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Spiritual Aspiration: Attending the Sixth Inter-American Cultural Ministerial in Haiti

originally posted on: National Endowment for the Arts by Barry Bergey
October 15, 2014

Since 2002, the Organization of American States (OAS) has convened a meeting of Ministers of Culture and Highest Appropriate Authorities roughly every two years. These gatherings carry this rather awkward title because in some countries, most notably the United States, there is no Ministry of Culture. The purpose of these meetings is to discuss cultural policy in the hemisphere and to share, among the 35 member states, strategies for cultural preservation and development. I was privileged to have the opportunity to serve on the U.S. delegation, along with Dr. Richard Kurin, undersecretary for history, art, and culture at the Smithsonian Institution and Melissa Kopolow McCall, deputy development counselor of the OAS mission at the Department of State, for the most recent of these meetings, held in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, August 12-13, 2014.

The theme of the meeting was Cultural Interdependence in the Context of Globalization, a timely subject given the natural disasters visited on the host country and the gratifying intergovernmental responses to help in recovery. Haiti’s commitment to artistic expression as a mode of cultural and economic development became apparent from the opening session. Monique Rocourt, the minister of culture in Haiti, performed a stirring version of the national anthem of Haiti to open the proceedings. Then Haitian President Michel Martelly, himself a former singer of compas (dance music similar to meringue incorporating the Creole language) and keyboardist, known by his stage name “Sweet Mickey,” welcomed the attendees. This was followed by a procession and performance of rara, a form of music heard at parades during the Lenten season that features bamboo trumpets and hide-covered drums.

Writing about the efforts to save the artworks and culturally significant structures after the earthquake, Julian, former minister of culture and communication who became the manager of cultural recovery efforts, said “After trying to save people’s lives, the next thing to save is the people’s reason for living.” More than $5 million was raised for the Haiti Cultural Recovery Project in a campaign to engage specialists to conserve 35,000 items, including historic murals at area churches as well as 6,000 paintings and sculptures at the Centre d’Art. Soon a permanent Haiti Cultural Recovery Center will open both to address the ongoing needs for restoration of art works and to serve as an educational resource for cultural preservation in the future. There couldn’t be a more vivid illustration of the role of intergovernmental collaboration for cultural recovery and development.

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Photo: Housing on the hill in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

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