Carribean artists contribute to Porter Foundation Symposium

by Margot Byrne | 2/19/13 11:00pm

Contemporary Caribbean artists will bring awareness of Haiti's financial and educational struggles to Hanover this week as part of the inaugural Porter Foundation Symposium, which kicks off today.

The conference, titled "Haiti and Dartmouth at the Crossroads," will bring together working Haitian artists with businessmen, healthcare specialists and government officials, including former Haiti prime minister Michele Pierre-Louis, to generate new initiatives to assist Haiti's efforts to recover from the devastation of the 2010 earthquake.

The three-day symposium will feature interdisciplinary projects in education, healthcare and economic development, according to Amita Kulkarni '10, a conference coordinator and presidential fellow in global health at the Dartmouth Center for Health Care Delivery Science.

The event intends to underscore the role that institutions of higher education can play in Haiti's reconstruction.

"It's been over three years since the earthquake but there is still a lot of work to be done," Jack Wilson, studio art professor and a conference coordinator, said. "Institutions like Dartmouth need to stand up and help Haiti get back on its feet."

Since the earthquake, Wilson, an architect, has worked in Haiti on various projects to strengthen community development, including the construction and restoration of several facilities. Last year, Wilson received the faculty grant for the Year of the Arts as well as sponsorship from the Hood Museum to organize a conference focused on Haiti. While the symposium primarily seeks to assess Haiti from financial and educational standpoints, Wilson said it would be lacking without a focus on the arts.

"Art, music and dance are at the core of Haitian culture," Wilson said. "We needed to find a way to include these things in the conference."

Echoing Wilson's sentiments, Kulkarni said she considers art and music to be "vital to the well being of Haiti," since they bring hope and comfort during a time of crisis. The symposium's organizers made it a priority to integrate traditional Haitian art expression into the policy-oriented event.

The Haitian ensemble Lakou Mizik will perform with the World Music Percussion Ensemble in "Carnival Time Hot Hot Hot!" on Friday in Spaulding Auditorium.

Lakou Mizik unites an older generation of musicians with their younger student counterparts to reinterpret classic Haitian songs. The songs, which focus on Haitian history, politics and daily life, are performed with traditional instruments and feature modernized lyrics relevant to the country's current political situation.

"[Lakou Mizik's] songs are pure and not overly-produced," Hafiz Shabazz, music professor and ensemble director, said. "I feel a connection to Haitian culture when I listen to their music."

Shabazz came to Dartmouth as a guest lecturer after studying jazz drumming in Trinidad, Ghana and Brazil.

While working in the music department, Shabazz decided to form the ensemble. The group is passionate about playing music from the islands and feels especially inspired by the songs of Bob Marley, he said.

Wilson approached Shabazz earlier this year to plan the symposium and perform with Lakou Mizik. Shabazz was already acquainted with the band's manager, Zach Niles, after working with his mother in Woodstock.

Shabazz, who has conducted research in Haiti, feels a personal affinity for the country. He believes it necessary to preserve and spread its customs, especially those in the arts.

Shabazz hopes students will possess greater affection and empathy for Haiti's rebuilding efforts after attending the conference, he said.

"People generally do not know much about Haitian artists," Shabazz said. "They create some of the best art I have ever seen."

In addition to Lakou Mizik's performance, graffiti artist Jerry Rosembert will create "live" art in the sculpture studio of the Black Family Visual Arts Center on Friday. Rosembert enjoys making "politically-charged street art," which will be a vibrant and powerful part of the symposium, Kulkarni said.

Wilson said he hopes the symposium will raise awareness of the variety of sociopolitical issues that exist in Haiti and broaden the interest base among students. "We want to show students that there is a lot that needs to be done in the world," Wilson said. "We are training future leaders and need to expose them to real issues out there."

The Porter Foundation Symposium will run through Friday.

Kulkarni is a former member of The Dartmouth Senior Staff.