Culture and national identity, a long-term investment in Haiti’s development

by |March 20, 2013

The Haiti Research and Policy Program at the Center on Globalization and Sustainable Development continued its Spring 2013 Dialogue Series with Kimberly Green, president of the Green Family Foundation. This discussion explored the importance of and areas where small foundations are supporting Haiti’s cultural vibrancy and innovation. In the post-earthquake period, most foundations and policy lost sight of cultural development, instead consistently presenting bleak outlooks that frame most narratives of Haiti in donor reports and the media.

Haitian mosaic with imagery of the environment and forests. Photo Credit: Alex Fischer, CIESIN

Green was joined by Tatiana Wah and Alex Fischer of the Haiti Research and Policy Program at CGSD to discuss how her foundation has focused large portions of its efforts on cultural, historical, artistic and creative endeavors in Haiti’s contemporary society. To do this, the foundation emphasizes different ways to support innovation and creativity building from Haiti’s rich history, ranging from supporting internationally celebrated Haitian artists, to promoting Haitian musicians, to collaborating with the talented Haitian filmmakers who are making important contributions to their respective fields.

Despite the difficult reality facing many Haitians, Green emphasized that these areas of art and culture are usually neglected by traditional aid, policy and development programs. She argued that Haitian art and culture must be protected and supported to flourish. It not only provides jobs as Haitian art and music is sold across the Caribbean and North America, but cultural creativity also reinforces the underlying currents of development. The arts provide a forum for innovation and reflection that are often critical components of long-term development, national identity and growth.

Green noted that small foundations can play crucial roles in investing in long-term ingenuity and innovation within a country’s civil society that can advance the component fabric of a nation to overcome immediate and long-term challenges. Green notes that little can be changed systemically without a view on culture; without the understanding of the people and the way they live their worlds, development programs are limited.

As part of its long-term commitment in Haiti, Green presented a range of the foundation’s activities to advance Haitian culture, including supporting Haitian filmmakers in creating educational films around the Millennium Development Goals; helping to publicize and grow Haiti’s culinary, craft and art houses; and establishing a prominent place for Haitian artists to engage with contemporary society. Notably, the foundation was an integral part in the Grammy-nominated re-mastering of the Alan Lomax collection recorded in Haiti.

Green concluded by suggesting that many development programs and even post-disaster recovery programs are often better served when they include a cultural component.

About the Discussion Series

Over the past three years, a team of over 30 researchers, faculty and PhD students across the Earth Institute has been working to identify strategies to overcome the barriers to effective aid and to support policy aimed at systemic change. Throughout this spring semester, the Haiti Research and Policy Program will host the Dialogue Series to pair Earth Institute researchers with key figures of the Haitian Diaspora, Haitian policy experts, foundations, and Haitian and American government officials. Through the series, we hope to explore a range of critical topics that underpin Haiti’s development and to both challenge prevailing assumptions and propose possible paths towards a more sustainable future in Haiti.

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