Does Little Haiti's Cultural Scene Need To "Reintroduce" Itself?

Feb 27, 2013

Credit CC by ND-2.0 / Photo by Bob B. Brown via Flickr

Last week, Jordan Melnick of Beached Miami posted an interesting interview with the organizers of a new event in Little Haiti dubbed "Sunday Stroll." The monthly event starts this Sunday, March 3, organized by the underground art studio and gallery Yo Space, and supported by Sweat Records and the Little Haiti Cultural Center. Melnick interviewed Yo Space's founder, Yuval Ofir, who wants to introduce a wider audience to small, creative businesses established in the area:

In your press release, you say Sunday Stroll will allow Little Haiti to “reintroduce” itself as a “region ripe for exploration” — how does the neighborhood differ from the average Miamian’s conception of the place?

Yuval Ofir: I don’t know that Miamian’s even have a conception of the place generally. It seems to me like more people are just peripherally aware of it as a dangerous area to drive through quickly and maybe notice the pastel colored shops in passing. In reality though, there’s a whole group of small businesses and organizations who see potential in the neighborhood and have put their time and money into establishing themselves there (for example, Churchill’s Pub, Sweat Records, Moksha Family Artist Collective, Yo Space, Little Haiti Cultural Center, Little Haiti Community Garden, Metro1, and many more).

What activities/events can we expect at the first Little Haiti Sunday Stroll?

The idea behind the Stroll is for it to be more focused on culture in general (with special emphasis on Haitian/Caribbean culture) rather than strictly sticking to art. While there will be galleries such as Yo Space and Moksha featuring art, there’s also book stores, restaurants, a record shop, and a whole variety of venues that will have their own elements to bring to the table.

So does this signal a "renaissance" for Little Haiti proper? Terms like "renaissance" and "rediscovery" can be problematic, of course -- just because a new group notices the culture of a neighborhood doesn't mean it was ever dormant. Still, Little Havana has long had its Viernes Culturales, and Wynwood, of course, has been entirely transformed by Second Saturdays.

Is it also Little Haiti's turn for that kind of monthly, culture-vulture traffic influx? The key for organizers of these events is to truly work from within the community and its cultural producers, fostering a friendly environment for the new and curious to visit without immediately skipping to aggressive gentrification. Bounded on the east by already gentrified neighborhoods like Buena Vista and the Upper Eastside, Little Haiti needs to preserve its own proper cultural identity more than ever.

So far, it seems like Yo Space has good intentions in bridging a gap between established creative nodes like the Little Haiti Cultural Center with newer venues. Perhaps they will take a page from the similar, long-running efforts so far by the Rhythm Foundation, which sponsors its own monthly event, Big Night in Little Haiti. That free family party takes place on the third Friday of every month, and focuses specifically on celebrating Haitian music and the neighborhood's native arts, rather than newer businesses moving into the area.

That event continues to expand, and on its next edition, on Friday, March 15, organizers will welcome the popular area konpa act Magnum Band. They'll share the bill alongside an appearance by George Collinet, the host of the 25-year-running public radio show Afropop Worldwide. Add in DJs, art activities, and more, and it's an evening that deftly bridges cultures, neighborhoods, and age groups.

You can click here to learn more about Big Night in Little Haiti, and click here to read more about Sunday Stroll via Jordan Melnick's interview with Yuval Ofir. Both are worthy events pointing to different possibilities for the neighborhood's future.