Artists of African descent and UNESCO join forces to build resilient responses to COVID

Representing Haiti in the panel were Jean Jean, Daphné Ménard, Rachel Magloire, Florence Jean-Louis Dupuy and Pierre-Michel Jean. Participating for the Dominican Republic were Darío Solano, Omar Tavarez, Ana María Belique, Roldán Mármol and Marily Gallardo. All are personalities from the world of theatre, music, cinema and cultural management, all activists in cooperation and solidarity projects between the two countries, “birds of a feather”, as they pointed out.
On behalf of UNESCO, the Director of its Regional Office for Culture in Latin America and the Caribbean, Katherine Muller-Marin, and the Director of its Office in Port-au-Prince, Pilar Álvarez-Laso, took part in the dialogue. Participating for UNFPA was Yves Sassenrath, its representative in Haiti.
Among the topics that drew the attention of the creators convened were the harmful effects of COVID-19 on the exercise of their status as artists; the ways of turning challenges and risks into new opportunities for cultural achievement and social cohesion through cross-border cooperation, the deepening inequalities, social exclusion, racism and other forms of discrimination undergone by the popular culture of African origin and the lack of recognition of indigenous cultural expressions which, nonetheless, are helping people to build resilience against the onslaught of COVID-19.
Los panelistas apuntaron igualmente la importancia de fomentar redes de solidaridad y colaboración binacionales para fortalecer la capacidad de respuesta no solo ante el coronavirus -que es solo la crisis más reciente-, sino también a la precariedad laboral habitual; la difícil situación de los portadores de tradiciones, dada su avanzada edad y su pertenencia a comunidades desfavorecidas; el debilitamiento de la herencia cultural, producto de la pérdida física de los ancianos, custodios de las expresiones culturales originarias, entre otros tópicos.

Panellists also noted the importance of fostering binational solidarity and collaboration networks to strengthen the capacity to respond not only to the coronavirus -which is merely the most recent crisis-, but also to the habitual job instability, the difficult situation of elderly tradition-bearers given their age and permanence in disadvantaged communities, the weakening of cultural heritage resulting from the physical loss of the elderly, custodians of native cultural expressions, among other topics.

In the Dominican Republic, for example, over 30 native groups and their fraternities have been seriously affected by the physical loss of their elders. Such is the case of Jesús Minier, an artisan from the Cofradía Mata Los Indios, an expert in making musical instruments, whose death has been cause for alarm in the community.

Adversity has tested the inventiveness of artists, who have found innovative solutions -often digital- to continue offering their art to the public. However, to make these alternatives sustainable and lasting, effective public policies are required to provide them with legal protection and contribute to their legitimization in civil society.

Cross-border actions between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, such as AZUEI and TranDo, are some examples of these alternatives, for which work with people of African descent is essential. In the current circumstances, however, they face enormous difficulties given the closing of the border and the economic impact of Covid-19.

In addition, the need to act beyond closed spaces has brought them closer to the land, to the creation of green theatres, in natural environments, which encourages a return to the gregarious roots of art, a growing respect for biodiversity and a more comprehensive view of creation, as a vector of development in areas such as health, environmental protection and social cohesion.

Panellists stressed the urgent need for UNESCO to represent them before government entities and private organizations, to generate alliances for the protection of cultural traditions with an African matrix, from a decolonization perspective, and to help them insert themselves in the traditional mechanisms for the distribution, consumption and promotion of art.

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