When the 2010 earthquake hit Haiti, it leveled much of Jacmel’s colonial architecture, and the streets were given over to piles of rubble. In the wake of this disaster, visitors to the country’s cultural capital might be surprised to find that dozens of mosaics now enliven its walls, plazas, and public seating areas. The tiny, multicolored stones and ceramic fragments have become so ubiquitous that local officials have incorporated them into the city’s new logo. These days, “Jacmel” is almost synonymous with “mosaic.”
The city’s colorful rebirth began just after the earthquake, when Louisiana-based mosaic artist Laurel True joined up with the Art Creation Foundation for Children (ACFFC) to create a memorial mural in the city. With the help of children enrolled in ACFFC’s programs, True composed a 17-foot-long tableau inspired by the Tree of Life on a concrete wall that wraps around the city’s beachfront. The project was well received by the community — so much so that they eventually extended it to cover the length of the 350-foot wall.
Over the next two and a half years, True traveled to Haiti more than 25 times, teaching youths between the ages of 12 and 22 how to create mosaics through an ACFFC program she helped develop. The participants were either living on the street or in danger of doing so. Many were orphans, or had only one parent, and few consumed more than four meals a week. ACFFC took care of basic needs like access to food, clean water, health care, and school fees, while also proving that art can have a lasting impact — and not just of the emotional kind.
Creating mosaics actually gave the youths a way out of poverty by teaching them practical life skills — how to develop a design, estimate costs, put together a proposal, purchase supplies, and manage a team. “[Learning how to make mosaics] promotes well-being through creative expression, helps to build skills, self-esteem, broadens [the children’s] horizons creatively and in other ways personally and as a group,” True told Hyperallergic via email. “It has opened up so many doors for these kids, in ways none of us could have imagined.”
Since the program began, the youths have been commissioned to create mosaics by the City of Jacmel, the Ministry of Tourism, and many private clients (you can even sponsor a mosaic yourself). They’ve also begun working outside Jacmel — on a mural at the Mirebalais hospital (completed in conjunction with Partners in Health), and on various projects throughout Port-au-Prince (with the organization Sow A Seed). Proceeds go back to support the programs at ACFFC, and a portion is also put into a bank account for each apprentice mosaic artist.
Of the 500 kids who have participated in the mosaic program, a few have even taken up mosaic-making as a life calling. True hired one especially talented young man named Josue Jean to join her in her US studio as an apprentice. About a dozen other kids have traveled to Florida and California to work on projects.
“We realize that not all children will become artists,” said Katherine Bullock, US director of operations for ACFFC. “But we do know that the art training, combined with their education, is providing them with the tools they would not have had otherwise to explore what they want to become and what they want to do with their lives.”
She pointed to the example of one teenager who realized he had other aspirations. With the help of ACFFC, he enrolled in a professional school in Jacmel and is now learning to be a mechanic — something that would never have been possible without the mosaic program. “The ultimate goal has and always will be self-sufficiency for our kids,” Bullock said. That it’s also made Jacmel a more a beautiful place to live is just a bonus.
h/t Huffington Post