By: Kara Franker
Experience vibrant art and culture in Miami’s Little Haiti neighborhood.
Little Haiti is a small, non-touristy pocket in Miami where you can experience authentic Haitian culture and flavors. Go there for a real glimpse of life in the Haitian culture and a taste of what the island’s unique ambiance and people have to offer.
Little Haiti’s main strip is NE 2nd Avenue. This region is “ripe for exploration” as one local activist in the area put it. Neighboring Wynwood and Design District have quickly become popular arts and culture havens with streets lined with galleries and commercial art storefronts. The whole area, in just a handful of years, has been overtaken by an artistic energy and an appreciation for high-design and street-art. It’s only natural that Little Haiti, nestled right between these two increasingly popular neighborhoods, deserves some attention of it’s own.
Political, socio-economic reasons and natural disasters have driven Haitians away from their homeland to nearby Miami for years. With them has come a strong sense of traditional and authentic Haitian lifestyle markets along the street, which sell sugar cane and mangos. You will see signs and billboards for local radio stations written in Creole. Little Haiti was called a “cultural oasis” in the New York Times in 1999 and the same rings true today. The neighborhood has become safer as the years have passed, and today, is just as authentic, but more open to cultural tourism than it had been in years past.
With the development of Wynwood and the Design District and the increasing prices for space in those areas, Little Haiti has emerged as an indie arts haven. Yo Space is a communal arts space where artists of different mediums can exhibit, work and collaborate all under one roof. Yo Miami, their umbrella organization, runs a blog and is the community force behind the Sunday Stroll initiative.
In another corner of Little Haiti’s side streets is the Moksha Family Artist Collective, a mixed use space bringing together musicians, artists, technicians, visionaries and creative individuals of all kinds, on the “quest for universal oneness.” This psychedelic space holds a variety of events, including live painting, video art, tribal music and electronic music. Expect to meet some unique characters, experience art that’s pretty different than the traditional spaces in the Design District and the street art phenomenon of Wynwood.
The eventful programming at the Little Haiti Cultural Center offers just some of the local community initiatives that visitors are welcome to enjoy. Located next door, The Caribbean Marketplace was designed by Charles Harrison Pawley in the style of the typical Haitian gingerbread architecture. The colorful pastel buildings with funky cutout shapes are a great place to stop and peruse local Haitian goods.
The Little Haiti Community Garden is a not for profit organization “dedicated to using traditional farming techniques.” The small space was once an empty and rundown urban lot. Today, the fresh produce that is grown there gives kids and local residents a reason to connect with the earth and provide the community with a gift. The fruits of their labor are for sale at the garden and at the Upper Eastside Farmers Market, a year-round market just a few blocks away.
Named after Jon Mapou, the man who owns and founded this quaint little bookstore, Liberei Mapou has been a cultural staple in Little Haiti since it first opened in the early 1990s. While it originally opened as a place to get books, newspapers and other critical reading materials and news sources to members of the Haitian community in Miami, today it’s both a library and a gathering place. With 3,000+ books in Haitian, Creole and English, this place isn’t just any library. Paintings by Haitian artists hang on the walls, live dance rehearsals and drum performances occur within its walls, and on Friday evenings, rumor has it visitors can come and take French and Creole lessons from the owner himself.
Little Haiti’s cultural scene promises a unique day in the Magic City.
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