Finding a reliable source of high-quality, affordable and sustainable Haitian artwork can be a challenge— even for those who travel to Haiti often. Haggling for art or souvenirs from roadside vendors can get old real fast— and who knows how— or whether— the actual craftspeople who made the items are compensated fairly for their artistry.
The Artisan Business Network is designed to help casual collectors, tourists— and especially diaspora Haitians hoping to support homegrown artists without anxiety about who’s profiting. The network, developed jointly by Fairwinds Trading and HAND/EYE Fund, empowers Haitians with entrepreneurial tools, design input, and market access. They operate three depots— or retail shops— in Jacmel, Port-au-Prince and Croix-des-Bouquets, where many of the Haiti’s distinctive and beautiful metal pieces are created.
The Reporter visited the ABN’s Port-au-Prince location in May. Tucked into a quiet corner of the heavily residential Pacot neighborhood, the gallery is managed by Nathalie Tancrede, a Haitian-American woman who hails from New York, but now lives and works in the capital. Tancrede and her team are on hand to show visitors a wide array of Haitian-made art pieces and home goods- everything from Vévé flags to dinner ware. And, ABN can also make arrangements to ship larger pieces back to the United States, Canada and other points on the compass.
“At the end of the day our goal is to create jobs,” explains Tancrede. “We don’t want people coming here and buying out of charity, because we want our work to be sustainable. We want our artists to be able to build homes, send their kids to schools, afford health care- in order to do that we need to meet global standards, so quality control is very important for us.”
A team of managers routinely visits artisans in their homes and studios “to check on every single piece that’s made before we ship it to the States.”
Many pieces curated by ABN are finding their way into American and Canadian homes via the department store Macy’s, which introduced a special line of Haitian-made home décor items. The Heart of Haiti collection is now featured in 25 stores and online — where the website features photos and brief biographies on individual artisans— lifting a cloak on anonymity that often leaves Haiti’s artisans unknown and under-compensated for their master-works.
The same attention is evident at the Haitian outlets, where most pieces are carefully hand-signed by artists, some of whom come to the retail sites to conduct workshops.
“Once a month we have an artisan night where we bring an artisan to show the public how things are done,” said Tancrede. “And it’s also to give the artisan some type of recognition, because a lot of times folks come here and buy stuff— and we sell it under their name— but they never get credit.”
Perhaps even more importantly, the artists are paid fairly for their work, according to Tancrede. The project is subsidized in part by foundations, including the Kellogg Foundation, which helps to keep costs low and pass more earnings onto the artisans.
“We sit down with the artisans and say, ‘What did this piece cost you to make…and then we add their margin,” explains Tancrede. “After we calculate the costs with the artisans, ABN adds a small percentage. We’re not looking to make a huge profit, but at the end, we do need to be sustainable.
“We don’t want charity. We don’t want people to buy our stuff because they feel bad for us. No, we want people to keep going. We keep on making things better so both the artisans and clients are happy.”
Paper mache products are among the most popular items sold domestically, she said.
:Paper mache is very popular because it’s bright, it’s colorful, and there’s so many different items: bowls, trays, wall art, picture frames, so many decorations for kids and adults,” explained Tancrede.
But the best seller on the international is the metal work, much of it produced in the Haitian city of Croix-des-Bouquets, where metal artisans are plentiful and highly-skilled. Intricately-designed lanterns, bowls, mirrors and picture frames are highly sought-after from the Croix-des-Bouquets team, which is getting even more exposure this year thanks to their large-scale pieces that dominate the spectacular lobby bar in the newly-opened Marriott Port-au-Prince. The hotel staff has sent many guests to the Pacot outlet to shop for souvenirs.
Tancrede says that the network eventually hopes to find new markets for their work, including Haitian-owned small businesses in Haitian-heavy hubs like Boston and Miami.
If you go: The Artisan Business Network outlet is located at #22, 1ere Ruelle Wilson in the Pacot section of Port-au-Prince. The phone number in Haiti is (509) 3702-9473.