Finding Haiti on Miami’s Walls

By: Caribbean Journal Staff - August 21, 2012

Above: Wolfgang Mosaic and local resident Jeanne Marvil (All photos by CJ)

By Alexander Britell

The walls of Miami’s Little Haiti have proven to be a frequent canvas for the neighbourhood — from the diverse creations of local artist Serge Toussaint to murals remembering the victims of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti.

Now, a new generation of artists in Little Haiti is getting its chance to put brush to wall thanks to a local affordable housing developer.

Each day, a group of painters focuses on a 80-foot-long wall at the Pinnacle Place apartments on 56th Street and NE 4th Avenue.

The mural, just steps away from the Little Haiti Cultural Centre, provides a training ground for Little Haiti’s budding young painters (who also get paid for their time on the mural) — and a colourful reminder of the vibrancy of the neighbourhood.

The programme is being conducted by MLK, or “Moving the Lives of Kids,” at Pinnacle Place, an affordable housing development of Miami-based Pinnacle Housing Group.

“I think public art is one of the most powerful tools to do several things to a community,” says Kyle Holbrook, founder and CEO of MLK. “It can inspire a community, when there’s a change about to happen, and, for a community like this, having residents work with residents outside, it can instill that community feel.”

Pinnacle Place

MLK had a strong hand in relief efforts in Haiti after the earthquake, working on a cash-for-work programme in several regions in the country with an emphasis on art.

The initiative helped 7,000 Haitians help create artwork about issues like ecology, recycling and tree planting.

MLK also helped fashion the Haiti earthquake remembrance mural on Miami’s 79th Street, among others.

In the predominantly Haitian neighborhooud, just a minute away from the Little Haiti Cultural Centre, the hope is that this kind of art can have a particularly tangible impact.

“We’re trying to do it with as many young aspiring artists as we possibly can,” says Louis Wolfson III, a founding partner of Pinnacle Housing Group, which is making public art a hallmark of each of its affordable housing projects across Miami. “The impact in the Haitian community should be wonderful — it’s a real opportunity to pursue a passion for the first time in many of their lives.”

Pinnacle has two other projects in development in Miami with similar art initiatives, Wolfson said.

The highlight at Pinnacle Place is the leadership of local artist and Port-au-Prince native “Woff” Senatus, aka “Wolfgang Mosaic,” a promising young muralist who is spearheading the artistic efforts on the wall. The aforementioned Toussaint has also lent a hand in artistic training.

Senatus arrived from Haiti at the age of 2, and led a troubled adolescence — even becoming homeless at the age of 13.

But he has turned exceptional struggle into exceptional creativity, and, from helping design the Pinnacle mural to designing outdoor frescoes across Miami, he is working to help local youth focus their energies on art — using Haiti as inspiration.

Young artists at work

“There will be many individual stories like Wolfgang’s,” Wolfson says. “Hopefully this is a start — and will spark a passion.”

Haiti is at the centre of Woff’s work. The 22-year-old says he wants to use his creativity to combat what he believes is a misperception many have about Haiti.

“People have a kind of feud with the Haitians,” he says. “They were the first to revolt, and it’s like that is all they’re known for. But what else?”

It’s that “what else,” the image of Haiti abroad (something Haiti First Lady Sophia Martelly discussed with Caribbean Journal last week), that he says he wants to help promote.

“I want to show that what else — I want to be the voice of the Haitian community, he says. “I feel like for Haiti, I want to be that breath of fresh air — Haiti is one of my biggest influences.”

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