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Kuonyesha Art Fund Launched in Kampala

By Doddridge Busingye

The growing Ugandan art industry is set to boom as CivSource Africa injects millions through the Kuonyesha Art Fund. With one of their main objective being “to support artists to create for their own reason,”1 Ugandan creatives are meant to benefit directly from the fund with ‘no strings attached.’ To differ from other grants, this one is committed to supporting the artists and enabling them complete ‘their own’ project and showcase it. This is one of the main objectives of the fund.

I am compelled to emphasize ‘their own’ because of the history we have had with grants that come with predetermined (seasonal)themes for artists to work on. If I said, ‘use and dump,’ I’m afraid, I might be branded, ‘The angry and ungrateful critic.’ So, let me state it like this; with less regret that it is “seasonal employment for artists,” which is sudden grace for the artist at that moment that will soon return to grasses (their own project). But what Kuonyesha Art Fund aims to do is support the artist from grass to grace. At least, that is how the many artists that turned up at the Kuonyesha Art fund Kampala information session were promised. This article gives a highlight about Kuonyesha Art Fund, what transpired at the Kampala information session on Tuesday, 14th January, 2020 and finally a brief analysis of its relevance to the Ugandan art industry.

Some of the artists that attended the Kuonyesha Art Fund Kampala information session at the National theatre, Kampala. Photo courtesy of CivSource Africa

The fund

“Kuonyesha is a Swahili word that means show.”2 The beneficiaries of this fund will not only be supported for the development of their project but also be able to showcase their work upon completion. “Through the Art Fund, they will show, ©Doddridge Busingye 2020

depict, highlight, elevate, spotlight, support and celebrate the arts in Uganda, starting with the three locations of Kampala, Karamoja and Gulu.”3 “The listed regions are not limited to only individuals that originate from there, but rather whoever is doing their project within the area,” Elizabeth4 elaborated. She also added that this being the first phase, it is a pilot study; that they intend to expand to other regions of the country in the following years. Kuonyesha Art Fund is organized by CivSource Africa with support from Robert Bosch foundation and Stichting Doen.

Elizabeth Mbabazi responds to artists’ questions about the fund during the session in the National theatre auditorium. Photo courtesy of CivSource Africa

Amidst this excitement, artists shouldn’t forget that like any other grant, Kuonyesha Art Fund is also highly competitive; meaning that, one’s application will have to be highly convincing that their project is worthy of the generous sums. In order to equip the applicants with tips on how to apply, the Kuonyesha Art fund team organized an information session for the Kampala region and the turn-up indeed backed up the excitement I am talking about the new art fund.

The Kampala information session

By the end of September 2019, the news about a new art fund for Ugandan artists was all over and in no time, the call for application for Kuonyesha art fund had also circulated social media with hardcopy application forms for the Kampala region distributed in different art centers. So ‘the word was out.’ As if that wasn’t enough, perhaps for more clarity to the artists, Civsource Africa saw the need to even organize special information sessions for each region.

Even though the communication for the Kampala information session came on short notice (about 5 days to the day), the number of artists that turned up on 14th January, 2020 almost filled the National theatre auditorium. This is a clear indicator that the fund has been extensively communicated. A lot of questions regarding the fund were asked and most answered accordingly. Although I couldn’t help

One of the artists asking questions about the fund during the Kampala information session in the National theatre auditorium. Photo courtesy of CivSource Africa

but notice that one particular question was being brought up in several twists. This was particularly about who qualifies to apply for what amount of grant, but to be fair enough, it was made clear in the presentation and is well explained in the grant category5 of the Kuonyesha fund website as in the extract below. fund website as in the extract below.

Relevance of the fund

2020 is going to be a year of great events in the Ugandan contemporary art industry, but are the artists ready? Many artists probably worried about how prepared they will be with their projects when these major art events kick in. Hey artists, Kuonyesha Art Fund is here! Let’s maximize the opportunity. The environment is already warm; with a number of artist calls for application and by June, the fever will be high for the most anticipated events like the KAB20 and KLAART20. Usually, artists are always equipped with fresh and great ideas that they want to exhibit. The preparations for these exhibitions are the ones that come with overwhelming budgets which is a major limitation for a successful show. This is what a grant like the Kuonyesha Art Fund is here to support the artist with.

You must probably think, “I am suggesting that the fund and the mentioned art festivals work hand-in-hand.” Well, it is my hypothetical plan for how an artist can take advantage of what is available to develop and grow his or her career. So if you are an emerging artist you are reading this, then ‘you got the keys.’ I paid close attention during the information session, I could have missed anything but noted that Kuonyesha art fund is working with a structure that will help Ugandan artists grow their idea with support through production and finally support them to exhibit and stand out for who they are. This is explained more in the intended outcomes of Kuonyesha art fund; one of them being, increased access to opportunities for professional development and growth of artists (visibility, producing, networks).

The Ugandan contemporary art industry is growing. Artists are using their creativity to record history, make narratives, inform and educate society and question status-quos. Whereas artists love to create and showcase art, it is of as much importance to the society that consumes it, in this case, for our nation (Uganda) and the world at large. For this industry to thrive, there have to be joint efforts by the artist, the platforms to showcase the art and funders to boost the smooth-running of the art projects. The funders may be the government, investors or other interested parties like philanthropists. The art fraternity is happy to benefit from the support of Kuonyesha Art Fund starting to operate this year and our industry will continue to flourish as it attracts more with increased funding.

Doddridge Busingye is an Artist/ Researcher living and working in Kampala-Uganda.

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