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Haitian Cultural Center, Allapattah kids program, vie for Knight grants

Community can vote for People’s Choice Award through Nov. 15th

D. Kevin McNeir | 10/31/2013, 9 a.m.

Five local small arts organizations are each vying for $20K as the eventual winner of the Knights Arts Challenge People’s Choice Award — unrestricted funds they’ll be able to use for a project of their choice. The nominees include: Indie Film Club, a group of filmmakers who want to expand an interactive film festival to cross-platform storytelling; Puppet Network, a Broward-based organization that hopes to engage more people in its Mexican Day of the Dead

celebration with a giant puppet parade and other activities; Teo Castellanos, an actor, writer and director who is producing a solo show based on the history of his brothers in Puerto Rico; Motivational Edge, an arts program for disadvantaged youth in Allapattah where students expand their horizons through creative writing and lyrical expression; and Mapou Cultural Center, a Little Haiti bookstore that wants to grow its Haitian-Caribbean book fair by bringing in more authors from Haiti, the U.S. and Europe.

Inner city education and Haitian arts

Ian Welsch, a passionate educator and founder and CEO of Motivational Edge, says he was frustrated with the limits placed on him as a Miami-Dade public school teacher. So he stepped out on faith and created his own arts-based program for the kids of Allapattah, Overtown and Liberty City.

“The program helps youth develop the art of creative writing and lyrical expression and has both literacy and literary components,” he said. “Kids learn the elements of poetry but we express it in a more progressive manner. If you give children a paragraph about a horse and carriage they can’t relate. But give them a clean hip hop song and they’ll both dissect and learn it. Inner city youth tend to revolt against the more antiquated forms of learning. We do a lot of outreach — at least 40 are in our after-school program [The Allapattah Music and Literacy Center, 3323 NW 17th Ave.] and we have another 100 foster children. The edge we provide has to do with academia and life skills. Kids have to maintain a “C” average or else agree to tutoring to stay in the program. That’s where we’re seeing our real gains. We give kids relevant ways to construct their lives.”

Jean-Marie Denis, also known as Jan Mapou, is the founder of both a group of dancers and musicians, Sosyete Koukouy (1985), and the Libreri Mapou bookstore in Little Haiti (1990). The bookstore has become a hub for all kinds of activities including rehearsals, Kreyol language classes, holiday celebrations and storytelling presentations. Now Mapou wants to turn a local book fair into a national and international event.

“In September we had what we thought would be a small book fair with about 50 authors — something we wanted to try for the first time,” he said. “We set up tents, tables and had everything connected to the store. We wanted to showcase our Haitian authors and their books and present their faces to the public. We wanted them to speak to our youth and to encourage them to write their own stories and to learn our history. We wanted to expose our youth and others to Haitian literature. What we didn’t expect was over 2,000 people showing up. Many came from Notre Dame Catholic Church right down the street who stopped by after mass. If we get the grant we can really make this a high-quality annual event. The people have shown that they will support it. This is a way to place the Little Haiti community on the map while also advancing dialogue and promoting growth in Miami. It’s important to remember that when we so-called “boat people” came here in the 80s, we had nothing.

But we landed with our culture, our talents and our dreams. We made it and created this new space called Little Haiti. We are part of Miami’s history.”

Dennis Scholl, vice president of arts for Knight Foundation said, “We want everyone to know just how rich our cultural scene is — from the largest to the smallest organization. These efforts at the grassroots touch so many of our lives, inspire our communities and help build the reputation of Greater Miami as a destination for art and culture.”

To vote for your choice, watch the nominees’ video at KnightArts.org/peopleschoice and then text their number to 22333 through Nov. 15th.