On Sept. 28, 29 and 30, the Vassar Haiti Project (VHP) will host its 18th annual art sale in the College Center. Vassar, through VHP, has had a long-standing commitment to the Haitian artists who create the original paintings and crafts. Founded in 2001, VHP provides a global view of art and sustainable development, connecting the College with the welfares of Haitian artists and artisans.
On the importance of the art sale, VHP Co-President Daniel Elundu ’18 explained via email, “The annual sale is our oldest sale as an organization and our biggest event on campus. It is a way to engage students, administrators, faculty and community members. It is our most direct way to involve Vassar in our partnership with students and that is important for us as an organization that is based here on campus.”
He went on to explain the significance of the artwork itself: “I definitely see how the artists in Haiti take pride in their work. I see how the people in the community are willing to bring themselves forward to help sustain the communities through the initiatives. I have learnt a lot about Haiti since I started working with VHP and that knowledge, interactions with people in Haiti, with the artists and young students paint a vibrant picture of a strong society with resilience.”
The artwork also resonated with Events Co-Vice President Annabell Su ’21, who recounted in an emailed statement, “Every brush stroke on the canvas is the artist’s effort to paint life, every iron sculpture comes with the ‘bing-bangs’ of the hammer, every scarf is hand-painted, every bag of coffee comes from the tree planted by women in Chermaitre.” The paintings and handicrafts in the sale are evocative memorabilias of the Haitian culture.
Recalling her decision to join the club, Handcrafts Manager Sonia Gollerkeri ’21 stated via email, “After coming to the last day of set up with a friend, I was drawn in by the org’s mission, all of the colorful art throughout the room and the excited energy of all of the people there. Everyone was incredibly invested and passionate about what they were doing. It’s been amazing to be a part of it!”
The VHP’s enthusiasm and connectedness did not come about by chance and is not restricted to the art sale alone. Elundu explained the org’s fundamental ideology: “The philosophy of VHP revolves around building relationships and strengthening partnerships. The organization is nothing without the interconnectedness, love and community among the people of Chermaitre, students, volunteers, donors and all our partners.”
Describing the collaboration of and rapport among org members, Elundu added, “I think the students, under the guidance of older and more experienced adults, bring a lot to the organization and are able to coordinate big events and sales, refine their leadership skills and contribute to the work VHP does. The amount of different talents students have is really showcased as we all work together during the year on different projects.”
Su elucidated, “The funds raised from September Sale directly [go] to the Education Initiative of VHP, funding one of the programs in the primary school VHP built.” Gollerkeri further explained, “The proceeds from sales (such as the Families Weekend Sale) also allow us to partner with people in Chermaitre to support education, healthcare, water access/purification, reforestation and women’s initiatives.”
Gollerkeri feels that the VHP’s role has expanded in the past decade. She articulated: “Since the 2008 earthquake, tourism, which used to be a major industry in Haiti, has greatly declined. This has harmed the local economy and impacted thousands of people’s livelihoods. By buying artwork directly from either local artists or galleries, we are able to directly support artists and their families and support an important cultural tradition.”
Su stressed the importance of the art sales in establishing a more positive image of Haiti, saying, “Through buying arts from Haiti and selling them back in [the] US, the organization is not only able to raise funds, but can provide a revisualization of Haitian culture, as opposed to the negative portrayal of poor Haitians that the mainstream media often has.”
This year’s art sale will take place on Sept. 28 from noon to 7 p.m., Sept. 29 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sept. 30 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Handcrafts start at $5 and original paintings at $35, and all sales are 50 percent tax deductible. A live auction of original paintings will be held on Sept. 29 from 3 to 5 p.m., with a preview from 2 to 3 p.m. of the items that will be on sale.
Su summarized the spirit of the gala: “For me, the sale is just a great place to be and enjoy—to feel the arts and imagine the lives beyond.”