Visibility is necessary for modern artistry. That is, the kind of visibility one gets from having an online platform. While social media hosts nothing short of millions of artists, there is an absence still. For .ART adopter Valeska Maurice Agbara Yâ Toya, founder of Ayiti Stellar Artist Offers (ASAO.ART), it’s Ayitian artists that are left behind. Devastated by local gang violence, artists lack the time and resources to explore their craft, leaving the world without sufficient Ayitian representation. It’s a problem Valeska aims to fix.  

With extensive and international education in peace and conflict resolution, Valeska’s discipline keeps the cross sections of politics, economy, and art at the forefront of her mind. We had the privilege of interviewing Valeska to learn more about her initiative, her passion, and the support she needs to help provide for her fellow citizens. Read our illuminating conversation below.  

Tell our readers a bit about ASAO. What is its main purpose? 

ASAO is an innovative, hybrid, social enterprise dedicated to propelling urban art, sustainable development, and conflict prevention to the forefront. At its core, it is a mission to nurture lasting prosperity and cultivate peace through art, addressing socio-economic challenges for Ayitian artists. This mission extends beyond immediate alleviation, aspiring to propel artists towards a future of success analogous to that achieved by the iconic Ayitian artist prodigy Jean-Michel Basquiat. The narrative of Basquiat’s journey – his humble beginnings as a street artist culminating in his art commanding record prices and international acclaim – epitomizes the transformative power of artistic endeavor. Responding to this call, ASAO unveils a digital platform, to create prosperity and peace through art. 

 What inspired you to launch this project?    

After spending 9 years living abroad, mostly in Japan and in Senegal, I returned to my hometown in Ayiti – Haiti with a newfound appreciation for art and its impact on communities. However, I was disheartened to find a lack of artists and art vendors showcasing their works on our streets. Determined to understand the root cause, I began investigating and talking to local artists and vendors.  

They revealed how the challenging socio-political climate and security concerns had significantly impacted the once vibrant tourist sector, upon which they heavily relied for sustainable sales. This reality was confirmed by official data, showing a staggering 71% drop in the tourism sector with no signs of improvement. 

Ayitian artists face severe social, economic, and political challenges that they fight every day to overcome. They are particularly vulnerable and are oftentimes directly affected by conflicts between armed gangs seeking territorial control. This conflict has led to the unprecedented decline in Ayiti`s tourism, negatively impacting the sales of Ayitian art and exacerbating the vulnerability of Ayitian artists. State support and assistance from local companies and organizations are currently absent. 

With this knowledge and unwavering passion, ASAO was born—a visionary initiative dedicated to bridging the gap between Ayitian artists and art enthusiasts worldwide. It became clear to me that I held a win-win solution in my hands, benefiting both artists and art lovers in this vibrant global market. 

You have a background in global affairs. What got you into art?

Certainly, my background in global affairs and art may seem like two distinct worlds, but they are intricately connected in my journey. Pursuing an executive postgraduate diploma in social innovation at the University for Peace, through the generous scholarship provided by UPeace and the Central Bank of Haiti, is a testament to my commitment to making a difference through my understanding of global affairs.  

In global affairs, I’ve come to recognize the significance of art as a universal language, transcending borders and cultures. It’s a powerful medium for communication and expression on a global scale. The ability of art to bridge gaps, convey complex ideas, and ignite conversations on issues that impact people worldwide is awe-inspiring. I firmly believe that for substantial, positive change and transformation to occur in Ayiti, culture will be the catalyst, and art and artists will be the agents of this transformation. 

My personal connection to art traces back to my upbringing. My grandmother, who raised me, instilled a deep appreciation for the arts. She encouraged me to explore various art forms through summer programs in areas like design and performing arts, particularly theater, singing, and dance. While I dabbled in various forms, dance became my primary passion, making me both a dancer and an art enthusiast. 

This combined perspective has driven me to recognize the potential of art in effecting positive change within society.  

You mention that your expertise in peace and conflict resolution are integral aspects to ASAO’s mission. How are these implemented in ASAO? 

My expertise in peace and conflict studies deeply informs ASAO’s mission of using art as a catalyst for peace. It’s not just academic knowledge; it is personal passion translated into action. An embodiment of this connection is the “Art for Peace – Artist Community Collaborations” project that we are exploring to develop in partnership with ASART (Asociación Artística) in Costa Rica. 

This project is a canvas where Ayitian artists and communities collaborate, using art to address the core issues fueling conflicts. It’s about leveraging art as a language of unity, using visual narratives to spark dialogue, and inspiring social transformation. When a mural or performance speaks peace, it can resonate profoundly and create bridges where division once stood. 

ASAO is also committed to shedding light on the impact of gang violence and conflicts on artist communities. Through articles and news, we offer a network, platform and voice to the victims, raising awareness and rallying support. This is not just documentation; it’s a plea for change. It’s an opportunity for the world to see the resilience and creativity of Ayitian artists, even in the face of adversity. 

We recognize that to scale our impact, we need more than just passion; we need resources. With adequate financial and human resources, our vision can expand beyond boundaries. We will be able to execute peace projects with great influence, fostering a society where art and peace walk hand in hand, transforming communities and lives. 

What do you like most about Ayitian art? How would you describe it?

What I find most captivating about Ayitian art is its deep-rooted connection to our culture, our Vodou spirituality, our history, and the environment of our country. Ayitian art is a vibrant tapestry that weaves together our rich heritage, progress, our struggles, our resilience and resistance against oppression.  

It’s a form of expression that goes beyond aesthetics; it’s a powerful voice for social and political commentary, often addressing issues like poverty, injustice, and the enduring spirit of our people.  

At the same time, Ayitian art beautifully portrays the aspirations, joy, happiness, and stories of our people, capturing the essence of our roots, heart and our Caribbean identity. Ayitian art’s vivid colors and imagery also reflect our Arawakan and African ancestry and heritage, serving as a powerful medium to inform, inspire, and unite our people. 

You’re currently working on an initiative to support Ayitian artists impacted by gang violence in Carrefour Feuilles. Tell our readers about the project and what we can do to help.

With the invaluable assistance of a local association, Famartcaf, we’ve conducted a comprehensive inventory of the artist victims of gang violence in Carrefour Feuilles. In our upcoming ASAO meeting this November, we’re scheduled to convene with these artists to discuss their stories and prepare for a series of filmed interviews. 

Pending the necessary financial backing, our goal is to document these artists, who are victims of gang violence, through documentaries or a mini-series format. They will narrate their personal ordeals with gang violence and the harsh living conditions they are currently enduring.  

The purpose of this documentary is to raise awareness about the plight of artist victims of gang violence and to garner support for their cause. It will serve as a powerful tool to encourage people to listen to these artists and mobilize essential funds for their assistance. Furthermore, the documentary could potentially generate revenue, with the proceeds directed towards the artists affected by gang violence. 

In alignment with our commitment to peace promotion, should we secure the necessary financial support, in collaboration with ASART, the documentary will be succeeded by a 3-day workshop in December aimed at training these artists as peace advocates. This workshop will culminate in a concert featuring these artists, where they will present their works, specifically focused on peace themes. This concert will be ticketed, with the proceeds directed at the artists affected by gang violence. 

To successfully bring these initiatives to fruition, we appeal to everyone’s generosity to provide financial support for ASAO to establish the required logistics and acquire necessary equipment and materials. 

Thank you in advance for your kind generosity! Together we can prove that art can heal, unite and inspire lasting change in Ayiti. 

Lastly, why did you choose .ART for your website domain? 

We chose the .ART domain for our website because it aligns perfectly with ASAO’s mission and values. .ART is a domain extension dedicated to the world of art, providing a unique and easily identifiable online presence for ASAO. This choice allows us to reinforce our commitment to the art community and the role of artists in global peace building efforts and sustainable development.  

The .ART domain clearly communicates and reinforces our brand identity and purpose to our online audience. At ASAO, we are proud to be a member of the .ART community! 

If you would like to join Valeska in the .ART community and become an ambassador, fill out the following form: Ambassador Application 

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