For Gandy Thomas, returning to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport on Jan. 30 was a kind of homecoming.
“I have been dreaming of this ever since I first arrived in Atlanta,” Mr. Thomas, the former consul general of Haiti and dean of the Consular Corps, told Global Atlanta while touring the Maynard H. Jackson Jr. International Terminal’s E Concourse.
Mr. Thomas, who currently is posted in New York, served in Atlanta from February 2011 to June 2015. On this visit he was accompanied by Herve Denis, Haiti’s ambassador to Washington. Both were at the airport for the official opening of the “Transcendent: More to Haiti Than You Know” art show featuring 25 works by Haitian artists.
The paintings include market genre painting, landscapes displaying Haiti’s everyday life and natural beauty, dream-like works highlighting the interweaving of Catholic imagery in Vodou practices as well as remarkable sculptures beaten out of 55-gallon steel drums.
In addition to the support it received from the airport, the exhibition was realized by the Atlanta-based Haitian Consulate General and the Georgia Haitian-American Chamber of Commerce.
Five Haitian artists currently living in the U.S. were invited to discuss their works during a tour led by David Vogt, the airport’s art program manager.
The artists on site were Edouard Duval Carrie, Ulrick Jean-Pierre, Jonas Allen, Essud Fungcap and Claes Gabriel. They were joined by David McCabe, the owner of the Le Primitif Gallery in Chamblee, which collects and sells Haitian art.
The airport’s support for the exhibit was clear from the get-go when the airport’s international affairs director, Alrene Barr, enthusiastically introduced the artists and Greg Richardson, its chief financial officer, who reinforced her welcome and told them that 300,000 people visit the facility every day providing their works with an enormous audience. Even though the travelers might be pressed for time, he said, they could only be impressed by the quality of the art.
Their greetings were also buttressed by Vanessa Ibarra, director of the mayor’s Office of International Affairs, and Saurel Quettan, president and chairman of the Georgia Haitian-American chamber.
While strolling through the concourse Mr. Thomas said that becoming artists or appreciators of the country’s artistic accomplishments is almost second nature to Haitians and provides a foundation for their resiliency to overcome both natural and political catastrophes.
Mr. Thomas officially opened the consulate a little more than a year following the devastating earthquake that had claimed the lives certainly of more than 100,000 Haitians and visitors in 2010, and perhaps as many as 300,000 as the Haitian government has claimed.
Formerly stationed in Orlando, Fla., his move to Atlanta where the Haitian community numbers more than 40,000 seemed an astute one at the time since he was tasked with tapping into the goodwill of Atlanta’s non-governmental organizations such as CARE, Habitat for Humanity and Global Health Action, among others.
The Coca Cola Co. had even promised $7.5 million to be spent over five years to support the country’s 25,000 mango farmers. Atlanta’s growing reputation as an active business center with Fortune 500 companies made excellent prospects for gaining support for the island’s recovery.
Delta Air Lines even improved the prospects by scheduling a non-stop flight from Atlanta to Haiti’s capital, Port au Prince. During the inaugural ceremony held at the airport on April 7, 2012, Mr. Thomas remarked to an enthusiastic crowd collected at the concourse gate that opportunities for its development remained alive and well.
Among the well-wishers were the airport’s then-aviation general manager Louis Miller, as well as representatives of the Atlanta city government, non-profits, local Haitian organizations, and a mix of entrepreneurs, missionaries, students and academics.
Aside from Coca Cola’s investment, Mr. Thomas shared the announcement that Marriott was to build a $45 million hotel in Port-au-Prince as other hotel chains also made plans to capture a potential tourist trade. Aside from tourism, he told Global Atlanta, there were opportunities to further develop agriculture, bring in construction contractors and improve the agriculture sector.
While casting a beacon of hope for the island, Mr. Thomas was well aware of the enormity of the task that lay ahead, but in his heart of hearts he knew the resilience of his people.
At the flight inaugural he asked for a few with moments of silence for the earthquake victims, and then he spoke positively of Haiti’s future while remaining a realist and saying that Haiti was “so near, but so far.”
Once again, Haiti is in chaos. This time it is due to an election season as its economic and social problems remain severe. The Atlanta-Port au Prince flight that was so welcome has been discontinued with a Delta spokesperson saying that a lack of demand caused the abandonment.
Travel warnings by the U.S. State Department and other governments warn against visiting the island at this time.
Despite Haiti’s continuing hardships, the artists described in their own ways how they remain inspired by their engagement with the country and encouraged those on the tour and the travelers passing by to take the time to engage with their works.
Meanwhile, Mr. Denis, Haiti’s ambassador, said that he looked forward to returning to Georgia for an event to be held in Savannah that would underscore that city’s ties to Haiti by celebrating an addition to the Haitian monument currently in Franklin Square showing Haitian soldiers who fought in the Revolutionary War.
For a video of the ceremonial event, click here.