Undaunted by the complexities of outreach to Haiti following the 2010 earthquake, Grammy award winning band Arcade Fire hopes to help forge bonds with Haiti by combining indie rock and philanthropy.
Arcade Fire members and Texas natives Win Butler and Will Butler and bandmates Regine Chassagne and Marika Anthony-Shaw were present for the evening, entitled “Arcade Fire: A Lecture on Hope, Haiti & Service.”
The group spoke about their relationship with Partners in Health, a healthcare charity in Haiti. The band has donated over $500,000 throughout the past four years and $1 of every ticket the band sells at concerts goes to the charity, said band frontman Win Butler.
“In the [United] States and Canada, there’s a basic attitude that you should be able to do things yourself,” Win said. “You take for granted all the infrastructure we have. When you see a place that has no government or money for basic necessities, you know people shouldn’t die from not being able to get a tetanus shot in 2012.”
Regine Chassagne’s Haitian heritage first inspired the band’s relationship with the country. Her family settled in Montreal after fleeing the dictatorship of François Duvalier in the 1960s.
After the band began to achieve rapid fame, they chose focus their efforts by working continually with Haiti, Chassanges said.
“I started thinking, how can I ignore this petition and that petition, how is this more important than this?” Chassanges said. “Well my family is Haiti, and Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere, so hmm, that was pretty high on my list.”
The group was also inspired by the work of anthropologist Paul Farmer and his book “Mountains Beyond Mountains,” which details his outreach in Haiti. The book served as the starting point of involvement for many members of the band, said Anthony-Shaw.
“The poverty that was there was unlike anything he’d ever seen,” Anthony-Shaw said. “The dollar-per-ticket program grew from that book and it grew with the band.”
At the event, the band was questioned by members of the audience, including one who asked the group about the dangers of flooding money to countries while not checking on how effective that help would actually be.
Win said while he was extremely skeptical of celebrity charities, there are ways to check the efficiency of organizations and use money more effectively.
“If the question of ‘is this useful’ isn’t coming up, then you’re doing something wrong,” Win said. “If I donate a bunch of money and people end up going out and painting some schools when there’s massive unemployment, I’d be concerned.”
While other forms of advocacy and outreach are important, money is still a useful way to support afflicted and under-developed regions, Anthony-Shaw said.
This was the first time Arcade Fire has spoken at a university to advocate for Haiti, said band member Will Butler.
“We feel like we have a really great connection with Austin and the University of Texas at Austin,” Will said. “It was exciting to discuss with students and paint a more complex portrait and engage with such an exciting crowd.”
Band members said they hope their advocacy will lead to progress in Haiti that will benefit the country 20 or 60 years down the road.
“It’s not us helping the Haitians across a divide, its about making a common cause with these Haitians who respond to problems like any of us,” Win said “What makes people healthy is more complicated then just giving them a pill.”
Printed on Tuesday, March 20, 2012 as: Band integrates philanthropy, music