Art: A Universal Language, Limitless Opportuities

Art: A Universal Language, Limitless Opportuities

All of the KWHS students are going to get to participate in creating the shoes, shirts and other pieces that depict the students of Haiti’s art abilities. Pictured (l-) are: Rev. Ebenson Michelon, Landa Conserve, Ms. Shannon Perkins, Asseley Ineus, Shelby Stansel, Tess Sody, Tyler Hadas, Montana Busche and William Acard.

KWHS students to share knowledge in Haiti

“We’re going right before we’re going to college, moving out and becoming independent. This will give me a broader social imagination which I learned about in psychology class,” says Shelby Stansel with a sincere smile.

Even though she’s only a sophomore and wears her hair in an angelic ponytail, Shelby isn’t unaware of the world around her. Shelby is one of the six art students wielding her paintbrush under the direction of Ms. Shannon Perkins, art director at Key West High who will be embarking on an educational journey to Haiti this summer. During a recent workshop on the mainland, Shannon learned about helping those annihilated by the catastrophic earthquake that shook the third-world island in 2010 just west of Port-au-Prince.

Perkins wants to involve herself and her students because of the notable Haitian population in Key West who have family and friends directly impacted by the tremors – some who are her students.

William Azard is one.

Originally from Croiz-des-Bouquets, Azard moved to Key West in 2007 with his brothers, stepmother and his father. His mother stayed behind and sells food in a flea market. Luckily, his entire family in Haiti, including his sisters, escaped unscathed with all of their belongings. He stays in touch with them via a pre-paid calling card. Azard is a student Perkins takes immense pride instructing, calling him an “outstanding” artist. He will be one of three Haitians joining Perkins and the other half dozen artists for the mission.

“I actually want to bring art back to Haiti as an adult,” Azard is slightly hesitant when he forms his English words to the Key West Weekly. The school’s bi-lingual tutor, Rev. Ebenson Michelon is sitting nearby, giving the young man the confidence he needs to communicate his artistic ambitions. “I’m happy to be able to learn the art here, and go back to Haiti to teach them what I learned. Eventually, I’d like to return to my country and paint murals on buildings there.”

[pullquote]“The Haitian mentality is such when they see someone with a lighter skin tone, it is a symbol of support. They are expecting something, whether that be food or money. But, we’re bringing them art so they may use the medium to support themselves.” ~ The Reverend Ebenson Michelon, KWHS bilingual teacher[/pullquote]

According to the reverend, the educational system in Haiti is not uniform. Every school has its own set of standards. To attend kindergarten through twelfth grade, the cost is astronomical, and the arts are nearly nonexistent. The goal for Perkins, who has secured the support of the school board and grants, is to teach them art skills they can use to support themselves financially.

“Most of the time people give money or food,” Perkins points out. “Our mission is to give them artistic skills they can use to support themselves. Me, the reverend, six art students and three Haitian students will be going to an orphanage in Leogane this August. We’ll interact with 100 students each day for six days respecting the Sabbath. Students who don’t speak English can always do fine in art classes because it’s not a “copy me” process. Art is a watch and learn medium.

“All of the money we collect is going to be used to purchase shoes, shirts, dye, paint, paintbrushes and canvass. Some of the works they create may even be on a coconut. Some are useful like a bag or a hat. Eventually, I’d like to bring back the art and place the items on our website for auction. Our ultimate goal is for them to be able to use the art as a viable income.”

The money each piece brings in will go back directly to each child. Sophomore, Montana Busche, who has plans to study still photography at New York University, remarks from a table in the art room, “With art we can show emotions and the trials people go through on a daily basis. We can help change their lives and show them cool ways to support themselves.”

Shelby is elated to experience another island on an educational level.

“I hope to gain a getting a broader understanding of their culture and better my own ideals. I’ll be attending Flagler College in Saint Augustine this fall to earn my degree in psychology and another in art education. I plan to teach art therapy. This opportunity couldn’t have come at a better time!”

Perkins and her students have raised only a quarter of the necessary funding to make this art education mission trip to Haiti happen July 25 – Aug. 4. She’s waiting for t-shirts, paint and shoe donations as well as monetary. To help out, log on to or mail a check to KWHS c/o Ms. Shannon 2100 Flagler Avenue Key West 33040. Azard’s mother and sisters will be making the trek to Leogane for a reunion.

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