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UMANUM is mentioned in the press! Article from Mus'Elles

Port-au-Prince, May 10, 2023

The university or technical offers of professionalization of cultural operators in Haiti are almost absent. A situation that constitutes a real handicap to the proper functioning of cultural and creative organizations of the place. To this end, in order to lend a hand to this sector, in view of a "strong demand", Judith Michel launched Umanum. An interview with the CEO to learn more about this innovative structure.

It is often difficult to decide to leave the status of employee and start your own company. In the grip of doubt, questions come from everywhere. Judith Michel knows something about this. With all this in mind, leaving the comfort of her position at the Art Center, she decides to take the plunge. It was in a difficult socio-political context that the young woman expressed her firm desire to become more closely involved with artists' associations and groups.

At that time, Covid was making its law, in addition to the gasoline shortages. If the novice businesswoman sees in this act, "entrepreneurial spirit", for her mother, it is "unconsciousness".

UMANUM, a stylized version of humanum from Latin, means "Of the human". The founder of this consulting firm affirms that "the humanity of people" is the foundation of the institution. In a philosophical and moral context, "humanum" refers to the positive aspects of humanity such as compassion, empathy and solidarity. In this way, it emphasizes the social and altruistic nature of Man, according to him. A set of profound values that characterize the firm, its collaborators, partners and projects. They are also common to those "abundantly conveyed in artistic practices as well and particularly in Haiti". And so, in 2018, UMANUM takes its first steps unofficially.

Two years later, in 2020, the institution is formalized.

Beyond making a profit, "it is the demand! In Haiti", which was the first source of motivation for Judith Michel. According to her explanations, the international community is often accustomed to providing solutions to problems even before a request is made. "Without a request, we don't answer anything, we impose", says the French-born woman. The beginnings were not too difficult in terms of human relations, she tells us.

Indeed, at the Centre d'Art, she was immersed in all forms of artistic expression. "It is true that the institution focuses on the visual arts, but as the person in charge of cultural programming, I was in contact with many artists in the fields of theater, dance, music, photography and digital technology, as well as operators of organizations with a social aim in favor of human rights (women's rights, schooling, expression, etc.)," she recalls. As time went on, she began to accompany some of these organizations in structuring their events and then their action plans and budget. Eventually, she decided to offer this type of service full time.

Whether they are authors, film directors, musicians, performing artists or visual artists, the consulting firm is involved in the structuring of the various sectors of the cultural and creative economy into a true revenue-generating sector. According to Umanum's director, the growth of these sectors is still hindered by the fact that they are still largely informal and poorly organized. Hence the urgency and the need for reinforcement. The young company, which could be considered a pioneer in the field, covers "six areas of intervention: institutional and organizational support, fundraising, project management, training, communication and the development of adapted tools and methods". A technical assistance offer whose core business is the consolidation of capacities and skills.

However, despite the enthusiasm of cultural and creative organizations, the requests are often short-term. They often rely on funding for their festival projects, exhibitions, etc. At this point, UMANUM monitors and searches for the most appropriate funding for the project and the organization. The firm writes the grant applications and negotiates the contracts. Unfortunately, the latter have a total lack of "consideration from the public authorities and such an irregularity of resources that it is difficult for them to project themselves over 2, 5 or 10 years and thus to develop sustainable action strategies". This would allow them to generate their own funds, to ensure a fixed income for artists and technicians and thus to allow them to live from their work, to professionalize them, complains Judith Michel. Besides, the intensification of the brain drain and of the creators in the sector of the culture remains embarrassing. "A real headache", for the organization, nevertheless the responsible remains confident. Solutions can still be found. For this, the request must be formulated.

On the other hand, Judith Michel's greatest satisfaction lies in a job well done and accomplished. "In fact, when the public sees an exhibition, a play, reads a book or listens to a podcast, I see it as the result of a process, of a convergence of individuals for a single creation," she argues. There was frustration, mutual aid, arguments, laughter, torpor, flashes of insight and compromises, but above all there was humanity. Human and creative", she confides. She whose first expectation is to continue to respond to the requests and needs formulated by cultural organizations, has the ambition "to expand the firm and to propose a service of social benefits for art and culture professionals (collective management of authors' rights, health insurance and retirement), based on the specificities of intermittent entertainment or irregularities of income for example". In addition, she dreams of investing in the production of cultural and educational content on Haitian artistic expressions. "But everything in its time!" she exclaims.

Biographical note on Judith Michel

Judith Michel was born in France to parents from southern Haiti. After a degree in English at the Sorbonne and a Master's degree in international solidarity project management at the University of Paris Saclay, she worked in Europe in the fields of popular education, adult education and culture. She also offered her services to organizations of different sizes, from associations to city halls to the UNESCO World Heritage Center. For the past 8 years, she has dropped her bags in Haiti. In Cap-Haitian in 2015, she was first in charge of a mission for Haiti Futur, in order to develop and deploy training in active pedagogy for teachers in the North and North-East departments. She then worked at the Centre d'Art as a program manager from 2017 to 2020; from there, she set up the pedagogical program and the creative support service. In 2020, she devoted herself fully to her new venture, UMANUM.

Shylene Prempin

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