By Sam Bojarski
Central Brooklyn’s Haitian enclaves contain beautiful parks, public plazas and long-standing social service organizations. However, residents also face instances of violent crime, gentrification and displacement at times, said Regine Roumain, executive director of the nonprofit Haiti Cultural Exchange (HCX). That’s why Roumain created the Lakou Nou artist residency program.
“Artists are formidable articulators for what is happening in their communities,” Roumain said. “Lakou Nou was created to provide opportunities for artists of the Haitian Diaspora to reconnect with their neighborhoods and communities in an attempt to shed light on some of the issues in the community through their artistic practice.”
Now in its fifth year, the year-long Lakou Nou artist residency program allows artists to connect their skills to community needs. Through the program, four artists will each receive $7,000 to implement community art projects in Canarsie, Flatbush, Crown Heights and East Flatbush.
This year’s program participants, selected through an open application process, are multi-disciplinary visual artist Daveed Baptiste, dancer Guerdley Cajus, actor and writer AnJu Hyppolite and Ayanna Legros, a historian and narrative storyteller.
HCX will facilitate partnerships between the artists and community institutions.
“Haitians come from a long history of socially engaged art, from Toto Bissainthe to Maurice Sixto,” Roumain said. “Lakou Nou was created [to] ensure that we aren’t effaced as a community, to claim space, and to create more opportunity for creation and connection.”
On Oct. 24 at 4 p.m., HCX will host a community conversation for the artists to introduce their projects and discuss their collaborations with community members. Look for a link to join the virtual event on the organization’s website and Facebook page.
Program growth and projects
When Lakou Nou, Creole for “our backyard,” launched in 2016, early funding from organizations like New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA) awarded $1,200 stipends. Since then, HCX has continued to raise money for the program. This year, funding comes from NYSCA, the Ford Foundation, New York State Legislature and New York City Department of Cultural Affairs.
“It’s a testament to the importance of the work, and it’s something that we’re hopefully able to continue for years to come,” Roumain said.
Past residents of Lakou Nou have continued to work in their respective neighborhoods and present their work to audiences, many past the one-year duration of the program.
Last month, 2018 resident Madjeen Isaac completed a mural in Flatbush called “Migration,” which envisions the journey of immigrants to the neighborhood. Diane Exavier, a 2017 resident, has presented her community art project, “Each Body Remains a Miracle,” at the Old Stone House in Park Slope.
Roumain plans to fuse Lakou Nou with her organization’s Haiti X New York (HXNY) initiative, which brings Haiti-based artists to New York to present their work.
“I have a goal of bringing [a cohort] of Lakou Nou artists to Haiti to do the same thing,” said Roumain.
The artists need you
Following are the four 2020 Lakou Nou artists and projects selected. Artists are currently seeking community participants for their respective projects. Dates and times for the events associated with each will be released as the projects develop.
Baptiste plans to work with community members to create portraits, screen prints, and garments — all culminating in a choreographed dance performance. To participate, email [email protected] or direct message @Daveedbaptise on Instagram.
Cajus is looking for community members to participate in a dance class that focuses on untold stories of Haitian people. Participant stories will shape the movement of final performances. Participation is open to anyone against the erasure of BIPOC voices. Movement classes are online and open to all levels.
To participate in the dance classes or offer a story, visit https://www.guerdley.com/lakounou.
Hyppolite will complete a collaborative, collective storytelling project that explores individual and collective Haitian identities. Hyppolite will facilitate workshops that use theater games, writing prompts and more to help participants unearth stories. The workshop will culminate in staged readings of the group’s collective work.
Participants do not need to be performers or writers. They simply need to have a desire to tell their story in English and/or Kreyòl. To participate, email [email protected].
Legros is working on a collaborative storytelling project about the evolution of the Haitian community in Flatbush through the lenses of sonic soundscapes, community spaces and oral histories. Special emphasis will be given to people ages 50 and up. To participate, email [email protected].