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Overcoming poverty through art and transforming talents into profession

A large number of artists recognized to have experienced life changing experiences and gained new skills with regard to their development in future

Overcoming poverty through art and transforming talents into profession - under this motto CEFA and its partners Cultural Video Foundation and Vijana Vipaji Foundation worked during the 26 months of the project (January 2014 – February 2016).

The project identified 337 artists from Nairobi and Dar es Salaam (150 beneficiaries in Kenya and 187 in Tanzania), including particularly talents from difficult backgrounds, and engaged a multitude of different strategies in order to find and to create places within the cultural-creative economies of the two countries.

“Art against poverty” (AAP) project established fundamental working channels towards:

• Strengthening technical and managerial artistic capacities;
• Promoting and teaching (self-) presentation and promotion (“self-marketing”);
• Building a social networking platform for linking artists with art and culture scenes and encourage mutual artistic exchange and interaction;
• Offering events and opportunities to the artists in order to enable them to expose and showcase their talents and artworks;
• Advocating with policy-makers to ensure the rights of artists and to widen public awareness of the values of art and culture.

“With artists aged between 18 – 35 years the project’s focus was particularly on young talents”, explains Marina Mazzone, CEFA’s Project Manager in Tanzania. “One distinct feature for the Tanzanian composition of beneficiaries was the inclusion of artists with specific vulnerable backgrounds such as people with disabilities or special needs, people with albinism and people with background as street kids or from urban slum communities”.

Even the pool of artists in Nairobi involved people from difficult situations - such as artists from poorest slum districts of the capital. The Kenyan artists were mostly solo artists, though often associated with one of the city’s sprouting art and culture centres or with performing art groups. In contrast the majority of Tanzanian artists were members either of a music band, dance formation or theatre group. This slight socio-demographic disparity mirrors the more diversified, more individualistic and yet more westernized living culture in the Kenyan capital. While here bilingual artists from the field of literature were part of the programme, literature features in the Tanzanian course of AAP were completely missing. Due to a general low education level artists from Dar es Salaam barely overcome the barrier of proper English skills and the art of writing even in Kiswahili amongst young artists is not present at all. It seems that art and culture in Nairobi operate on a somehow higher (educational) level. “In brief, while Nairobi already has taken some first steps cautious steps in unfolding thin layers of a creative economy Dar es Salaam is just becoming more vibrant through growing international input and starts to unleash new artistic opportunities”, concludes Marina.

After a call for proposals in 2014, the project selected more than 330 artists in a varied range of disciplines: visual arts, music, literature, performing arts, dance, art therapy, art teaching, photography, fashion design, acting, painting…

Following the selection, the AAP project conducted individual talks with the beneficiaries. The intent was to use the information from these conversations at the conclusion of the project to see if any of the goals of the project and the aspirations the beneficiaries had been met and how effectively. Apart from venturing out to judge the levels at which the beneficiaries were in their artistic craft, the questionnaire also sought to know their training needs between technical, artistic and managerial training, if these were to be offered. The results indicated that a substantial number of the beneficiaries sought to have managerial training, while technical training had the least number of requests.

Once the needs assessed, the APP staff organised a capacious variety of workshops and trainings (32), exchange programmes (3), showcasing and exhibiting opportunities (25), with focus on fighting poverty and developing opportunities in the artist’s national markets. The trainings were very varied and allowed to answer specific problems of the artists: from music to video, art therapy, painting, English, Yoga and management.

The “Jumping Village” experience

During the months of June and July 2015 a 4 weeks workshop involving 20 artists (dancers, musicians, and singers) took part to the production called “The Jumping Village” that mixed traditional and contemporary dance and music. The performance is based on the topic of the land conflicts, according to the call for proposal "Energy, Art and Sustainability for Africa", a launched by ENI in the framework of Milan EXPO 2015. In the centre of the performance stands the expressive and enthralling force of dancing bodies combining with live music and the active involvement of the audience as spectators who become confronted with burningly current question about land grabbing, management of natural resources, food security, and local needs in a globalised world. The workshop ended with an opening rehearsal at the National Museum of Dar es Salaam. The performance has been shown in Milan during the EXPO (October 2015) and in Brussels during the Dev Days (June 2016).

Results and outputs: qualitative indicators

The provision of specific artistic, managerial and entrepreneurial skills was at the heart of the AAP project both in Kenya and Tanzania. “A large number of artists recognized to have experienced life changing experiences and gained new skills with regard to their development in future”, explains Marina. “During the final evaluation all artists emphasized the great importance of managerial training and of networking opportunities that were provided through AAP. Many artists shared the impression of being better enabled, empowered and well equipped for professional opportunities”, she analyses.

The majority of artists (90%), had some opportunities to generate occasional payments. The ones who gained more were from new media disciplines, as photography and film making, or belong to music and dance groups or to specific art techniques groups born within the project. The group of Tanzanian Doctor Clowns, the first one in all the country, is a remarkable proof of how art can be profitable and have a social impact. The group signed two contracts with the major hospitals of Dar es Salaam, thus recognising the clown therapy as a therapeutic approach. The performing group of the Theatre of the Oppressed are constantly involving in advocacy campaigns for different NGOs and international agencies. Some Kenyan literary artists were enabled to publish and successfully sell their works for the 1st time.

Some positive examples:

• Red Acapella (music band) improved popularity and gained new gigs;
• The Pacific Initiative (theatre company) is performing participative theatre in various Nairobi district and regular and paid basis;
• Adaka Labana Rakar, filmmaker/photographer, felt inspired to enter a political career;
• Eric Mwaura, filmmaker/photographer, built up his own company;
• Dennis Gitonga, Cartoonist, published his first illustration and edit a children’s magazine;
• Kenneth Ottieno, painter, gained more jobs for doing graffiti and build up the youth project “Sunday Boys”;
• Dickson Wakwabubi, painter, has his own studio, was selected among the 8 AAP artists who became permanent artists for a period of three years at the Kuona Trust Art Centre;
• Mwangi Gituro, writer, published two books;
• Dar Creators being requested for Theatre of the Oppressed community plays by various organisations such as Save the Children, CCBRT and Nipe Fagio;
• One of the outstanding activities during the project was the multi-levelled training of artists to become doctor clowns, qualified to such an extent that they are able to address therapy sessions to children with disabilities and cancer;
• The cartoonist Medy has a contract with a Tanzanian Newspaper;
• The painter Johnson Mjindo, thanks to his portfolio, won a residence in Austria (summer 2015);
• Albino Revolution Group has been engaged in a countrywide awareness campaign financed by a Finnish organization;
• 2 visual artists after the wall painting in a restaurant in Dar had new contracts with other corporates and agencies.


The Action was registered under the Kenyan law of WiBO Culture as CBO (community based organization). Cultural Video Foundation (CVF) and CEFA have put together a team of motivated artists, some of them from the AAP project and some not, who are now organizing new events; some of them have been already organised and had leaded it to the production of new interesting collaborations, at local and regional level. The economic model is very simple. A BUS (a real double deck London bus located in the central area of Nairobi, Westlands) became a collaborative/co-working space managed by CVF.

The start-up WiBO Culture is providing contents for events and in doing so is involving different artists. The budgets of these events are covered by financial incomes coming from entrance fees or other form of sponsorships (private or public). The Alchemist Bar, the beverage company that is co-managing the property in which the BUS is located, is paying the artists directly to perform, in order to keep the bar busy.

Advocating with policy-makers

Another highlight of the project certainly is the cultural policy approach which was successfully implemented in the Kenyan culture-political landscape. The APP project took place during the developing process of a new Kenyan constitution when new spaces had made for implementing dialogue and exchange with policy makers, counterparts and governmental agencies. The Kenyan AAP project management were working for 12 months for the development of the “Cultural Policy Toolkit”, a new sustainable input to assist the policy formulation and implementation process. It helps the county officials to use the same steps for the identification, protection and development of artistic and cultural assets. The collected data will demonstrate a direct link between community vitality and the arts. The toolkit was officially presented in December 2015 to a 40-people audience among whom the Ministry of Sport, Culture and the Arts, the Transition Authority, the Kenya National Commission for UNESCO and 10 counties.

More best practices HERE

December 21, 2016
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