Artist as Activist
United Support of Artists (USA) for Africa embodies the nexus of art, philanthropy and Africa. It was established almost 30 years ago with revenue from the song “We Are the World.” Using music to draw attention to the needs of Africa and Africans. It has raised $75 million to fight poverty.
Executive Director Marcia Thomas described its ongoing legacy and new initiative,“ Pay It Forward – Art Has Power ” that leverages the power and role of the arts in African society.
Learn more about USA for Africa at www.usaforafrica.org.
Artist and scholar Dr. Omi Osun Joni L. Jones  is the author of a four-part essay series “Art Has Power” commissioned by USA for Africa.
Using stunning examples of contemporary African arts, Jones shared highlights from the series’ first installment, “Art as Action.”
She pointed out that the skills of imagination, collaboration and improvisation used by artists are necessary ingredients for social change.  Funders should consider a world where artists are supported to respond to key development issues facing African communities.
Dr Jones is Associate Professor of Theatre, Dance and African and African Diaspora Studies at the University of Texas, Austin. Read the series’ first essay, “Art as Action.”
Music is a good source in understanding current trends in Africa and the concerns of ordinary people. Using music from Sierra Leone, Ethiopia, Morocco, Zanzibar, Zimbabwe, Mali, Congo, Ghana, Angola, South Africa, and Nigeria, Sean Barlow demonstrated how music reflects social and political change.
African music is a subject Barlow knows well. He is the creator and Executive Producer of the award-winning public radio series Afropop Worldwide, the first nationally syndicated media showcase in the U.S. for contemporary music of Africa and the Diaspora.
Barlow cited examples of musical activism ranging from Fela’s songs challenging corruption in Nigeria to Angolan transsexual music star Titica who is breaking sexuality and gender barriers.
He also pointed out the informal and formal charitable work of many African artists such as Angelica Kudjoe. He described the arts as a field ripe with opportunities for venture capital philanthropy to support art institutions with social justice agendas.
In addition to promoting current artists, the Afropop website has a rich archive of African music. Learn more.
Advice For Funders
The panel encouraged funders to “come along side” of artists. Community arts centers can re-grant funds to projects that address compelling needs and supporting filmmakers to bring awareness to critical social issues can deepen impact. Funders were urged to rethink funding strategies and consider the importance of the human spirit and not just organizational infrastructures. In supporting the arts, funders can support social justice.