By Michael Workman
We sat down to talk with host of the local underground Handsome Squid Café and maker activist Susan Frame to discuss safe space civic hacking, maker communities, her Haiti art center outreach project, and concerns over the viability of the center after a recent break-in and robbery.
Tell us a little about how you got started in Haiti and in your broad spectrum of other maker outreach efforts.
In the beginning, I wasn’t thinking of doing a nonprofit; I was working in Haiti, and when I was working down there, it was about collaborating with artists, and working with my friend, transgender artist Flo McGarrell, building a wood shop. She built a space of nondiscrimination and then died from the earthquake. Three days after the earthquake, they kicked out all the queer artists and handicapped people and the women left then too because it wasn’t safe and then the director stole Flo’s identity and it was a bad situation, and so a number of us along with forward-thinking Haitians in the community got together and were talking about healing from the earthquake.
Once Flo was gone, there was no longer that safe space for the youth and artists of Jacmel to nurture that kind of thought. We thought this was a necessary thing and then we came back up with the name of Jakmel Ekspresyon, because then this is a beacon and any Jacmelian can come and stay in a safe space. All these people are volunteering their time; all these people brought in supplies for making clean water that we were able to pass out in the community. And because of my experience creating art spaces, I was chosen to be a director of the center. We did that and it was dealing with lots of obstacles, and it has taken a long time to build. We wouldn’t be there doing this shit if it was easy, but they need you and they’re used to having power by grabbing power, a very Haitian idea. So we have to get through all these cultural perceptions and ideas that come about and when you start up organizations, you build a space where people don’t yell and scream even though you’re upset, where you sit down calmly and discuss ideas and that took three years to build alone. We’re like a slow-moving tractor, building this community center and if we have to take the hard road, we take the hard road, have these difficult intense discussions and help people feel as though they’re being heard.
The robbery at the center was pretty devastating?
The space got broken into—there’s a very small yard, and there was a wooden door that they tore apart, went upstairs, and got the lock on the administrative room, which included a sound system, projector, our cameras that we use for documenting what we do to show it to the world, these student portfolios, and that’s all a big hit right there, and we need to rebuild our computer lab, and we need a better electrical system. So stuff like that, we need to rebuild our inside doors so they have better security, and at the same time supporting local artisans since that’s who we hire to have them built.
And now you’re hosting a fundraiser to get it back up and running again?
Our goal to get into a healthy place would be $4,120, and we’ll need to raise that by June 30, which is rent and shipping and a lot of the basic essentials that we need to get the space where it needs to be to restore some revenue and social support options, and really everything we’re doing right now is revenue generating for the center and students there.
Donations to the Jakmel Ekspresyon Community Art Center can be made online at fracturedatlas.org/site/fiscal/profile?id=10345
Maker Recommended: Four Eyes Patches @ Wolfbait & B-Girls & Ukeleles at Old Town School of Folk Music Store
These urban merit badge patches from Four Eyes Handmade’s Troop 773 are suh-weet and, after all, who doesn’t want a patch proclaiming their ability to render public transit your bitch? Or showing your glowing market isolationist pride with a nice Local First patch. These and many others are available near the checkout rack. AND if you’re looking for pretty much the coolest funfest birthday present for not such a ton of money, check out the selection of ukuleles at the Old Town School’s Music Store. They range in finish styles and vary pretty widely, including Pacific walnut and spruce top, mainly in Soprano styles, and a huge list of brands from Lanikai to small, less well-known makers.
Four Eyes Handmade, foureyeshandmade.com. Old Town School of Folk Music Store, 4544 North Lincoln, (773)751-3398, oldtownschool.org.