Nathége Casseus moderating

Image courtesy of Nathége Casseus.

Student Nathége Casseus Explores Art and Culture at the Haitian American Museum of Chicago

Though small in size, the Haitian American Museum of Chicago (HAMOC) looms large in the city’s cultural scene with a powerful slate of exhibitions, community outreach, and programming. As the museum’s exhibits and programs assistant, School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) student Nathége Casseus is learning the hands-on work that goes into running a community arts and culture space.

HAMOC, founded in 2012 by Elsie Hernandez, houses a permanent collection of art, cultural objects, and historical documentation, with gallery space dedicated to temporary exhibitions. Casseus, a third-year bachelor of fine arts student, got the internship by making an in-person connection. Their sibling had previously interned at HAMOC, so when Casseus moved closer to the museum, they decided to walk in and introduce themselves, which eventually led to their hiring.

HAMOC is an intimate space with a small number of staff, which provided Casseus a wide range of opportunities to help. “You can do so much that I feel like you may not be able to do at a bigger museum,” Casseus said.

As the exhibits and program assistant, Casseus takes care of administrative tasks and plans exhibitions by corresponding with artists, collectors, and other institutions. Once exhibits and programs are arranged, Casseus helps with assembling and disassembling, documentation, and photography, as well as keeping the website up to date.  

But their tasks don’t stop at the backend of exhibits and programming. In the opening reception of the latest exhibit Nan San, Casseus had the opportunity to moderate the artist talk with featured artists William Balan-Gaubert, Tania Balan-Gaubert, and Maya Balan-Gaubert Gabriel.

“I think that’s down the alley of [work] I’d be interested in. Curating an experience by organizing an event, but also by performing in the event or putting people in contact,” Casseus said.

The internship has inspired Casseus to stage their own events. Using the skills they acquired at the museum, Casseus organized an open mic night called Voices of the Diaspora in December 2023 at the Hyde Park Rec Center. They’ve also connected their Haitian friends to the museum for potential art fairs and shows, and as a student studying in the Fiber and Material Studies, Performance, and Writing programs, the exposure to Haitian artists at the museum has informed their own artwork.

“The internship definitely makes me feel more responsible to talk about Haiti in my work because I’m so heavily immersed. And now it’s integrating into my practice. I’m learning to write more poems in Creole,” said Casseus.

One of their favorite memories of the internship so far is Leve’l 2023, the annual gala hosted by HAMOC to celebrate the museum and Haitian culture. The event features scholar presentations, artist performances, and Haitian food. In addition to helping prepare the gala, Casseus had the opportunity to take part in the programming by reading poetry and making connections with featured artists.

“I met Steven Baboun, a Syrian-Haitian performance artist,” said Casseus. “That was really cool for me to meet a fibers artist at the museum and just be able to perform and exchange information that way.”

Currently, Casseus is working with the Director of Programs and Museum Practice Carlos Bossard to organize an art fair for Caribbean artists and artists of the diaspora in collaboration with the Museum of Contemporary Art, and they’re excited to continue to learn and grow in the role. “What keeps me there and what keeps the community—who comes back to the museum so often—so strong is the [museum’s] love for Haitian art, and a love for supporting art in the community,” said Casseus. 

Nathége Casseus with Elsie Hernandez

Image courtesy of Nathége Casseus.