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The Kuonyesha Art Fund conversation in Kampala

There has been a need to have a locally based fund on the Kampala (Uganda) art scene and in comes the Kuonyesha Art Fund. News about the fund started making rounds in November last year. Kuonyesha Art Fund is a Ugandan fund managed by CivSource Africa with support from its partners Stichting DOEN and Robert Bosch Foundation. “Kuonyesha” is a Swahili word that means to show, highlight or spotlight. Elizabeth Mbabazi at the info session at the National Theatre on Wednesday told the attendees that they couldn’t pick a title from the many Ugandan languages. They were looking for a unifying language.


Attendees at the Kampala Info Session of the Kuonyesha Art Fund at the National Theatre auditorium.

The Kampala info session took off at 10 a.m at the main auditorium of the National Theatre chaired by Elizabeth Mbabazi who is the project officer of the fund. Phillip Balimunsi, the curator of Nommo National Gallery was a co-speaker at the event. Elizabeth ran presentation slides and explained the hows and whys of the institution to a calm but interested audience. For starters, the fund will cover three regions of the country which include Kampala, Karamoja and Gulu. Kampala was mapped out for its economic and political stronghold to the nation, Gulu and Karamoja for the need to research on what is there and encourage exchange and catch up with the other regions. Info sessions had been done earlier for Gulu and Karamoja. The fund seeks to cover the wider spectrum of the arts, from the visuals to dance, film and others. And best of all, there is no age restriction to the applicants. Priority will be given to disabled and women artists who’ve always been sidelined in the arts. Running for its pilot phase, the fund won’t cater for organizations but rather individuals and Elizabeth confided in us that they are leaving room for them to learn from during this inaugural year of the fund. She said, to the excited crowd, that they hope that the fund will grow and probably include bigger entities like organizations and go national and regional in future. The institution is looking at giving money for projects to individual artists and it’s looking for 23 artists from each region that will receive up to 20 million Uganda shillings depending on whether they are beginners/emerging artists or professionals. The amount the artist receives largely depends on how long they have been working professionally with established artists legible to taking the whole 20 million while emerging artists taking up to 4 million. Selected applicants will be displayed on the fund’s website and social media pages in February after the selections are made.

Above are some the creatives and arts practitioners that made it for the Kampala info session of the art fund at the National Theatre.

This fund comes with a torch in the darkness that is the arts scene here. Apart from institutions like Bayimba, 32 East and maybe the Mukumbya-Musoke Art Prize, there is barely an institution that supports artists. This fund is one of a kind as it is directly reaching out to creatives and also offering some sort of freedom to the artists to create independently whatever and however. The artists won’t be policed and held accountable for how they spend the funds they acquire but will however be encouraged and supported to grow. Kuonyesha Art Fund won’t impose themes and directions to which artists express, only that they will not support art projects that incite hatred, violence or any sort of exclusion or discrimination.

Such an institution is very essential for the growth of the sector here as it will help entice more arts practitioners to engage more into creating. In our blindly capitalist environment, you often hear comments about whether it’s profitable taking up a career in art. Well, if you have someone injecting more than four million in your career, then that means they see the worth in what you do!

Image courtesy: Kuonyesha Art Fund

Matt Kayem is a contemporary artist, art critic and writer living and working in Kampala, Uganda. He can be reached via email, mattkayem@gmail.com.

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