I’ve now made half a dozen visits to Haiti over the past months, putting into place a Smithsonian effort to help Haitians save their cultural heritage. Museums, galleries, historic buildings, and every church in Port-au-Prince collapsed, leaving the history and heritage they contained in disarray. The recovery project will target art work, artifacts, documents, and historical sites damaged by the tragic earthquake.
Of the 14 murals at Holy Trinity Cathedral, only three survived, including The Baptism of Our Lord, by Castera Bazile, and The Last Supper, by Philomé Obin. Read more in Smithsonian Magazine
Yet, no matter how horrific the damage—over 250,000 deaths, 1 million made homeless, extensive devastation of the nation’s infrastructure—I am overwhelmingly impressed by the resilience of the Haitian people. Their ability to pick themselves up, to go on with their lives, to care for their loved ones, and to continue to make beautiful art is amazing to behold.
Haitians, although poor in many resources, are rich in art and culture: artists paint the earthquake; craftsmen take flattened metal and turn it into sculpture; students draw; people sing.
A few weeks ago, while visiting Port-au-Prince and the destroyed Holy Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, one of the city’s masterpieces, I heard students practicing their music amidst the rubble. The roof, walls, and fragments of 12 of the church’s murals depicting biblical scenes with life size Haitian figures lay on the ground. A great organ was literally crumpled. Yet here was music and the voice of youth rising from the remains of the once beautiful church. The students, who come from diverse backgrounds from all over the region, study at the Holy Trinity Music School, also in ruins. Boys sing in the Les Petits Chanteurs choir.
Now those uplifting voices, joined by the Holy Trinity Chamber Ensemble, are here in Washington, D.C. They will give a free concert in the National Museum of American History’s Flag Hall at noon on Friday, September 17. The concert is open to the public, and we will all have the opportunity to see and hear the singers in what promises to be a poignant performance. If you want to know what hope sounds like, come to the concert.
Richard Kurin is the Under Secretary for History, Art and Culture at the Smithsonian Institution.