Long before the international community became Haiti’s prime benefactor following the devastating 2010 earthquake, the Vassar Haiti Project was created to raise money for the rural village of Chermaitre through the sale of Haitian art. “We wanted to support a project that didn’t have anyone else supporting it and we wanted it to be about education. We knew of a rudimentary primary school on top of a mountain in a rural area and we said, ‘Okay, that sounds like us.’ It was the village of Chermaitre,” says Andrew Meade, director of international services at Vassar College, and founder of the Vassar Haiti Project, which he started in 2001.
VHP chairs Andrew and Lila Meade have a long connection with the Caribbean nation—Lila’s mother was raised there and Andrew graduated from high school in Haiti in the 1970s. The project’s motive stems from the Meades’ drive to keep Haitian art alive by buying paintings and handicrafts and selling them in live auctions and art sales at Vassar and throughout the Tri-State area. “We took a bunch out of our savings, bought a lot of art and held an auction with a big turnout. We knew we were onto something,” says Andrew Meade.
Today, VHP’s mission includes four main initiatives: education, healthcare, reforestation, and water purification. The money raised through art sales fund VHP’s work in Chermaitre as well as a student trip to Haiti in March. They have funded a school and provided hot lunches and salaries for teachers, installed a pump adjacent to the school that filters water from the local stream, started a medical clinic, and planted apricot, citron, lemon, coconut, and mango trees to establish a ready supply of fruit in the village. This month, 10 students will travel to Haiti along with one alumnus.
The upcoming 11th annual sale at Vassar includes a live auction with over 400 paintings and thousands of handcrafts, hand-painted silk scarves, and iron sculptures. The most recent sale, in January, at Convent of the Sacred Heart School in Greenwich, Connecticut, raised $25,000.
Though the project is centralized in Chermaitre, the art is curated from four galleries and markets in Port-au-Prince. The auctions represent on average 100 mostly lesser-known artists who live in the vicinity of Port-au-Prince.
Because of Chermaitre’s location in northwestern Haiti, the 2010 earthquake left the village unscathed, yet the artists were not as fortunate—85 percent were left homeless like much of Port-au-Prince’s population. When the earthquake hit painter Raymond LaFaille, whose work illustrates women in the market, narrowly escaped from the second floor of his crumbling concrete home.
On an October 2010 trip to Haiti, Lila and Andrew Meade experienced the earthquake’s aftermath for themselves and met a few of the artists for the first time. “It was really exciting to finally put a face to the name. We met Joseph Aderson who just has the sweetest smile and a gentle energy, which translates to his paintings of candy-colored boat and ocean scenes,” says Andrew Meade.
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As a VHP member for over three years, co-president Fiona Koch was drawn to the project by the mission and sense of community. “Actually going to Haiti is when it really clicked for me. Small as it is in the bigger picture, seeing the tangible results makes everything we do worth it,” says Koch.
Andrew Meade boils the project’s philosophy down to one concept: “VHP is about being involved in something bigger than just you.”
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The annual Vassar Haiti Project art sale and auction will open on March 30 at 5pm in the College Center’s multi-purpose room with a presentation from the students recently returned from Haiti. The live auction will be held Saturday afternoon from 4pm to 6pm. Sunday is the final day of the sale. Thehaitiproject.org