As Obama would say, now let me be clear. The main and primary reason my gallery is co-organizing Haitian Relief LA--the benefit concert and fundraiser set to take place this Sunday, February 14 at Echo Park Lake in Los Angeles--is to raise funds for disaster relief. Non-profit organizations Partners in Health, UNICEF and Hollywood Unites for Haiti (HUFH) will be there to collect donations. In addition to a day of musical performances (to include the fabulous Cape Verde singer Maria de Barros), as well as spoken word and dance acts by local Haitian and Los Angeles artists (like the powerful Roger Guenveur Smith), the event includes several other elements, which should make it a beautiful day for all concerned.
One of these elements has stirred passionate debate. It was dreamed up by Dorsay Dujon, who is the main event producer of Haitian Relief LA and founder of Living Art Los Angeles, a non-profit, which seeks to bring music and the arts to underserved kids in Los Angeles. Dorsay came up with the idea to reach out to visual artists in the community, and invite them to participate in the day's activities by showing up to paint inspiring and uplifting images on donated canvasses. These canvasses, which can be easily affixed to the outside of tents with clips, will then be distributed via HUFH to people living in tent cities for the foreseeable future in Port-au-Prince.
I think this is a perfectly lovely idea. But I was not surprised when some expressed reservations about the sending of art instead of emergency supplies to a people in need of bare-bone necessities. (Just to say it again, the proposition is not to send one or the other, but one in addition to the other.) What did surprise me, however, is the way the idea was received by some artists, who felt strongly that the whole concept was utterly ridiculous. In one email exchange between two artists, one angrily exclaimed that artists would be better off selling the blank canvas and sending even $1.00 to people in Haiti, while the other replied that not everyone who wants to help can afford to send money. Furthermore, he said, ...if the simple adornment of a tent gives the people there something in which they can take some small measure of pride and the temporary reestablishment of their individuality, this is something I'm willing to support.
As someone who has worked in the arts for over 20 years, is married to an artist, and as a writer, is also involved in the creative process, it is so clear to me that a gift of art is a gift of love. Try asking any artist (visual artists, musicians, singers, et al) where their ideas and inspiration come from, and most will say they haven't got a clue. Ideas just make themselves known one day, much like a divine visitation, which leaves indelible footprints of wonder and awe on the artist's heart and soul. Through some unfathomable process, this inspiration finds its way onto canvasses, into instruments, into words on a page and into our hearts. That is the magic of art.
Most people don't know this, but as far as paintings go, Haiti is the biggest source for black art in the world. As a Haitian native, I would be willing to bet anything that if anyone will get this idea, it is Haitians.
I am not surprised when politicians, corporate types and small animals don't understand the value of art. But when artists undervalue art, it just leaves me perplexed.
Second brazen plug for Haitian Relief LA: If you are in LA this Sunday, please come out with your hearts and hopes for Haiti. Wonderful and educational activities for children and families are planned; there will be a beautiful Haitian art exhibition from Galerie Lakaye, with large-scale Haitian-themed sculptures by Pascal Giacomini; a temporary tattoo booth, Haitian food by Ti Georges' Chicken; screening of uplifting documentary film, The Road to Fondwa, and much more! For more information, visit Haitian Relief LA.