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Written by Anne Tschida, BT Arts Editor   
May 2018

The Haitian Cultural Arts Alliance faces a fight as it expands its reach

FArtFeature_1or many, Little Haiti existed for years as a neighborhood to drive through if you had to. It wasn’t touted as a tourist destination like Little Havana, it wasn’t an arts center, and it certainly wasn’t glamorous. But it was always a vibrant, mostly working-class community, as those who paused to stop by discovered.

Those already there didn’t need to discover their roots, but they did want to promote Haiti and bring their culture to a wider world. Back in 1994, the Haitian Cultural Arts Alliance (or Alyans Atizay Ayisyen, its Haitian name) opened as a non-profit, with the aim to highlight the arts and culture not just from Haiti, but the Afro-Caribbean world and its diaspora. The HCAA, as the Alliance was known, was headed up by businesswoman Mireille Chancy Gonzalez, the popular bookseller Jan Mapou, and well-known artist Edouard Duval-Carrié.

It wasn’t easy to raise funds in and for a fairly disadvantaged community when the Alliance didn’t even have a real home. But in 1995, the HCAA pulled together its first exhibit, “Contemporary Expressions of Haitian Art,” presented at what was then the South Florida Art Center (now ArtCenter/South Florida) on Lincoln Road.

That was followed in 1996 by an exhibit of antiquarian maps of Haiti from Duval-Carrié’s collection at what is now called HistoryMiami. The HCAA would then collaborate with the Bass Museum and other groups.

ArtFeature_2In 2002 Art Basel Miami Beach arrived and transformed the art landscape, but Little Haiti remained far off the beaten path.

Then in 2006, the Little Haiti Cultural Complex (which is funded by the City of Miami) opened its doors on NE 59th Terrace, in the heart of the neighborhood, and the HCAA found a permanent collaborator.

With money from French institutions and other grants, the HCAA expanded its scope to include international exhibits and more community outreach. In 2009, the program “Global Caribbean” was launched to produce contemporary art shows not just for its gleaming new art gallery, but also internationally.

In 2012, “Haiti Kingdom of this World” presented artists from Haiti and its diaspora, in coordination with the Agnes B. Gallery in Paris, and became the first Haitian entry at the Venice Biennale. A new lectures series, also in 2012, started to include broader topics having to do with urban development and social issues.

Other influences were having an impact on the HCAA’s mission, including the devastating earthquake that hit the island in 2010, sending a wave of refugees to Miami. Outreach to the newly displaced population became a focus. The exhibit titled “Haiti -- Art and Crafts -- State of Affairs,” which displayed an array of products from artisans and companies based in Haiti, was one result.

“Post-earthquake reconstruction was at the forefront when we decided to launch this project and the ones that would follow,” says Duval-Carrié, who has been instrumental in much of what has transpired at the HCAA and the Little Haiti Cultural Complex.

ArtFeature_3Eventually, in 2014, the alliance collaborated with the French Heritage Language Program (FHLP) to set up classes for children at the complex, with the objective to teach French to Creole-speaking students, many of whom had recently arrived from Haiti, to help them acclimate to their new home, the idea being that French could then ease the way to understanding the English language.

All didn’t go well, and the land beneath the HCAA quaked a bit itself.

In the end, a paltry number of kids showed up, and the FHLP, which is funded by the New York-based FACE Foundation, decided to turn off the spigot in the spring of 2017. And then things got a little nasty.

The language program coordinator, Alexandra Jeanty, claimed that the HCAA hadn’t paid her for her last months of work, and filed a Wage Theft Complaint with Miami-Dade County’s office of consumer protection. In fairly personal terms, Jeanty addressed her complaint to then chair Chancy Gonzalez.

The HCAA then brought in lawyer Sarah Steinbaum to respond officially.

The dispute is summed up like this: The HCAA claims the FACE Foundation cut off funding as of June 2017, and informed Jeanty that there would be no summer programming unless matching funds could be found. They weren’t.

HCAA claims that, while knowing the funding had ended, Jeanty continued to show up for work and went ahead with the summer session.

ArtFeature_4Jeanty maintains that because the HCAA wrote her checks for the entire time she worked at the language program, she was in effect on the Alliance payroll, although she never received a W-4 form, which is for employees, and instead filled out the form for independent contractors, the W-9.

The formal hearing for this case is scheduled for May, before the county’s Consumer Protection Mediation Center.

If that left a bad taste in the mouths of the HCAA members, they became downright irate when someone named Alexandra Jeanty incorporated a new organization last November, with the name of…the Haitian Cultural Arts Alliance.

“We are most outraged and worried that such an individual with absolutely no moral compass should have the capacity to act or represent us somehow, and we feel we should let the general public know of her devious intent,” says Duval-Carrié. He’s also angry that the limited funds the nonprofit raises must be spent on such legal wranglings.

Attorney Steinbaum thinks there could be two reasons to set up an entity with the exact name of another: out of spite or “to sell back the name.” To fight for naming rights in court would be very expensive, says Steinbaum.

Steinbaum also believes there was a misstep in the original naming, which was Alyans Atizay Ayisyen d/b/a (doing business as) the Haitian Cultural Arts Alliance, because it leaves a door open to ownership of the English name.

Reached by phone, Jeanty says she has no knowledge of this new HCAA. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said. “It’s impossible to have two [organizations] of the same name.”

The one that will be heading into its 25th year anniversary is hitting its stride. Little Haiti is no longer a forgotten enclave, but one rapidly gentrifying and filling with art galleries. Duval-Carrié says he wants to expand the physical reach of the HCAA, possibly setting up residencies or studios in the neighborhood, becoming an integral part of a thriving new cultural destination.

Late last year, HCAA produced an eclectic exhibit, “Visionary Aponte: Art and Black Freedom,” based on a single book of paintings by José Antonio Aponte, an obscure black carpenter who led an anti-slavery rebellion in Cuba in 1812 (taking his cue from the Haitian Revolution). Fifteen artists interpreted his work for this show, which will travel to Duke University in the fall and, Duval-Carrié hopes, eventually to Cuba, so Aponte won’t be obscure anymore.

 

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