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Art and Philanthropy: A relationship that makes a difference in society

By auctioning their art to raise money to meet good causes artists are being empathetic

Kampala, Uganda | DOMINIC MUWANGUZI | Art is about  humanity; how people live, relate and respond to what surrounds them. On the other hand, Philanthropy is the act of improving the welfare of others through generous donations, usually inform of money. As such, since art is used to express and communicate what goes on in the wider society, and the fact that it greatly survives on patronage, it would be sufficient to  conclude that Art and Philanthropy are synonymous. Since the beginning of civilization, art has been used as a medium of supporting good causes. In the middle ages and after that period, the aristocratic class would use art as a medium of reaching out to the underprivileged societies. In fact the support  to artists like Michael Angelo, Leonardo Da Vinci and Caravaggio by their patrons was a gesture of Philanthropy.

In the Ugandan situation, the symbiotic relationship between art and philanthropy has been recurrent. The Signature Art Exhibition 2010 supported and funded by Tullow Oil Uganda was a demonstration of  how philanthropy can be tied to art. The concept of the exhibition was conceived to support over 50 local artists to make a decent living from their art. According to Jimmy Kiberu, then Head of Communications at the Oil mining company, he said that “ It is better to give one a net to fish rather than a fish.” This statement implied that the Oil company was providing opportunities to the exhibiting artists to sell their work to a across section of suave corporate companies that were represented by their Chief Executive Officers. The two day exhibition, held at the Serena Hotel Kampala, had art worth more than Ugx 200 million sold. It also was a valuable platform to connect the artists to the represented companies for future business prospects. Later in the same year, 29 artists working on the Kampala art scene held an exhibition at Kabira Country Club to raise money to support Child I Foundation, a local orphanage.

Previously, in the early 1990s an art exhibition Nyero Gilar Kitgum ( Hope for Kitgum) was organized at Sheraton Hotel Kampala. The exhibit was intended to raise money for the vulnerable people of Northern Uganda who had been exposed to political insecurities. Many locals from the area, especially Kitgum district, had been left homeless and hungry because of the war. The lead artist at this show, Dr. Amanda Tumusiime, again exhibited in a solo show Another Time, Another Place 2016 at Emin Pasha Hotel, Kampala. The purpose for this charity show was to support the girl child education in a local school in Kabale, Southwestern Uganda. To reiterate such a gesture of reaching out to the needy, Dr. Tumusiime is now involved in another charity show intended to fundraise financial support for brain surgery of children with hydrocephalus; a disease that causes the brain to swell with water. The event will have the  Makerere University don put up her work for sale to an invited guest list of  business men.

The tradition of linking art to philanthropy is a necessary undertaking that does not  only improve the welfare of others, but also importantly gives credibility to art as useful discipline in society. The misconception about art as a useless subject and artists severally labelled as failures in our communities, can perhaps be overturned by fulfilling such a noble cause. The artists like Dr. Amanda Tumusiime who generously offer their art for auction to create change in respective communities need to be recognized for setting a remarkable precedent that can raise the profile of art to a local audience.


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