Cambodian art
Worldwide, COVID-19 has impacted many countries and peoples’ daily lives. While not all countries have been affected in the same manner due to their respective population demographics, economies, etc. — places with a contained outbreak are far from lucky. As of the beginning of July 2020, Cambodia has had 141 confirmed cases of the new virus and zero deaths; possessing one of the world’s most desirable records for disease containment. However, citizens canceled many gatherings and traditions due to the constant spread of the new virus, in order to stave off the increasing numbers of infected. In a country filled with culture and art, postponing annual festivals poses a significant threat to society — both from an emotional and economic standpoint. As a result, many long-standing art troupes are facing closures and this, in turn, is negatively affecting the Cambodian art industry.

A Brief History

In the past, Cambodia faced a difficult battle with its culture. The country underwent a prolonged civil war and genocidal regime, forcing many traditional forms of Cambodian culture to the brink of vanishing. In addition to the political stress on the art industry, many artists faced financial struggles and gave up their passions in return for a stable outcome. Although the Cambodian arts encountered numerous obstacles, certain traditions have outlasted these struggles. Albeit, the impact of COVID-19 stands to be the most difficult obstacle for these troupes yet.

Kok Thlok Association of Artists

One of the most popular forms of Cambodian art is through traditional shadow puppet plays. Kok Thlok Association of Artists is a group of artists that includes a majority of French nationals performing this art form. Since March of 2019, this troupe has been entertaining the public by putting on shadow puppet plays (also known as a Sbek Touch) and Yike (a Cambodian art form of Khmer musical theatre). They perform these traditional art forms to showcase and instill their culture into the younger generation and earn income for the artists. With theatre being their primary source of income and the new virus spreading, no performances occur, which in turn prevents these artists from earning their wages.

A Drastic Decrease in Income

Soon after the discovery of Cambodia’s first COVID-19 case in January of 2020, the government ordered the temporary shutdown of places such as schools, museums and cinemas. The government canceled public events, including art performances and heavily encouraged people to refrain from gathering in crowds. As a result, the Kok Thlok Association of Artists was unable to perform and gain income. With this drastic decrease in income, these artists are finding it difficult to feed themselves and pay for expenses like rent. Even in these severe circumstances, however, the association is still committed to preserving the art form.

Siem Reap’s Phare Cambodian Circus

In addition to collecting revenue from Cambodian residents, many art performances have a large following of tourists. Due to the new virus, tourism has halted — which has consequently impacted many other industries and companies as well. The Siem Reap’s Phare Cambodian circus is popular for its ability to combine the Cambodian art of storytelling effectively and artistically with dance, music and other forms of performing arts; the circus is a very popular tourist attraction. With almost no tourist arrivals, establishments like the Phare circus have been deeply affected. The effects of COVID-19 will have a long-lasting impact on the economy and the tourism industry, meaning that entertainers and artists will remain in this situation for some time.

With most of the artists’ primary and part-time jobs lost, many participants are attempting to stay above the poverty line by moving to cheaper areas and by selling goods. In addition to their dire circumstances, there is the aforementioned cultural battle in Cambodia which leaves local residents unable or unwilling to provide monetary support. Apart from monetary issues, these performances helped artists from challenging backgrounds to put aside their problems and focus on the art form. Now, with their primary outlet of expression gone, many artists are facing both financial and emotional problems.

An Adaptive Look to the Future

While these artists are managing to barely stay afloat, many theatres are unable to do so. The long-standing Sovanna Phum Theatre — a shadow puppet theatre that blends puppetry with traditional Khmer dance — closed down in May 2020. However, the ministry provides alternate ways for these artists to make money, e.g. through media outlets and other online platforms. In fact, The Sovanna Phum Theatre relocated to the School of Fine Arts. Although their performances are online and difficult for the performers to adjust to — the government has provided them with a temporary solution. It is unknown how long this solution will last, but the Cambodian artists hope for the best and pray that COVID-19 does not hurt their chances of performing in the future.

– Aditi Prasad
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

International BlessingsInternational Blessings, an online store launched in 2012, supports the livelihood of over 20 artisan groups in 15 countries around the world. Missouri native and entrepreneur Sarah Barnett started the business after encountering global poverty first-hand during a two-week mission trip overseas. She came home eager to make a difference by helping impoverished families establish a sustainable income. Today, her store sells a wide variety of handmade items produced by artisans in developing nations.

Crafts for a Cause

Barnett’s Box of Blessings is the organization’s signature product. With a Box of Blessings subscription, customers receive monthly boxes filled with three or four unique, hand-crafted items from all corners of the globe. Popular selections include earrings, hand-sculpted figurines and more. The artisans tend to favor recycled materials, often repurposing old clay, glass and bone to adorn their crafts. A few more innovative and unusual choices include aluminum cans, seeds and fish scales. 

Another option is Favorite of the Month, a cheaper subscription box containing just one item. Most Favorite of the Month boxes include jewelry such as earrings, a necklace or a bracelet. 

Besides subscription boxes, the online store also sells individual handmade products. With just the click of a button, shoppers can purchase embroidered coin purses from Peru for $8 or leather bracelets from Swaziland for $12. Other featured collections range from lip balms to keychains to hand-dyed cotton headbands. 

Each item comes with a detailed description card introducing its maker and place of origin. The store includes these cards to personalize deliveries, inviting customers to learn about experiences they might not otherwise confront in their daily lives.

Building a Better Tomorrow

All sales contribute to Barnett’s vision of creating jobs and eliminating poverty through the arts. The artisans who contribute their products acquire the resources to feed their families and send their children to school. In addition, International Blessings donates 10% of every subscription box to other poverty-fighting causes.

In the end, International Blessings offers more than charity. It helps impoverished people build stable livelihoods for themselves. Each year, International Blessings also partners with ministries, fair-trade organizations and non-profits to teach the crafts that change lives.

Tapping Into Local Talent

As founder Barnett explains on her website, “I am continually amazed at the creativity and the talent that can be found all over the world… I was in Burkina Faso, Africa, and sitting next to a girl that was teaching me her craft. I realized what a difference it would make for her family if I could purchase a large amount of her bags.”

Barnett saw this opportunity again when she met beading artist Layet Christine in Uganda. Christine now sells her necklaces to International Blessings. She uses the profits to care for orphaned children, as well as seven children of her own. In this way, the young mother is helping to break the cycle of poverty in her village. Her children are learning how to be entrepreneurs and how to hope for a better future.

Since Barnett’s first glimpse into the desperation of global poverty, International Blessings has blossomed into a far-reaching enterprise. The online store continues to provide customers with handmade, ethically-made products that lead to positive changes around the world. Her store continues to impact global poverty by providing jobs, training, and donations for the cause. 

– Katie Painter
Photo: Wikimedia


Guatemala is a country made up of six primary ethnic communities, though the population mostly comprises people belonging to the Mestizo and Maya ethnic groups. These ethnic groups are generationally skilled in creating traditional forms of art, which include weaving, beading and embroidering. Over half the Guatemalan population lives in a highly populated southern mountainous area. Within this region also live the majority of communities that experience poverty in the country. Many individuals from ethnic communities in this region use art to leverage themselves out of poverty.

Poverty in Guatemala

While Guatemala’s GDP has increased by an average of 3.5% over the past five years, high rates of poverty still exist within the country. 59.3% of the Guatemalan population (9.4 million people) live below the poverty line. In surrounding Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) regional contexts, the average per capita growth is 1.6%. Due to high population growth rates since 2000, Guatemala’s recent annual per capita growth is only 1.3%. High population growth rates are, in part, caused by a young population, with a median age of 23.2 years.

The Literacy Gap

Guatemala also experiences lower rates of literacy among women than men. As of 2015, 87.4% of men and 76.3% of women were literate in Guatemala. Between 2002 and 2014, literacy rates among women improved by 13.03%. In recent years, organizations like MayaWorks have worked to address the low literacy rates among women in Guatemala. MayaWorks is a non-profit organization that partners with women from rural communities to transform artisanal skills into sustainable businesses. Across 125 partnerships that MayaWorks has established with skilled Guatemalan artisans, over 40% of women are reported to have never received a primary education — and therefore lack literacy skills. Through one program, MayaWorks offers women in rural Guatemala access to primary education to improve their literacy. Business and literacy training programs enable women to not only improve situations for their families and communities, but also to decrease overall rates of poverty in Guatemala.

Supporting Women’s Education and Entrepreneurship

MayaWorks has shared stories of how business and literacy training programs can relieve women suffering from poverty in Guatemala. The Tz’utujil indigenous group makes up 30% of the Maya ethnic population and is primarily situated in a rural highland region of Guatemala. Women from this ethnic group are skilled in creating Maya-style crafts, including cultural staples such as crochet, hand weaving and treadle foot loom weaving. With the help of MayaWorks, over 52 Tz’utujil women from Santiago Atitlán are leveraging their artisan skills and sharing their cultural forms of expression with businesses in the United States. These partnerships allow for extended solutions to both local and national poverty in Guatemala through international support. Meanwhile, the international business of Mayan artists is strengthening relations between Guatemala and the United States.

The work of Mayan artisans, combined with the financial and educational support of MayaWorks, has already begun to alleviate poverty in Guatemala. Overall literacy levels for Guatemalan women have increased, which has also led to the employment of more women within the country’s workforce. According to the World Bank, employment rates for women in Guatemala have increased from 23.24% in 1999 to 40-45% in recent years. On a localized level, many women are now able to obtain security for their families and communities. Above all, working with MayaWorks equips women to be self-sufficient in running businesses and managing finances. This results in a generationally sustainable, long-term solution for reducing poverty in Guatemala.

Lilia Wilson

Photo: Pixabay

Art Programs Alleviating PovertyGlobal youth art programs aim to alleviate a range of poverty issues from addressing social injustice or trauma to promoting healthier living. They are ambitious and innovative with results that are not only beautiful in the final product but in their process as well. Many of these five youth art programs alleviating poverty worldwide function as localized, hands-on projects centered around at-risk children.

With a need for such necessities as health care, clean water and adequate sanitation, why is art viewed as a beneficial use of resources? Thematic art, such as a creating a mural, can collaboratively explore a social topic and tell a personal story, not only creating strength of community between artists and student artists but also acting as a form of therapy. Many programs cite improved mental health as a goal. Participants benefit from investing time on a project with a positive tone. Below, we explore five outstanding art programs that are alleviating poverty worldwide.

5 Youth Art Programs Alleviating Poverty Worldwide

  1. Art Sprouts
    In Kafue, Zambia, the Amos Youth Centre (a project of the African Education Program) provides before and after school support for kids through a variety of programs. The center trains youth toward leadership and provides the education girls need to avoid marriage or pregnancy at a young age, which directly combats a situation of ongoing poverty.In 2016, Amos Youth Centre began a collaboration with Art Sprouts which organizes volunteers and creates programming around the world. Art Sprouts recognizes that schooling for impoverished kids tends to lack subjects such as art, focusing instead on the basics. The organization aims to help children express themselves creatively and discover artistic talent while exploring social issues, such as gender inequality. The chance to engage in art is fulfilling, fun and fosters the commitment of youth at Amos.
  2. Artolution
    Max Frieder and Joel Bergner founded this organization in 2009 with the hope of changing the lives of individuals through the creation and public display of art. Since then, Artolution has received several accolades, including the 2018 World of Children Crisis Award, a UNICEF seal and a GuideStar Seal of Transparency. The organization believes that through community-based art, resiliency and healing can take place.As such, Artolution’s projects take on such themes as environmental sustainability in exploring the effects of plastic in the ocean. The organization also addresses the global refugee crisis by creating public art with communities of displaced kids, building a nurturing and impactful experience with a theme of unity in the midst of crisis.Artolution tackles the stigma associated with mental health issues by creating a safe space to discuss them and how to access help. Artolution’s scope of issues is broad, their programming is implemented worldwide and the administration of their efforts is top-notch. Artolution has established programs in countries around the world.
  3. ASTEP
    The mission of artists striving to end poverty is to give strength to individuals, especially children. They recognize that those living in poverty lack personal choice and that engagement in art is a safe way for individuals to experience the dignity and human right that goes with making choices and creative exploration. Unlike the first two of the five youth art programs alleviating poverty worldwide, ASTEP utilizes performing arts as well as visual arts in its approach.Broadway Musical Director Mary-Mitchell Campbell along with a group of Juilliard students wanted to fight poverty and knew the best tool they had to do so was their art. ASTEP works to awaken creativity and promote critical thinking. A commonality of all these programs is the discovery and strengthening of one’s self in recognizing the effects of poverty and how to proactively fight that determination for one’s future. ASTEP’s programming is located in India.
  4. Global Art Project
    The Global Art Project is on a mission to joyously create a culture of peace through art. The organization was nominated for a UNESCO prize for their accomplishments. Every year they create an art exchange with participation from 93 countries and 155,000 participants. The program is implemented on the ground by more than 200 Regional Coordinators around the world. This program, unique in its worldwide scope of artists, nurtures an appreciation for cultural diversity while finding the commonality of peace-seeking through the theme, “We Are All One.” This view of our interconnectedness creates a global culture of healing, goodwill and reconciliation, bringing awareness and unity.
  5. Adding Color to Lives
    Joel Bergner is a street artist and muralist who found a unique way of bringing his large-scale projects to youth around the world. He created the Adding Color to Lives program through corporate sponsorship with Park Inn by Radisson hotels. The program not only builds relationships and brings hope and inspiration to refugees and impoverished communities but also creates artist mentors who can continue their mission of healing and partnership through art.For Bergner, art is the tool by which he reaches communities in need. He brings art out of the museum and onto the streets where youth can feel the positive impact of their teamwork and self-expression and also feel their voice in the world, as students design the murals themselves through the process. Bergner observes the natural gravitation of people to art during difficult times. The artists create a hopeful image for the world to see, as love and compassion are expressed through collaborative art.

Creating access to arts education for underprivileged youth worldwide nurtures communities on many levels. When children are provided the structure, guidance and materials to create art, they engage in self-expression beneficial to their development. They also have an outlet to tell the story of their culture or community. Children participating in after school art programs are safe and engaged. Arts education can be an agent of social change and address powerful injustices such as violence, trauma and gender inequality. Sharing joy and struggle, relationships are built through the creation of art. Art can promote healing, resilience and healthy living and break the cycle of poverty for individuals.

Susan Niz
Photo: Flickr

Artists against PovertyHistorically, art is a concept too broad to comprehend on a simplistic term. It can reference painting, drawing, music, writing, sculpting, acting, most creative ventures tend to fall under the category of art. With such a wide scape, it is no surprise that art also covers a range of topics, from love to politics to recycling. Poverty is a matter which has not escaped the global creative community and artists all over the world use their work to either raise awareness or take action against poverty. There are hundreds of thousands of relevant artists and projects around the world, though a few have caught significant attention for their contributions to the problem. Though a small sample, this article features a few of these artists against poverty and shows how art can be more than a pretty picture.

Willie Baronet

Willie Baronet is an artist, advocate, professor, entrepreneur and creative director who has dabbled in various projects and industries throughout the years. According to SMU (Southern Methodist University), his career includes advertising and design for several graphic projects, such as Communication Art, New York Art Annual and Annual Report Design: A Historical Retrospective 1510-1990. Baronet was also named as an AIGA Fellow in 2013 for his work in establishing a higher standard of performance for the creative community. His significant work as one of the artists against poverty, however, started back in 1993 with a project called We Are All Homeless.

Baronet began collecting signs from the homeless in an effort to raise awareness of the issue and try to understand their situation better. The project touches on both the moral challenge of those in a higher socio-economic position, as well as the more obvious subject of those in need. The work has won several awards and been exhibited all over the country, proving to be a powerful piece in the global conversation of poverty. Baronet’s contributes to such discussion establishes him as a powerful advocate for the homeless and leading voice in the fight against poverty.

Caitlin Beidler

Caitlin Beidler has taken advocacy to new heights with her art career. Back in 2006, she launched Redemption Art, a business that works to “free people through art,” according to the official website. The project has allowed this artist against poverty to directly interact with those in need by fostering a healthier community through small projects, such as murals with local children and live art events. Beidler has also taken global action by going to Haiti to paint murals with the children there in an effort to boost local morale. The work in Haiti has been done primarily through her sister’s non-profit, Growing Roots, an organization that works to help local communities in Haiti through direct action.

Beidler is a founding member of Growing Roots and helps oversee its four primary branches: Camp Hope, Community Mural Projects, the Planting Project and Mercy Relief. Each project touches on a different aspect of daily life for the Haitian people. Camp Hope is a day camp for local children, the Community Mural Projects are an artistic outlet (as previously mentioned), the Planting Project provides education and Mercy Relief provides aid during crisis periods. The work Beidler as done showcases the important facets of an artist’s life, they can both promote creativity while still contributing to the community. Art is both a means of emotional and practical support.

Michael Rakowitz

Michael Rakowitz is one of the artists against poverty who has taken direct action in fighting for the underdog. His career has spanned decades, with work being featured in such prominent venues as MoMA. Rakowitz is famous for its pieces with multiple purposes outside the artistic realm. In 2013, he opened a restaurant in Dubai called Dar Al Sulh. The art project doubled as nourishment for others as it told the history of the Jewish community in Iraq through the cuisine, showcasing the downfall of an entire people. Additionally, Rakowitz has been working on a long-term project since 1998 in which he turns art into a shelter.

The project, entitled paraSITE, utilizes the heat emitting from ventilation systems to create tent-like structures on the sides of buildings. These temporary homes often look like parasitic insects due to their bulbus form and positioning in the city. They have double lining as space between fills with air to inflate the structure while also heating the area inside for the homeless to sit in. The work—still ongoing today—has garnered mass attention for both its versatility and creative representation in the community. Rakowitz (throughout his career and with paraSITE in specific) proves art isn’t just for viewing or experience; it is an active part of life that can truly help others.

Conclusion

A common misconception about artists is that they are only a voice, they cannot contribute physically to the modern world. Art, however, has been evolving with the times the same way every other industry has for centuries. Artists have adapted to today’s fast-paced, efficiency-focused mindset. They raise the topic to eager ears, find creative ways to asses the problem and act as emotional and mental support to those in need all the while.

– Eleanora Kamerow
Photo: Flickr

Art and African Poverty Reduction
In Africa, poverty is an immense issue as 43 percent of the nation’s people live below the international poverty line. Despite this painful reality, art is playing a large role in pulling many of the continent’s people out of the poverty they started life in. Thanks to organizations such as Bead for Life in Uganda and ASTEP in South Africa, creativity is providing these impoverished people with both a platform for self-expression and a means to fiscal independence. Here are some organizations that show the link between art and African poverty reduction.

Bead for Life

After meeting Millie, a poor Ugandan mother who had a passion for transforming objects into colorful handmade creations, Ginny Gordin, Torkin Wakefield and Devin Hibbard came up with an idea. Following this event in 2004, they founded Bead for Life, a nonprofit organization that supports female financial independence by providing African women with recycled paper that they can craft into jewelry and sell for profit. The organization also works to educate these impoverished women on how to run small-businesses through an initiative known as Street Business School. Since its founding, the 15-year-old organization now exists in 10 countries across Africa and is currently providing 52,000 African women with financial independence. The link between art and African poverty reduction is undeniable, making it a necessary step towards eradicating the poverty that rules too many African lives.

Artists Striving to End Poverty (ASTEP)

When ASTEP founder and Broadway Musical Director, Mary Mitchell Campbell, saw the power of art in cultivating the skills necessary to succeed at life, alongside the help of Juilliard students, Campbell founded Artists Striving to End Poverty (ASTEP), a nonprofit organization that works to heal poverty-stricken communities through art. When Evan Todd and Dick Scanlan recognized the link between art and African poverty reduction, they worked with the organization to establish artsINSIDEOUT in South Africa, a program that works to improve the lives of South Africa’s impoverished mothers and children who the AIDS epidemic strongly impacted. Through the help of ASTEP’s volunteer artists, the organization runs two-week-long art camps that not only foster storytelling and the visual arts for these South African people but also provides them with the tools necessary to lead successful future lives.

Gahaya Links

The Rwandan Genocide in 1994 caused thousands to become economically unstable and hit women the hardest. Thanks to the founders of Gahaya Links, Janet Nkubana and Joy Ndungste, however, basket-making is addressing Rwanda’s female economic instability. By holding workshops that teach impoverished women how to weave, Gahaya Links is able to provide its female weavers with a stable income, as the organization sells its finished baskets in the U.S. market, with top buyers being Macy’s and Fairwind’s Trading Inc.

The organization’s social impact has been astounding, as 100 percent of Gahaya Links female weavers can now afford health insurance, 10 percent have received a promotion to become community leaders and 80 percent have their own bank accounts. These women also now have access to clean water, are able to afford an education for their children and lead better lives overall. The organization has not only granted these women the economic stability they deserve but has also provided them with a pathway to fiscal independence.

The Amal Foundation

In North Africa, Libyan women do not receive encouragement to earn an income, and so when they become widowed or undergo a divorce, many become impoverished. Thanks to the Amal Foundation, however, these women are using embroidery as a means of attaining financial stability. Thanks to the Amal Foundation’s mandate to teach these women how to embroider and help them sell their work in local markets, these women are able to achieve financial independence. This organization’s work exemplifies the connection between art and African poverty reduction, as these women no longer endure the poverty that once dominated their lives.

Just One Africa

Through the initiative Beads for Water, Just One Africa is working in unique ways to provide impoverished African children with access to clean drinking water. The organization purchases handmade necklaces from African artists and then restrings them into bracelets that it sells in the U.S. market. Thanks to this organization, these African artisans are not only earning a stable income, but Africa’s poor children are also reaping the benefits, as a single Beads for Water bracelet provides 200,000 gallons of clean drinking water to Africa’s impoverished children.

Giving impoverished African space where they can profit from their self-expression is a wonderful poverty-fighting strategy whether they are making baskets or jewelry. Art’s ability to grant financial stability to these poverty-stricken citizens exemplifies the immense power of human creativity and its connection between art and African poverty reduction. Thanks to organizations such as The Amal Foundation and Gahaya Links, Africa’s impoverished people are not only rising out of poverty, but they are getting to do it in a fun and meaningful way.

– Candace Fernandez
Photo: Flickr

fighting poverty through artCulture can make or break the development of societies. In its variety of forms, art has the power to preserve elements of cultures that are disappearing under the effects of globalization. Additionally, it can be used to provide an economic boost to impoverished communities. Keep reading to learn more about the top four organizations fighting poverty through art.

4 Organizations Fighting Poverty Through Art

  1. The Friends of Sironka Dance Troupe – The Friends of Sironka Dance Troupe is a team of Kenyan Maasai tribesmen and women who perform across the United States and spread awareness about Maasai culture. With an estimated 300,000 Maasai living in Kenya — accounting for 10 percent of the country’s population — the troupe raises awareness about the Maasai language and culture. The group was founded by Batik artist and cultural consultant Nicholas Sironka. Profits from their events fund programs such as education for Maasai girls and installing wells and latrines. With a revolving team of dancers, Sironka provides opportunities for the poorest and most driven of the Maasai people to participate and provide for their families and communities. Although income varies, past performers expected to receive roughly $2,000 for their work, exceeding a lifetime’s income in their home villages.
  2. Roots Studio – Roots Studio is a business that pairs with tribal communities to digitize and license their art. Art sold through their program includes designs from Nagaland and calligraphy from Syria. Each piece is named after the artist and raises awareness about their unique society. Roots Studio not only assists rural communities in participating at globally competitive pricing, but they also ensure 75 percent of the profit goes to the artist and 25 percent goes to a fund for their village for licenses. Roots Studio also runs related workshops with their partner tribes bimonthly.
  3. Inema Arts Center – Inema Art Center is an art initiative in Rwanda founded by Nkuranga Emmanuel and Innocent Nkurunziza in 2012. One of the center’s projects, launched by Nkuranga, is Art with a Mission. The project provides educational opportunities for orphaned children from 10-17, so they can learn to support themselves through artistic trades. Innocent began the Nziza Workshop in 2010 which employs Rwandan craftswomen. Additionally, Inema Arts Center supports ten resident artists in exploring contemporary African art forms.
  4. Africulturban – Africulturban is a youth-led, nonprofit organization founded in Dakar, Senegal by rapper Matador. The organization aims to develop the artistic culture of marginalized communities and skillsets of urban youth. Africulturban offers a variety of free training workshops for all ages. On a larger project scale, Africulturban organizes Hip Hop Akademy, founded in 2011. Through this program, young professionals take free courses across subjects such as graphic design, music and video production and editing, marketing, communication and more. Africulturban also hosts a variety of cultural events including Festa2H, most recently held in June. Festa2H is an annual rap festival that began with limited funding and events. However, it has grown into one of the largest international hip-hop festivals in Africa. From big names to budding performers, the festival provides an opportunity for artists to use hip-hop as a form of self-expression, livelihood and protest.

These four organizations fighting poverty through art demonstrate the cultural preservation and economic and urban development art initiatives can create in impoverished communities. Not everyone can start a group like these four organizations fighting poverty through art. However, offering support to art initiatives that serve marginalized and impoverished communities can help make use of art as a tool for social change. Engaging with art in a variety of ways can promote cultural exchange and provides a voice for those who are all too often underrepresented.

– Jordan Keller
Photo: Flickr

Using Art for Healing
Barely two years after its liberation from ISIS, Iraq is still harboring battle wounds. Everyone lost something, whether it was a home, business, family member or friend. A British Journal of Psychiatry study found that over 45 percent of child soldiers for ISIS in Northern Iraq who are between the ages of eight and 14 suffer from depression, anxiety and PTSD. USAID has been funding art and music projects that bring people together and beautify the country as part of a national healing process.

In recent years, billions of dollars have gone to rebuilding infrastructure and ensuring that Iraquis meet their basic needs. To supplement the reconstruction of cities, some organizations have focused on healing the social rifts that emerged during the occupation.

The Benefits of the Arts

Iraq became liberated in 2017 from a three-year reign of terror under ISIS, and physical reconstruction in the war-torn country has been slow. However, many recognize that repairing buildings and paving streets will not undo all of the damage. The violence has torn the social fabric of Iraq to shreds. Reporter Alice Su from The Atlantic wrote in 2018, “Even if Mosul is rebuilt… lingering distrust and ongoing sectarian and ethnic violence may doom Iraq’s post-ISIS future.” People must heal this pervasive distrust before Iraq can achieve stability.

To encourage reconciliation between Iraq’s Shi’ite majority and the ethnic minorities, USAID offers support for art and music projects that local organizations initiated. Research has indicated the positive qualities of creative engagement to decrease anxiety, stress and mood changes, and this makes art medicinal to damaged societies like those that have recently experienced war.

Art and Music in Iraq

The Karim Wasfi Center for Creativity runs orchestras for Iraqi youth and introduced the first music program for the country’s orphans and displaced.  Its founder, Karim Wasfi, conducted the Peace Through Arts Farabi Orchestra during a USAID-sponsored concert in Mosul last October 2018.  This performance was the first classical music concert to take place in Mosul since the liberation from ISIS.

Another project was with a Yezidi youth group to paint over ISIS propaganda graffiti in the streets of communities near Sinjar. The youth volunteers replaced hateful messages with those promoting peace and education. Not only was this a healing activity for the nearly 200 youth who participated in the painting, but residents will now walk by these uplifting murals on a daily basis.

USAID emphasizes supporting projects that use art and music to promote messages of peace, like the work in Sinjar. Using art for healing in war-torn Iraq is gaining traction with Iraqi locals, as well as in other regions of the Middle East. Syrian Kurdish artist Ferhad Khalil organized an art symposium in Raqqa, Syria, to celebrate liberation from ISIS, and the World Monuments Fund has a school in Jordan to train refugees in conservation stonemasonry.

Art has the power to move people. Harnessing that power, the U.S. is funding more projects that are using art for healing in war-torn Iraq. A violin or a paintbrush may be able to combat terrorism, ethnic hatred and fear in countries facing political strife.

– Olivia Heale
Photo: Flickr

Rescued Child Soldiers
At the age of seven, Judith became an accomplice to a murder. The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) raided her village and forced Judith to participate in the killing of her mother. The LRA then kidnapped Judith and her siblings and forced them to serve Joseph Kony. Thousands of children share Judith’s story. Today, the rescued child soldiers in Africa are finding healing and restoration through art.

The Rise of Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army

The World Economic Forum found that poverty, social marginalization and political disenfranchisement were fertilizers for extremist groups to take root and grow. In the 1980s, poverty, social marginalization and political disenfranchisement hit Uganda hard. Estimates determined that one-third of the population lives below the poverty line.

Uganda government officials did little to improve the dire situation. As a result, rebel groups and organizations began to pop up throughout the country. The Holy Spirit Movement, a militaristic and spiritual rebel group, formed to fight against the oppression of the people in northern Uganda. Joseph Kony joined the movement in the mid-1980s. After the Holy Spirit Movement’s defeat in 1988, Kony kept the organization. He renamed the group the Lord’s Resistance Army. Kony used religion and traditional beliefs to continue the support of the people living in northern Uganda. His operation expanded to the nearby countries of South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic. The tactics Kony and the LRA used became more violent over time.

Kony and the LRA caused the displacement of more than 1.9 million people. Authorities issued a number of arrest warrants for Kony and leaders of the LRA on counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. The LRA raided villages, burned down homes and murdered or mutilated thousands of people.

Child Soldiers in Africa

Kony lacked support for his cause and army. As a result, he abducted children and forced them into his service. Estimates state that the LRA kidnapped between 30,000 and 60,000 children. The LRA trained males to be child soldiers and females to be sex slaves. Fear was a major driver for children to remain in the LRA. Many children, like Judith, had to kill their parents and other loved ones for survival.

Art Is Restoring Peace to Rescued Child Soldiers

The U.N. called the LRA crisis the “most forgotten, neglected humanitarian emergency in the world.” A 29-minute film became the most effective tool in mobilizing the world into taking action against Kony and the LRA.

Art and social media were the key components of the success of the film “KONY 2012.” The U.S. advocacy group, Invisible Children, launched a digital campaign with the release of the film. The campaign’s goal was to make the infamous warlord famous in order to mobilize world leaders to stop him. The film garnered over 100 million views in six days. Public outcry and celebrity support increased the pressure for global leaders to take action against Kony. Eventually, authorities sanctioned a universal manhunt to capture Kony and put an end to the LRA. People have rescued many of the child soldiers in Africa but Kony still remains at-large. Today, the LRA has reduced to a group of fewer than 300 members.

Art has also been an effective tool for healing and restoration for the child victims of the LRA crisis. For many of the rescued child soldiers in Africa, there were some elements in their story that were too painful to put into words. Art became an avenue for those children to confront the past and face the future. Exile International, a nonprofit organization, has been providing healing to war-affected children through art-focused trauma care since 2008.

Recently, Exile International partnered with award-winning photographer and artist Jeremy Cowart to share the faces and powerful stories of child survivors. The Poza Project utilized the children’s art and Cowart’s talent to create a healing opportunity for the children to tell their own story of survival. Unique photographs and mixed art media created by the children were available for purchase. All the proceeds helped provide art therapy and holistic rehabilitation to children survivors of war. The Poza Project showcased a dozen children including Judith.

Judith spent nearly two years in captivity before being rescued. Today, she is back in school and working to become a psychiatric doctor. With the help of The Poza Project, Judith is one step closer to her dream of helping the other victims of Kony and the LRA.

– Paola Nuñez
Photo: Flickr

Image result for female artisans
In poverty-stricken nations across the globe, local artisans have the power to help to improve not just the economy but also the living conditions and education levels of their countries. When artisans have the financial and organizational support that they need to firmly establish a business of their own they can earn a steady income which allows them to provide their families with a stronger financial base. The Artisan Alliance, a subset of the Aspen Global Innovators Group, works in alliance with Kiva and the U.S. Department of State’s Office of Global Women’s Issues to create resources for artisan support so that artisans can build and sustain their businesses.

How the Artisan Alliance Makes a Difference

The Artisan Alliance works to create a network of artisan support in four main ways. The Alliance first focuses on financing small artisan businesses with the capital that they need to create and maintain their businesses. Once a business receives financial aid, the Alliance provides artisan business coaching to ensure that the artisans can sustain their businesses and grow in the future. The Alliance focuses on building and maintaining a network of artisan businesses, social enterprises, NGOs and government agencies around the world to ensure that artisan businesses continue to receive the support that they need from global markets and investors to sustain their businesses. Finally, the Alliance curates and hosts global events to showcase the artisan entrepreneurs in their network to “share best practices, and uncover solutions to common barriers in the artisan value chain.”

The network within the Artisan Alliance includes 161 members that range from artisan businesses to online marketplaces. Of the more than 100,000 artisans in the 127 countries within the Artisan Alliance network, 82 percent of these are women. From the efforts of the Artisan Alliance and other organizations like it, the growth of artisan businesses plays a significant role in making the artisan sector the second-largest employer in the developing world.

Member Profiles

  • Himalayan Naari – The Himalayan Naari is an artisan business of a network of women based throughout three villages in the Indian Himalaya mountains. “Naari” is the Hindi word for a woman of strength and resolve and the women of Himalayan Naari are just that. Created in 2013, there are already over 100 artisans involved in Himalayan Naari. The artisans focus their work on knitting and weaving. The women combine traditional Himalayan weaving techniques with modern designs, creating beautiful wool pieces for sale in the U.S. and other global markets. The Himalayan Education Foundation (HEF) provides a network of artisan support for Himalayan Naari by supplying the women with the wool they need to create their products. Before the founding of Himalayan Naari, the women in these remote mountain villages saw a limited opportunity for economic growth and betterment for the lives of their families. One artisan in the Himalayan Naari network, Basanti Karki, has seen an improvement in her own life and that of her family since she joined the network as a knitter in 2010. She told the Himalayan Naari network, “Since joining [the network] I have grown in my self-confidence and can work very hard now. Naari is a breakthrough for women’s empowerment and I hope it will thrive in the future.”
  • Caribbean Craft – Caribbean Craft began in Port-au-Prince, Haiti in 1990. From its creation, Caribbean Craft quickly became a major provider of Haitian handmade goods for the tourist shops in Port-au-Prince. In 2006, the network became female-owned and in 2009 it purchased a showroom in Atlanta’s Americas Mart where stores such as HomeGoods and Anthropologie picked up its goods for sale in the U.S. In addition to providing a source of strong financial support for its artisans, Caribbean Craft also strives to look after the well-being and health of its artisans. Following the devastating earthquake in 2010, the organization began to provide a free meal a day to over 300 artisans. In 2011, Caribbean Craft began a literacy program with support from the Clinton Foundation, West Elm and Prodev finding success in 2014 by reaching 100 percent literacy among its artisans.

It is organizations such as Himalayan Naari and Caribbean Craft that the Artisan Alliance is proud to support. To see the meaningful growth of artisan businesses, small artisans require meaningful financial investment and organizational support to see a lasting positive impact on themselves and their communities.

Anne Pietrow
Photo: Flickr