Helping Haiti: A Tent Grows in Brooklyn

By Mark Stubis
(From, Dec. 17, 2010)

(From Brooklyn with Love: Pedro Barbeito with one of his creations; photo courtesy of Fundacion Manos del Sur) 

Whoever said “Art won’t put a roof over your head” never met Pedro Barbeito. The Brooklyn-based artist not only supports himself with his painting, but in his spare time he’s literally helping put a roof over the heads of hundreds of Haitian schoolchildren.

The January 12 earthquake that wreaked havoc across Haiti also destroyed or damaged more than 3,000 schools, leaving few safe places for children to learn. As engineers, contractors, and builders work to restore the nation’s basic infrastructure, an international coalition of foundations and artists including Barbeito is working to provide temporary classrooms to Haiti’s children, bring some much-needed beauty to the ravaged landscape, and restore the single most important routine of childhood.

A colorful village of large, sturdy tents, each painted with bright, vibrant scenes depicting the history of Haiti, its folklore, religious beliefs, and environment, is scheduled to be making its way to the island in February. The custom-made tents each measure 20 feet by 15 feet and will serve as a multipurpose classrooms for hundreds of children, complete with computers, desks, chairs, and other school supplies. The tents will be set up in Cite Soleil, just two miles from the Port-au-Prince airport, making their lively messages of hope visible to thousands of people flying in and out of the country.

The project, dubbed “Base Paint Tents,” was conceived and developed by philanthropists Zelmira Rizo Patron and Paulina Montes in collaboration with the Fundacion Manos del Sur, the Step by Step Foundation, and the L’Athletique d’Haiti foundation.They asked Miami artist Antuan to curate the installation and the effort eventually grew to include 12 artists from Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Spain, Argentina, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and even (to quote William Styron) a place as strange as Brooklyn.

Since it’s anyone’s guess how long Haiti’s reconstruction will take, Base Paint Tents may turn out to be one of the longest-running exhibitions in the participating artists’ experience. To prepare for this possibility, the paints were specially chosen to withstand the island’s extreme weather, and the tents were built to last. They were constructed by the same company that provided military tents to the army during World War II, and have windows, doors, and other features that allow for good ventilation and light, as well as long use.

“The Base Paint Tents project is a unique opportunity for me to participate in a utilitarian installation that incorporates humanitarian aid with artwork, directly providing it to a community in need,” says Barbeito. “I hope my tent can provide an inspirational place of learning and remind the children who inhabit it that there are people and artists around the world who care about their future.”

By using his brush to put a roof over the heads of kids thousands of miles away, Barbeito proves once again that New York not only has great art, but great heart.

And that’s a beautiful thing.

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