On Wednesday June 1st, 2016 YRB attended Haïti Optimiste, a celebration of creativity and culture through music, dance, and film at Florence Gould Hall in New York City. It was presented by the French Institute Alliance Française (FIAF) and proceeds support the Institute’s year-round local educational and job creation programming in Haiti.
This year’s event was co-hosted by Grammy Award-winning musician Maxwell, who is of Haitian descent and a staunch supporter of the Institute, along with the Institute’s founder and award-winning filmmaker David Belle. The audience was taken on an intoxicating multi-genre and multi-generational performance tour of Haitian culture.
Through the short film Dans la cour de Vivianne Gauthier, the life and home of 99-year-old dancer and choreographer from Port au Prince are intimately discovered. In a musical performance by Paul Beaubrun, descendent of the legendary Grammy-nominated vodou rock band Boukman Eksperyans, his latest collaboration with Jackson Browne was played for the first time live.
Beaubrun is Haiti’s most promising new international musical talent, with a recent chart-topping solo album and appearances with Arcade Fire, Sheryl Crow, and Lauryn Hill. Riva Précil and Bohio Music will perform a fusion of two Creole African roots jazz ballads, and the multi-generational Haitian roots band Lakou Mizik brought the audience to their feet with three songs off their just-released album Wa Di Yo (You tell them). The official sponsor of the event is Efroymson Family Fund, who sponsored Haïti Optimistein 2015 as well.
Institute Founder David Belle says, “Despite Haiti’s immense and ongoing challenges we, as artists, always find hope and joy through creativity and celebration of culture. Haïti Optimiste is our annual gathering to experience and share what makes the nation so culturally rich and unique, while raising vital support for the ongoing vibrant programming of our Artists Institute.”
FIAF President Marie-Monique Steckel says, “FIAF is delighted to support the Artists Institute. We believe that investing in creative expression is essential to empowering a new generation of artists and storytellers as well as stimulating Haiti’s vibrant and evolving cultural scene and supporting the local economy.”
Following the performance, the celebration continued in FIAF’s Tinker Auditorium where notable Haitian chef Nadege Fleurimond, author of the cookbook Haiti Uncovered: A Regional Adventure into the Art of Haitian Cuisine, treated guests to tasty Haitian delicacies and cocktails.
Photo credit © Kat Cheng
About Artists Institute
In 2004, filmmaker and activist David Belle co-founded a film festival in the vibrant, historic town of Jacmel, along Haiti’s southern coast. The festival’s success led to the creation in 2008 of Ciné Institute, Haiti’s only film school, providing college education and employment opportunities to talented Haitian youth. The Institute quickly gained international support from top filmmakers Francis Ford Coppola, Jonathan Demme, Paul Haggis, and Ben Stiller.
Ciné Institute’s sister school, Audio Institute, created with the support from Quincy Jones’ and Lionel Richie’s We Are the World Foundation, welcomed its first class of students in fall 2013. The Audio Institute is the first professional, vocational school focused on the field of audio engineering and production in Haiti. With their international caliber of training and unparalleled professional exposure, graduates of Audio Institute are already starting to transform the Haitian music industry. The school features world-class recording studios that are attracting top international talent who come to teach, collaborate, and record.
The two schools are united under the umbrella of Artists Institute, with all students receiving full scholarships for film, music production, and audio engineering programs. The Institute is the only college of its kind in Haiti, where just 1% of high school graduates can afford to attend university. It is a vital force in growing and strengthening Haiti’s creative industries.www.artistsinstitute.org
About David Belle
David Belle first travelled to Haiti in 1993 as a young filmmaker, helping to bring to light the nation’s struggle for democracy, and has been working there ever since. Concerned by the unjust treatment of Haitian refugees, his film work later turned to the plight of immigrants in the US for which he was awarded the Alfred I. DuPont Award, the Pulitzer Prize for broadcast journalism. In 2004 David co-founded Haiti’s International Film Festival in the coastal town of Jacmel as a way of supporting the country’s creative and tourism industries. David then founded Haiti’s national film school, Ciné Institute, to educate and support young local filmmakers. David currently serves as CEO of Artists for Peace and Justice (APJ). David and APJ have recently created two vital new institutions in Haiti; The Academy for Peace and Justice and the Artists Institute.