Art for Social Change in Uganda

Since I was quite young, I’ve always be drawn to the arts and started participating in any way I could with my school. More recently, I’ve also been drawn to the issue of local and global social change. So while traveling with Alberta Council for Global Cooperation and Mennonite Central Committee to Uganda in the summer of 2017, I was excited to visit a group of youth who work on activism for social change through art, called Artivists 4 Life, and learn how they accomplish social change. The use of the arts as a way to make change was really appealing to me because art makes ideas tangible, making it easier for messages to be spread.

Walking into Artivists 4 Life’s meeting space, just outside of Kampala, Uganda, we were welcomed by energetic drums, jolting us awake from our quiet bus ride there. One of the first things that drew me to Artivists was the creative group introductions – we each had to say our name along while making any action of our choice, which the group would then copy. These first interactions immediately demonstrated the infusion of art within their group. Not to mention, it was a fun and very welcoming way to meet the group.

Spending the day surrounded by, and talking with, the dedicated and passionate youth was inspiring. Each of the members had their own specialties: some were drummers, others dancers, and even musicians. The Artivist collective is diverse and inclusive in their artistic mediums, in order to make their messages of social change appeal to as many people as possible. It showed how empowered youth are and how large of an impact collaboration can have.

During the day, we also had the opportunity to learn about ways they create revenue to continue to expand their work. One of the ways they fund their awareness projects and help youth create their own income is through making and selling chokolos (earrings from bottle caps), and bracelets through recycled materials.  The members of the group taught us how to make these items during our time there. We also visited a plot of land that the group purchased with revenue from the sale of their goods, planting a tree with Artivists in the hopes that if or when we get to visit again, we can see how far the group, and the tree, has grown.

Using their artistic skills, the Artivists have been able to spread awareness of pressing issues in their community, including spreading information about HIV/AIDS prevention by painting educational murals. They have also shown me how far collaboration can go – they visited the University of Alberta in Edmonton to create a mural project on campus. Artivists have taught me a lot in a short period of time, and inspired me to not be limited by my age.

-Alisha Goosney, 16, Fort McMurray