Silent art auction blends Haitian art and philanthropy

Courtesy of Vassar Media Relations
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Courtesy of Vassar Media Relations

The College Center multi-purpose room will once again be filled with rolling hills that touch the skyline, rooftops of endless shapes and diverse portraits of people living in Haiti. Vassar Haiti Project (VHP)’s 15th annual Art Sale is just around the corner.

The event this year, beginning Friday, Sept. 18, will feature over 300 paintings and thou­sands of handicrafts that capture the life and culture of this Caribbean country. The hours of the sale vary each day. And on Saturday Sept. 19 at 5 p.m., there will be a reception and student presentations about VHP and Haiti.

Over the past decade, VHP’s annual art sale has coincided with Vassar’s Family Weekend in April. However, the event was moved to Sep­tember when the college decided to combine Freshman Families Weekend with the April All Families Weekend.

Addressing this change in timing, Executive member of VHP, Thao Nguyen ’18, said, “It is a challenge because we have less time to prepare and many new members just joining us. But it is also a great opportunity for us to overcome the challenges and make the sale as amazing as possible and really showcase the VHP spirit.”

This is not the only change to the Haitian Art Sale this year. Talking about this year’s for­mat, VHP’s Co-President of Haiti Operations, Jenna Amlani ’16, said, “Usually, a large part of our annual sale at Vassar is the live auction, where we auction off around 30 paintings and large handcrafts. The auction enables us to sell a large number of art pieces in a short time and accounts for a significant percentage of our to­tal sales for the weekend. However, we will not be conducting a live auction this year; we will instead hold a silent auction for a few pieces.” A silent auction is an auction in which guests silently record bids on paper.

Proceeds from VHP’s annual Art Sale will support numerous programs in Chermai­tre—a mountain village in Haiti unreachable by road. Director of International Services and Co-Founder of VHP, Andrew Meade, noted, “The April 2015 sale raised close to $50,000. The bulk of those funds went toward support­ing a primary school in the village of Chermai­tre, Haiti, specifically helping to fund a school lunch program and teacher salaries. The pro­ceeds from this year’s September Sale will also be used to support the school.”

Paintings and handicrafts featured in VHP’s Haitian art sales come from the organization’s annual Spring Break trip to the Caribbean country. In the latest trip, Co-Founders of the project, Andrew and Lila Meade, visited gal­leries and art markets in Haiti with 10 other students to buy artworks from over 100 artists in the area. “Many offer their works through a particular gallery, which mediates between art­ist and buyer. Still others prefer to sell through street vendors, who erect canvases along street side walls that beckon to passerbys.”

In recent years, the art has taken on a new significance, as issues in the region have neg­atively affected many local artists. Meade con­tinued, “Haiti’s art market has greatly shrunk since its hay days from the 1950s into the early 1980s, largely due a comparable decline in tour­ism stemming from political unrest and insta­bility. The market took a further hit during the 2010 earthquake that leveled several prominent art galleries and disabled numerous artists. The craft itself has not suffered; the canvases are replete with explosive and hopeful colors and images. The art continues to reflect Haiti’s inner, resilient soul.”

Recounting his most vivid memory from the 2015 trip, Meade noted, “One of the highlights during my time in Haiti was exploring the gor­geous interior of Gallery Issah, which features two floors filled with hundreds of stretched and unstretched canvasses. The open air win­dows offer a beautiful view of Port-au-Prince bay.”

He continued, “The owner of the gallery, Sharona El Saieh, eagerly shows us one special piece after another and is happy to offer a story or two about each artist.”

Among the Haitian paintings and handi­crafts ready to go on sale in the next few days are works from one of Amlani’s favorite art­ists. She explained, “One of my favorite art­ists whose work we carry in our collection is Adrien Seide. He paints vast landscapes of roll­ing hills, clear skies, and lush trees with a most­ly blue-green palate. The reason that I connect with his artwork so strongly is that many of his paintings resemble the view from Chermaitre, the village we work with in Haiti, to a tee.”

Amlani was already familiar with Seide’s work before her first visit to Chermaitre. She credits this exposure with preparing her for her first trip, and giving her an insight into the local culture and topography.

She elaborated, “I had seen many of his paintings at various art sales before I traveled to Haiti; when I visited with VHP in my sopho­more year, I felt like I had literally stepped into a painting. “

“One of the aspects I love most about the artwork we carry is that it perfectly captures everything that is beautiful about Haiti’s land­scapes, people, and culture, through the eyes of Haitians themselves. I believe that appreciat­ing the Haitian artwork and using it as a lens to better understand Haiti as a whole is just as important as our fundraising efforts for our various initiatives,” she continued.

In addition to raising money for a good cause, the art sale is also an opportunity for students in the project to learn, bond and ex­plore. Talking about her experience working with the project, Nguyen said, “VHP-ers are the most warm-hearted, kind, brilliant group of people who all want to make changes in the world and better others’ lives…VHP gives me opportunities to constantly take on new tasks and challenges. I’ve learned and grown a lot and am continuing to grow every day.”

After the September Art Sale, VHP has al­ready sketched a detailed plan for the coming months. After 2 more shows, the group will bring 10 students on its annual trip to Haiti and restock on art for next year’s sale.

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