when your stomach is empty? Then it’s hard to believe in anything.
Living Media isn’t an organization that’s all about feeding people. We are all about making people believe in themselves and in their capacities to create beauty. We are about believing, dreaming, and creating. So we have teamed up with some other organizations that are about feeding people as well as clean drinking water.
Our Poverty Intervention Team has teamed up in the past with the organization Then Feed Just One to distribute rice to the population of Mizak. That last time that we distributed this rice we were able to serve over 500 families in the community! We have recently received another generous donation from Then Feed Just One and are planning another distribution shortly which will hopefully serve even more people. It’s a shame when families have to choose whether to pay for their kid’s school or pay for their family’s next meal. We can’t provide daily food support through charity which can lead to dependence and entitlement, but through this partnership we are able to, every once in a while, make the burden a little lighter on families so that they can focus on other important things for their families rather than how they’re going to feed them. Believe in wholeness. Believe in health. Believe in family. http://www.thenfeedjustone.org
The PI Team is also undergoing an ambitious project to help provide the community with cleaner drinking water. The first step of this project is to provide a number of water filters to families in the community. We will be receiving these filters from Filter Pure which has a factory nearby in Cyvadier where they actually make the filters. These ceramic filters are placed over a 5-gallon bucket and are able to purify water from the local natural sources to make it safe to drink. It’s a simple and effective technology which is also very affordable at only $35 per filter. It’s also encouraging to be able to get the filters from an organization that is able to hire local labor right here in the Jacmel area to make the filter systems! We have received donations from some churches and other donors in the US to allow us to provide over 100 filters in our Mizak area! Believe in purity. Believe in renewal. Believe in change. http://www.filterpurefilters.org
Finally, the PI Team also recently accomplished the distribution of garden seeds to over 200 local families to be planted right at the beginning of the rainy season, which is now in full force. These seeds were provided by the organization, Hope Seeds, and include such plants as peppers, tomatoes, cabbage, onions, and watermelon. With these seeds the recipient families will be able to plant substantial gardens that will not only provide fruits and vegetables for their own families but also plenty extra to sell in the market to make an income. Through Hope Seeds we have the incredible opportunity to receive these seeds for free so that we may distribute them for the people of Mizak. Believe in growth. Believe in nutrition. Believe in production. http://www.hopeseeds.org
In the United States we would say, “I’ll believe it when I see it.” Haitians would say, “I’ll believe it when I eat it.” Help us to grow that belief. Please check out these other organizations at their websites and consider making a donation to them as well. They need support too in order to provide us with the services that they do.
Keep believing and dream big.
last year we began our adult literacy class at Living Media as a way to provide adults in the area with the basic education that they may never have had the chance to get as children. These people have been speaking Creole their entire lives but have never been able to read or write it. Many of them also depend on small business in the local market to make a little money to support their families but they have never learned the basics of math. We launched the class with almost 50 students ranging in age from 18-76.
The first term of the classes went very well and at the end we were so proud of our students and the progress that they had made that we decided to throw them a party to encourage them and celebrate all they had done. At the party we party we had music and dancing and skits and we served a meal. We also bought each of the students a gift. The women all received new curtains and the men got dress shirts. Everyone had a good time and went home with a new enthusiasm towards learning. Shortly after, we opened a new session of classes and doubled our number of students. We opened a new class and hired an additional instructor to accommodate the increased numbers.
As we continued with the class throughout the year and began approaching the holiday season this past December, we started talking about another party for them. this time, as we started making plans, some of the students came to us with an idea. “Instead of buying gifts for us all,” they told us, “why don’t we use that money towards some sort of community project that will have an impact beyond just us? Then the community will be able to see that it was Living Media literacy students that did it.” Of course we loved the idea. It’s exactly the kind of creative thinking towards community development that we encourage through all of our programs. And this time it came
directly from the students.
After much planning and going over different options for projects we have decided to pursue a chicken raising project. The plan is to provide each student with two chickens to raise with the stipulation that the first chick and occasional eggs afterwords will be given back to be be passed on to another person in the community. Priority for those receiving new chicks will be given to new literacy students in the program. Plans are also being made to install a permanant chicken coop for Living Media in which a certain number of chicks will be kept and raised by the students in order to create a business that can generate money to support Living media’s other programs. Our Poverty Intervention Team will be involved int he distribution of future chickens and our Dreamers will be involved in the training of recipients.
We did still throw a small Christmas party for the students a few weeks ago in which we announced that we would be doing the project and all the students were thrilled to hear the news and are now eager for the project to begin. Now we just have to raise the money to make it happen because a chicken project is a little more spendy than curtains and shirts. We are expecting to need $2200 to start the project for 100 students, with the confidence that it will be able to pay for itself and more from there. If you would like to contribute to this project please donate our “Donate” tab and specify in the message what you are giving for. Thanks for helping us encourage these passionate students to take the initiative to bringing change to their community through some chickens!
If you research art in Haiti you will find one place that is considered the artistic capitol – Jacmel. If you research the greatest contemporary artists currently living and working in Jacmel, at first you will have difficulty because so many of the great artists from the city have moved out of the city or most even out of the country to live and work. But when you do find some names of these artists that are making the most impressive work in the artistic capitol now, at this moment, you will probably find names that are represented in our Living Media Gallery. Vady Confident, Pierrot Clerrisont, Pheonix Joseph Badio, and Georges Dimitry, to name some of the most well known. These are all artists who have exhibited work worldwide in New York, Paris, Miami, Holland, Italy, Canada…in some of the most prestigious galleries and museums. They all have phenomenal talent in their craft and have garnered the attention of many foreign art enthusiasts. They each have little black books full of email addresses and phone numbers of people from all over the world who have seen their art and ensured them that they can go far.
Yet, when any of these artists find themselves in difficult situations, there’s only one phone number that they call – Lee Rainboth. You can search for these guys on the internet and you’ll find articles on them in international magazines and websites, but those articles don’t tell the whole story. They tell about how creative and expressive their work is and how it has the potential to provide hope to a country full of people struggling to survive, but they don’t tell about how the artists themselves struggle to survive day to day. These articles don’t tell about how when these artists run into tough times they have to call up a 27 year old farm boy from Iowa hoping that he can perform some sort of miracle to solve their problems.
If you take your research far enough to actually come to Jacmel and speak with these artists and you ask any of them who is the most talented painter in the city, you will hear one name every time, “Vady Confident.” Vady is such an extraordinary artist that he can bring tears to a grown man’s eyes with the simple beauty with which he can paint a coconut tree. He is the most respected professor at the most respected art school in the city and if he had the chance, he could teach some valuable lessons to the most successful contemporary visual artists of the United States and Europe. He’s that good.
But last week I got a call from Vady. He had a new painting that he wanted me to look at. I, always being excited to see more of Vady’s work, was in a hurry to agree to come see it, but I made it clear even on the phone beforehand that I was not in a position to be able to buy any more artwork at this point. We haven’t had any visitors to our shop for a couple months and even recently had to move out of our Jacmel gallery location and business hasn’t been booming. I don’t even have enough extra space to even exhibit any extra work on commission. But I would be more than happy to come look at it.
As a businessman I should have known better, but the artist in me can’t say no.
To see the painting I went to the home of another artist of ours, Jean Baptiste Gere, who is a friend and student of Vady’s. Jean Baptiste rents a tiny single room tucked back in a crowded little alleyway in the city’s ghetto and when I entered I was overwhelmed to see the huge painting of Vady’s that took up the entire wall of Jean Baptiste’s room. It was a gorgeous Haitian landscape, real enough and large enough that you felt you could walk right into it. My mind had been blown, and thus the internal conflict that so frequently rages inside my soul here began to boil.
Jean Baptiste began explaining to me the situation which I had come to expect. Vady was desperate. He has two young daughters in school and he hadn’t been able to pay anything on their tuition yet and the school’s were going to kick them out. This fantastic painting before me had been on exhibition for a while in a gallery in Port-au-Prince, but they hadn’t been able to sell it yet, so Vady took it back with hopes of letting me hold on to it for a while as long as I gave him enough money to pay for his daughter’s school.
I didn’t have to discuss a price. I knew I couldn’t buy it. As I looked at this painting I knew that if I was selling it in the states it would have to sell for at least $4000 US. At least. But I knew these guys well enough and I know the mindset of Haitian artists well enough to realize that if I offered him $500 for the painting, he’d take it, even if I only gave him $100 now and gave him the rest after I sold the painting. No one else on earth would be able to take that painting for that price, especially a foreigner. He told me later that even the Haitian gallery owners in PAP were expected to give him $1500 for the painting if they sold it. I was dumbfounded knowing that I could obtain one of the most incredible paintings in the country for such an absurdly low price. However, I knew that I couldn’t even offer it, because as an artist I knew that it would be a slap in the face. But even if you took the painting out of the equation, my heart still tossed back and forth with indecision because I hate to see such a talented artist suffer. The businessman in me wanted knew that the painting had the potential to make money, the artist in me also wanted to own something so beautiful, and the human in me wanted to help out a friend in need.
At the same time the businessman in me had no money, the artist in me couldn’t offend a fellow painter, and the human in me really wanted to save up my extra money to buy a new pair of Converse tennis shoes. This is the internal conflict that I can never seem to resolve.
I encounter a number of injustices in my life here every day, but none as frustrating to me as this. Vady Confident, is not supposed to be so desperate for money that he has to compromise his integrity to try to sell me a painting! You cannot be the most talented artist in a city known as the artistic and cultural center of a country that’s been praised for it’s spectacular artistic traditions for years, and have to come to me for help so your kids can go to school! I should be the one chasing after an artist of that caliber to have in my gallery, or even to teach me what he knows as an artist. I could spend my entire life trying and never paint a coconut tree like this man. I should not be begged to come view his work in a dirty alley and have to try to justify not ripping him off. I shouldn’t even have that opportunity.
Many other foreigners would love to have the opportunity to rip off Vady Confident or any one of the other artists I mentioned. Many already have taken that opportunity and that’s why the artists now come to me more often, because they can at least trust me. They’ve all told me storie of sending their best, most prized paintings to foreign galleries with visitors to the country that made promises to them without ever giving any money. Once these visitors left with their paintings, they never heard from them again. They’ve learned that I’m not the same. They know that I will tell them the truth in any case and always encourage them without exploiting them. They know that even when I don’t need any paintings for the gallery I’m still always interested in seeing their work and will even call them from time to time just to see how they’re doing. They know that if they see me riding through the street on my motorcycle they can flag me down just so we can go get something to drink on the beach and talk about art and culture and religion and politics. They also know that when they really need something, I’m always there for them.
But this time, I knew that I couldn’t do anything for Vady. I told Jean Baptiste that instead of paying him an offensive price for the painting that I didn’t have room for and probably couldn’t even sell because of its size, I’d rather just give him a gift to help him pay for his daughter’s school, but at that point, I didn’t even have enough spare cash to even give him a gift. And that’s how I left it, without making any promises but letting Jean Baptiste know that I would talk to him and Vady again in a few days to see if anything had changed.
I hadn’t even asked where Vady was. I assumed that he was simply too ashamed of his situation to even come speak to me. Then, just as I was leaving and walking out of the alleyway, up pulled Vady on his dilapidated little moped and a big smile on his face, happy to see me. And who was on the back of his moped? His two adorable little daughters in their pink checkered school uniforms and big ribbons in their hair. He had just picked them up from school and came straight to Jean Baptiste’s to see if I had come yet. Looking into his daughter’s faces, knowing that I couldn’t do anything for them, I felt like lying down in the street right in front of them and letting the bike run me over.
I just told Vady that I had already spoken with Jean Baptiste and he would update him on what we discussed about the painting. I got on my motorcycle with my chauffeur, Papi, and we drove off. On the way home, I vented to Papi about how upside down the whole system is and how frustrated I was about it. He’d heard it all before. It wasn’t the first time I’d released this discourse on him on the motorcycle. I’ve had similar experiences with all of my other artists. Pheonix fell and injured his foot and didn’t have money for a doctor’s visit or even any Tylenol for pain. But he had paintings. Pierrot’s lease was up and he didn’t have any rent money. But he had paintings. And all I’ve got is a heart that’s sensitive to artists’ needs.
I don’t know what the solution to this situation is or if there even is one, but all that Living Media can do for now is continue to support these artists by selling their work through our gallery and helping them find the resources they need to keep creating. Please visit our gallery on Facebook to experience some of their beautiful artwork. It deserves to be seen.