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Little Haiti Country Club Brings Community to Growing Art Scene, Won't Last Forever

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If these walls could talk, they'd have one strange story to tell.

It's a story of poppin' bottles, and a story about saving souls. It's a story about music, and creativity, and at the heart of the tale, it's a story of community.

That's the vibe the Little Haiti Country Club goes for, located just off NE Second Ave. between 83rd Street and 82nd Terrace. It's a place that feels ever in transition, its future strangely unknown and exciting. But whatever it is right now, it all comes to an end Friday, Aug. 22.

The old building, now the home of a motley crew of 30 local artists, used to be a club called Chateau; more recognizably, it was a church. Art in every form imaginable is proudly displayed in the three great rooms, in the old offices and daycares, and on the altar. Sometimes bands come through to practice or perform, and the artists like to think the walls appreciate their presence.

"Everything was here and we didn't really change anything. We kind of fell in love with it in a lot of ways," says Sarah Moody, one of four producers of the Little Haiti Country Club exhibit. "Really it all happened really comfortably, and beautifully, and organically. Once Tara (Long) and I were given keys to this space, we made sure we burned sage and incense every single day. We're making sure that the vibes are right in here. We have done that from pretty much the first time we walked in."

The LHCC is a first and foremost a group effort. Alex Saa, a mutual landlord of many of the artists involved, mentioned to participant and long-time Little Haiti resident Bhakti Baxter an intention to create a large exhibit focused on Little Haiti artists. The name and logo of the LHCC was already being kicked around jokingly for a while at Baxter's studio.

The guys talked to Moody, Long, and her associates, about creating a grand month-long exhibit featuring artists working and living in Little Haiti, and they loved the idea.

"I really like curating shows," Moody says. "I like making shows happen. I like bringing people together. I call myself a connector of sorts. I like to make sure that we get the right things and people here that should be."

With the idea, producers, and a long list of artists young and old in mind, the last thing they needed was a space. Just in the knick of time, the old church "serendipitously" fell into their hands. They worked for about a week putting it all together, all the artists moving in their work - some painting, or sculptures, or rooms covered with zines - and everyone fell into the vibe rather nicely.

There was no fighting over spaces, and often artists who are married or related just ended up showing beside one another in a way that feels very organic and quaint. The age of the artists range from 20 years old to somewhere in the 60s. Incidentally, the eldest and youngest artists showing are a father and daughter, Lizzy and Larry Newberry.

"It's kind of funny that this show was called (the Little Haiti Country Club)," Moody jokes. "Everyone else was brought into it, and now the country club is a real country club. There's women in it and age groups. There's a community and workshops and there's people making things happen. Tara and I laugh about it all the time. It's a country club, so what do you do at a country club? You chill, and post pictures on Instagram, and you have dance parties."

It's true the LHCC has been the stage for many different happenings. They hosted a potluck in one great room around a long bench built by Jenny Brillhart and Chris Page. It's in the traditional Japanese style of wood fittings, so it doesn't use any screws, unlike the sarcastic installation "Screw You" hanging right above it, put together by Larry Newberry with the faulty Chinese decorative screws he realized he couldn't sell.

They've held dance parties and art workshops. Marilyn Rondon, the artist behind the hysterical commentary "Latina Seeks Thug" taught a zine making class for beginners. Johnny Robles lead instruction on how to create awesomely fun giant bubbles, bubbles being a major theme throughout all his work. He added his own photograph of a giant bubble structure created within the very halls that it sits, part of Long's big "Blue Room" project.

The LHCC is not a stagnant art gallery, but an ever-changing one. Pieces are added all the time, and sometimes accidental pieces come to be. Like the mini-bottle of liquor someone stuck in an pre-existing hole in the wall, which seems poignant in itself, so they left it there. It sits right next to a hectic painting by James, a local street artist no one really knows, but they all recognize his style. He's the only Haitian on display, and the rest of the Country Club hang it there as a sort of respectful invitation.

"Alex Saa found it behind a lot of trash. It's two sided, and you can see there was a lot of time put into it," Moody says. "We really hope he will come here, James. He paints all over Little Haiti, and he uses the remnants of people's paint and supplies that he finds."

Moody and her friends aren't ignorant of how it may look for a bunch of white people to show their art in Little Haiti. They're aware of the dangers of gentrification, and they very much want to work within the community in such a way as to preserve the cultural beauty that first attracted them to it.

They're hosting a panel discussion Wednesday, Aug. 20, at 6 p.m., called "What is Little Haiti?" They're bringing together community leaders and artists, and hopefully some members of the old church, to discuss the future of the neighborhood and how incoming artists, many moving from Wynwood's over-gentrified and expensive streets, can include the residents own needs and creativity.

"Things are going to change in Little Haiti, and we're all aware of it," Moody says. "We see it, but we're all inspired by it and enlightened by it and excited by it. It's like, what happens? I love the colors. Where do the Haitian people go? I don't want the Haitian people to leave. How do we carefully gentrify this neighborhood and without taking it? How do we integrate the local people, the actual Haitian people who come here and have come to this show and have visited us and been like 'I attended this church. What are you doing here?' Which is beautiful."

The sad day of finality comes quickly after that, with a closing reception Friday, August 22, at 6 p.m. until 11 p.m., when the doors on the LHCC will promptly, though bitter-sweetly, close. The vibe will be celebratory but respectful, almost like that of a wake. Most of the art on display is for sale, so the artists hope buyers will be moved to purchase a piece of their little transient home. Otherwise, they'll go back to respective studios until the next incarnation of the Club come to life. Moody is quite sure it will, somewhere.

"It's cool because Little Haiti itself is in transition, the space is in transition. You can feel it. The question I get all the time is 'what's going to happen to the space after,' and I don't know. It's being developed," she says. "This is so beautiful and what is the most powerful thing for me is that the community is really strong. It's brought the community of all these people together, everyone."

And that's something Moody, Saw, Long and the rest won't be letting go. It's been a long and fruitful month, and the Little Haiti community of artists is stronger and more aware of each other than ever. They'll be sad to see it go, but there's the feeling of a bright future still ahead.

"There's some really funny vibes in here, that's for damn sure," Moody says. "I mean, I love it. It feels like home."

The Little Haiti Country Club, 8267 NE Second Ave., Miami. "What is Little Haiti" Panel Discussion Wednesday, August 20, at 6 p.m. Closing reception and art sale Friday, Aug. 22, from 6 to 11 p.m. Email littlehaiticountryclub@gmail.com or visit littlehaiticountryclub.tumblr.com.

Follow Kat Bein on Twitter @KatSaysKill.

Follow Cultist on Facebook and Twitter @CultistMiami.

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