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Getting to Know You: Dinah Jean-Philippe, Founder of the Haitian-American Artist Collective

Dinah Jean-Philippe is a Haitian-American artist, activist, and educator from Miami, Florida. Dinah is the Founder of the Haitian-American Artist Collective (HAAC) and one of the primary creators of the Haitian-American Arts Festival (HAAF).

The HAAC’s work is rooted in the foundational belief that art has the power to transform lives and energize communities. Dinah Jean-Philippe is known throughout the Miami arts community as a creative, philanthropic, and passionate individual with a deep desire to make the world a better place. She has been involved in the nonprofit sector for over ten years, and also boasts an extensive background in education. In her role as the Founder of HAAC, Dinah Jean-Philippe dedicates most of her time to providing art education to children from ethnic and social groups underrepresented in the arts, however she also engages in fundraising activities and helps to coordinate special events.

What do you currently do at your collective?

Because HAAC is a collective, we try to avoid using hierarchies or titles the same way a corporation might. That being said, as the Founder, I am one of the de facto heads of the organization. My administrative tasks vary from one day to the next, but there are usually several emails and phone calls that need to be made. These can have to do with arranging for showing spaces, artist development, sponsorships, fundraising, networking, press relations, or organizing our annual Haitian American Arts Festival. One of the other major facets of my role is being a community educator. I spend a few hours each week visiting local schools and youth clubs, encouraging underprivileged kids to appreciate and make art as a means of therapy and healthy self-expression. I also create art at our collective space every single day. 

What was the inspiration behind HAAC?

Simply put, there was no such organization or anything similar when I was young. I’d always wished there was, as it could’ve provided me with much-needed support during the early years of my career. As a young Haitian-American artist getting my footing in the Miami arts community, I often found it difficult to  gain inroads into certain institutions in order to have my work shown. I had to spend many years putting together a network of fellow artists, museum curators, agents, and dealers from scratch in order to get where I am today. After a certain point, I thought, ‘What better use could there be for such a network than to solidify it into a formal collective and use it to help other Haitian-American artists?’ So, that’s what I did, and the results have been really encouraging.

What defines your way of doing business?

In a few words? Creativity and compassion. At least those are the traits that I hold most dear, and the ones I hope I employ the most during the course of carrying out the collective’s activities.

What keys to being productive can you share?

In my administrative capacity, I find that it always pays dividends to respond to any inquiries and communications as soon as I possibly can. I think doing so makes people feel valued, which in turn makes them enjoy working with you. So, whenever I receive a text message, phone call, or email, I do my best to reply quickly. When I’m in the studio, though, my focus is entirely on whatever project I happen to be working on. As far as my art is concerned, I clear my mind of all administrative or extraneous tasks. I leave my phone in another room and concentrate wholly on creating.

Tell us one long-term goal in your career. 

Some day, I would love to have an installation dedicated to my work on display in a Haitian art gallery. For various reasons, this is something of a difficult thing to accomplish. But I’m confident that one day I’ll achieve this goal.

What would you tell your younger self?

If I could say anything to my younger self, it would be this: “Dinah—stop poisoning your mind with self-doubt. You’re talented. What will help you the most in life is to explore that talent.” 

What are some of your favorite things to do outside of work?

I enjoy listening to podcasts. I started listening to some of the true crime ones a few years ago, and I became utterly hooked. I also love traveling whenever I can.

How would your colleagues describe you?

I would hop that that my colleagues would describe me as open-minded, approachable, and maybe a little funny. I think they would also say that I work very hard to grow the collective in a positive way.

How do you maintain a solid work life balance? 

The nature of the relationship between being an artist and making money is a little strange. If I have a truly inspired and productive week or two of creation, it might result in some pieces that supply my entire annual income. Now, these pieces usually don’t sell all at the same time, but they have been made and simply await the right buyer to come along. By the same token, if I’m blocked, I can go for weeks on end without creating anything that has a hope of selling. It’s a very fickle profession, but I will say that it allows for a much better work life balance than many. For example, I’m able to see my family and friends at my own discretion, instead of having to observe a 9-5 workday.

What is one piece of technology that helps you the most in your daily routine?

I suppose that paint brushes, easels, and canvas stretchers are forms of technology, ancient thought they may be. 

What are some of the keys to your success?

When inspiration strikes, it must be captured, or else it may float away ignominiously into the ether. Put another way, when I have a good idea, I act on it immediately.

How do you measure success?

I deem a piece of art finished only when it meets with my strict approval. I’m a rigorous critic of my own work, as most artists are.

What advice would you give to aspiring to succeed in your field?

In pursuing a career as an artist, it’s crucial to find your own voice; your own style; your own context; your own milieux. Imitating another artist, or even trying to emulate one too closely, is a poor way of operating. After all, regardless of the chosen medium, art at its essence is supposed to be about self-expression. You must look inside yourself, find your own truth, and translate that into your work.

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