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Updated: Jul 27, 2020

After months of demanding selection of the recipients for the Kuonyesha Art Fund support program, it was time for the team to visit the beneficiaries of the program. The president of Uganda had just announced an impartial lift on the COVID 19 induced lockdown. So me and the Kuonyesha team set off for the north eastern part of the country, the Karamoja region. This we did while observing the standard procedures set by the government, as per travel around the country, avoiding large gatherings of people, maintaining social distancing amongst people, among others.

The Kuonyesha Art fund program which is in the grants disbursement phase to the artists, had the selection process held in February 2020 and from Karamoja region, 23 arts projects were selected; these include both solo and group projects with a total of about 45 artists from the various districts in Karamoja region. They are being supported with grant amounts totaling to Shs. 93,000,000 (Ninety-three million shillings).

Now, since it was in the pilot phase of the funding program and had been delayed by the COVID 19 pandemic by four months from the intended time, the administrative art fund team had to re-adjust on how to deliver during this crisis period, in order to reach out to the various artists and arts enthusiasts.

It should be noted that, Kuonyesha Art Fund is a program by CivSource Africa; with the aim of giving flexible small grants to successful artists who had applied and were shortlisted as finalists for the program. This followed a research the was conducted in 2019 and various artists were consulted to assess the level of the arts, skills and talents in the various regions. Recognizing the importance and passion of the Arts to the growth of societies.

The findings of this research indicated that there are gender and class discrepancies that have forced women and slum artists into separate realities from male and mainstream artists. Whereas most artists had the skills to make music, literature, paint and sculpt, most are unable to buy the material they need/or equipment to do their work. The working environment for the urban poor, disabled and female artists is characterized by harassment, lack of personal security, bullying and discrimination. The groups within the arts community identified the most challenges as connected to 52% the lack of arts laws and systems, 38% lack of inclusion and power struggles, 10% caused by other social issues generally.

This background therefore impelled the pilot phase of the Art Fund program; to support the artists to access financing, to be able to explore their capabilities and skills in the arts and build an underpinning for their careers. The funding also aims at supporting unique ideas that address community issues and social change, promote innovations that bridge gaps between gender, class, access by persons with disabilities and locational divides, protect the artists against self-censorship. Kuonyesha aims to support the policy reforms such as copyright laws and the development of art-based institutions.

While in the Karamoja region, we had to observe all the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) put in place by the Ministry of Health. We had to adjust the program to meet these directives. We disbursed the funds in a phased manner after assessing each project separately as opposed to the regional disbursements that were earlier planned. There were projects that were individual in nature and did not involve people gathering. Group projects on the other hand as well as those that involved theatre performances were unable to start on schedule, but we managed to have them go on.

The online correspondences were challenging due to a number of factors such as poor internet network connectivity, some of the grantees did not have electricity which hampered prompt and timely communication, language barrier as well as absence of the devices to support communications for some of the artists. Also, because some of the projects needed technical support expressing and refining what their deliverables were, this required the team’s physical presence to have a conversation and agree on such specific items that needed to be included in the contracts.

One of the recipients, Aleper Albert in Nakapiripirit, shared that his motivation to write mythical story books in Ngakarimojong language was inspired by the need to document some of the stories that were told to them in the yesteryears; because most of his peers and those before him, grew up listening to these stories from elders but have since been eroded because there is no more time for storytelling in families and some are now being taught in English. He expressed his fear that the Ngakarimojong language was being mislaid and yet it is a very important part of the heritage. And as such he believes children should be motivated and captivated with such stories at a young age to learn their language.

Other artists shared that the story of Karamoja has over time been told by different people that are not part of the region and as such, history has judged them poorly. They hope that telling their story about their heritage and culture in their perspective, will put into context such information.

A group from Moroto called ‘TUNAPONGOLE’ intends to use their photography and filming skills to capture the beautiful scenery of Karamoja for the world to see how amazing, beautiful and unique the Karimojong people are.

Kuonyesha Art Fund is deliberate and intentional on the inclusiveness of differently abled persons and women, and this led us to one of our artists in Moroto, Longes Gabriel aka ‘Air Jay’, a 24-year-old musician who is visually impaired. He intends to start up a domestic studio at his home which he can access anytime to produce his music to ease his mobility. This was majorly motivated by the fact that his music production has greatly been hindered by his reliance on support in reaching the studios, which sometimes is not readily available. He focuses his music on sensitizing and interesting fellow Karimojong people to work hard and change the narrative that they are beggars who flock the City streets to ask for money. He believes that encouraging them to work hard and embrace work is something that should be done to also help the young generation change their mindsets.

Catherine Anyango aka ‘blessed Cathy’ is a female musician in Moroto who is working on a music album in collaboration with children living with HIV/AIDS. Anyango says that there are many children that have been affected by the HIV/AIDS scourge, leaving them orphaned and others marginalized in their communities. Working with them through music gives them hope as it promotes inclusiveness and abjures stigma.

This local arts support program whose mission is to show and celebrate art and artists in all their diversity in Uganda is supported by CivSource Africa, Stitching DOEN and Robert Bosch foundation.

By Rehemah Twine

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