Little Haiti Country Club highlights neighborhood artists

In a former church in the heart of Little Haiti, 30 artists who have lived and worked in the neighborhood have come together for a monumental group show that celebrates the artistic community that has thrived in the area.

While most would recognize Wynwood as the artistic hub of Miami, few, if any, artists live or work in the area because of the lack of studio space and apartments as well as the prohibitively expensive rents that have become the norm in the now trendy neighborhood. Little Haiti, on the other hand, has quietly been the home to many local artists over the past few years. Recently, galleries such as Guccivuitton and Space Mountain have risen the profile of the area among the artistic community.

But the area is at a turning point. Developers are looking for new opportunities to create the next Wynwood in Little Haiti. They’re purchasing properties and land in the area as prices are still low with the intention to redevelop them in the future.

A new temporary exhibition, Little Haiti Country Club, is a reaction to the coming changes to the area. For the team behind LHCC, the goal of the show is to capture a specific moment in time where the artist community came together before the neighborhood changed.

“The show marks a point of transition for the neighborhood,” said Bhakti Baxter, a prominent local artist who helped select the other artists involved in the show.

While the idea for the show had been tossed around for months, the project was green-lighted only two weeks prior to opening, giving the 30 artists involved very little time to prepare, create or install works. But things came together smoothly despite the short notice.

Virtually every art discipline is represented at the show, including painting, sculpture, photography, performance and more. Even jewelry makes a showing in the show with designer Deon Rubi has an installation featuring several of her jewelry pieces made from reclaimed materials as well as her artworks including a portrait of a woman made using makeup.

While the show represents an extremely diverse array of disciplines, they all have the same connection: they all have lived or work in Little Haiti. Some of them like Baxter have worked in the area for years while others like Michael Vasquez have been in the neighborhood just a few weeks.

Many of the works in the show are site-specific installations or were created specifically for the show. Among them is an installation from artist Timothy Bulwalda, who works as a air conditioning technician by day. For his contribution, he is presenting a large painting of a ball of metal appliances alongside a non-functioning air conditioning unit he installed in the space and a watercolor depiction of the building’s AC unit.

Several of the works are closely tied to the neighborhood’s history. Sarah Newberry’s work may appear to be an unassuming abstract work but the piece is made from green felt from an old pool table of Churchill’s, a famous Little Haiti bar that recently changed owners. Raymond Brown’s haunting installation combines light and sound design to give a menacing presence to the harp of a piano hanging from wires on the roof; the piano harp was from an instrument that was burned in a monthly bonfire attended by many local artists.

Among the more accessible works is from street artist Douglas Hoekzema (also knows as Hox) who showcasing Sixty60Seconds, which features 60 circular geometric works that were created by spinning the canvases for 60 seconds as the artist paints monochromatic spirals onto their surfaces.

The most confrontational work in the show is undoubtedly Marilyn Rondon’s “Latina Seeks Thug,” a room filled with explicit replies to a Craigslist ad the artist posted online asking men to tell her why they would want to make a baby with her.

Taking up residence for the duration of the show is performance artist Tara Elizabeth Long, who took her “receptionist” role and made it into an extended performance. Sitting at a reception area adorned with blue art and knickknacks that she and others made, her performance will consist of interacting with visitors among other activities such as playing a subwoofer at varying frequencies to make certain lights flicker or specific windows shake.

Long says that the exhibition is creating a greater sense of community among artists in the area.

“What’s awesome is that it’s bringing people together after many artists left Miami and some came back...We keep saying it’s like a weird adult middle school.”

Despite the breadth and scope of the show, it was created without institutional backing or grant funding. The space was donated for the duration of the show by a local developer who recently purchased the building while expenses incurred such as utilities are being paid for by Alex Saa, a property developer and manager.

Despite his personal investment in Little Haiti Country Club, it isn’t Saa’s intention to profit from the show. More importantly, he hopes that the show will galvanize the community to promote development that maintains the integrity of the neighborhood.

“Hopefully, one way or another, this will create the conversation to preserve Little Haiti or preserve some of it. Will it happen? Who knows? But if you start having this conversation now before [change begins] instead of after like in Wynwood, I think it’s better.”