Vassar Haiti Project Haitian Art Sale and Auction

This April, the Vassar campus will become an outpost of a Haitian village, with the eighth annual Haitian Art Sale and Auction. Presented by the Vassar Haiti Project, over 300 paintings, sculptures, handcrafts, and hand-painted silk scarves will be on view and for sale in the College Center’s multi-purpose room from Friday, April 3, through Sunday, April 5 (a preview will be on view at the Palmer Gallery, March 30 – April 2). Some of the artists whose work will be on view and for sale, include Fritzner Alphonce, Raymond Lafaille, Pierre Maxo, Mario Montilus, Gary Rochebrun, and Jean Adrien Seide.

Although many of us would not even know where to begin to help the population of a country with 98% deforestation, 70% illiteracy, and 50% unemployment, Andrew Meade reviewed possible options eight years ago and established the Vassar Haiti Project. Since 2001, the project has raised over $400,000 – through various efforts including the annual Haitian Art Sale and Auction at Vassar – and built a seven-room school in Chermaitre, a small village situated in the mountains of rural northwest Haiti outside the city of Gros Morne.

The Haiti Project enables Haitian artists and artisans to be self-sustaining, through the purchase of their artwork, which is then offered for sale at the annual Art Sale and Auction. Co-chairs, Andrew and his wife Lila Meade, noted that Haiti, which used to have a vital and thriving gallery scene, now has limited tourism and sales like Vassar’s are one of the only avenues for Haitian artists to reach a marketplace.

Some community members and businesses have donated art supplies that the Meades and other volunteers (now numbering over 100) pass along to Haitian artists. This April, it will be possible to purchase a work of art, created by a Haitian artist, from supplies donated by Catskill Art and Office Supply. “This is the best of our global village,” according to Lila Meade.

“Through the Haiti Project’s continuing initiatives, we want to support the indomitable Haitian spirit, so vibrant, strong, and free, that is expressed so powerfully and colorfully in the nation’s artwork,” explained Andrew Meade, director of international services and special projects at Vassar.

“Our goal is to create sustainability in our adopted Haitian community. One of the first steps was building the seven-room school that was completed last year. We visited Chermaitre last spring and saw how all the materials to build the school had to be transported, by hand, up a steep incline to the plateau where the village is located,” he noted. “When we gained the plateau, after an hour and a half walk up the hill, we were greeted by 150 schoolchildren serenading us in front of the newly-constructed building.”

“Now that the school is completed, we consulted the village leaders and we have four new initiatives for the Haiti Project – planting trees, water purification, regular medical visits, and emergency relief funds. The environment is a terrible concern in Haiti and in Chermaitre. Severe deforestation has led to the erosion of fertile soil. This country once supported two-thirds of produce available in Europe and now barely can feed itself,” Meade explained.

Some of the goals include raising money to plant thousands of fruit and coffee trees on the hillsides around the Chermaitre. In addition, with the cooperation of Poughkeepsie Rotary, the Haiti Project hopes to establish water collection and purification systems in the village. Vassar students are helping to coordinate these efforts: Maria Jose, class of 2010, and Raluca Besliu, class of 2011, head up trees for Chermaitre; and Rebecca Valencia, class of 2011, coordinates the water purification efforts.

Lila Meade stressed that, “General relief funds are always needed, as we saw when the roof of the school blew off this fall following a severe windstorm (it survived four hurricanes however). The students coordinated a series of benefits last fall and raised $13,000.” She described learning of the roof through an email from Chermaitre, “We have good news and bad news. No loss of life, but the roof blew off.” This, she noted, was indicative of how many times these storms cause not only havoc with buildings, but also devastate communities through loss of life.

Raluca Besliu, a sophomore majoring in international studies, noted that she became interested in the Haiti Project during freshman orientation. She said the project provided her “a sense of family, because of the close and friendly interaction among the volunteers. Lila and Andrew (Meade) are two magnificent people and inspire others to embrace the project with their enthusiasm.”

Besliu was one of four students, and the only freshman, to go to Haiti during the 2008 spring trip. She was enthusiastic about how “amazing it was to see the school and the children first-hand,” but noted, “how tough it was to realize the hardships this village and the Haitian people endure on a daily basis.”

With hopes to become a diplomat, Besliu explained that the Haitian trip was a personal challenge for her. On her return to Vassar she decided to co-chair the reforestation committee and they have already begun raising funds for this purpose with small events in addition to money from the Art Sale and Auction. “We’ve formed over nine committees to work towards achieving the goals the village leaders addressed, with the ultimate goal to achieve total sustainability in Chermaitre. One day I hope to return and see the village flourishing—the school helping to light the village with rooftop solar panels, a clean and safe water supply, and a trade school that will train and provide inhabitants with job skills for the future.”

In addition to the Art Sale and Auction, the Meades advised that the Haiti Project is looking for a donation of a 4 x 4 vehicle, for those who may be downsizing to a smaller automobile. Currently Pere Jean Lenord Quatorze walks seven hours to reach the six villages that he oversees, traveling to each village over mountainous unpaved roads. Please contact [email protected], if you would like to make a tax-deductible donation of your 4 x 4 vehicle to the Vassar Haiti Project.

Auction Viewing:
Monday, March 30 through Wednesday, April 1: 11am – 7pm
Palmer Gallery, 1st floor of College Center

Sale of Haitian Paintings and Handicrafts
Friday April 3: 12:00pm – 8:00pm
Saturday April 4: 10:00am – 4:00pm
Sunday April 5: 10:00am – 2:00pm
Multi Purpose Room, 2nd floor of College Center

Live Auction of Haitian Art Auctioneer: Bill Rinaldi, Rinaldi Auctions
Saturday, April 4
* Registration and preview: 2:00pm – 4:00pm
* Live Auction of Haitian art: 4:00pm – 6:00pm
Absentee and telephone bidding will be accepted.
Multi Purpose Room, 2nd floor of College Center