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Networking Opportunities for Artists in East Africa

A collaborative project between the Fine Art departments and Business Schools at Makerere University in Uganda and Newcastle University to develop, workshops, artist toolkits, new commissions, curated projects and new art writing

Group of artists standing around a wooden sculpture and posing for a photograph

Networking New Opportunities for Artists in East Africa (‘NOFA’) is a ground-breaking partnership between the Fine Art departments and Business Schools at Makerere University in Uganda and Newcastle University, working collaboratively with leading visual arts organisations in East Africa and the UK. NOFA aims to impact on livelihoods of visual art professionals in East Africa through capacity building and skills development in the visual art ecology. A mark of the importance of the project is that it has been awarded five competitive and peer reviewed awards, totalling some £400,000 of grant funding from a range of funders including the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the Global Challenges Research Fund, Newcastle University and other funders.   

Since 2017 researchers at Newcastle and Makerere have been learning from visual art professionals working in Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Rwanda and Tanzania. Working collaboratively, we have developed mentoring, training, workshops, artist toolkits, new commissions, curated projects and new art writing. Feedback from participants shows how the project has made real-life impacts on artists’ livelihoods.

In Uganda, 32 Degrees East, Uganda’s leading organisation for visual artists has led the development of a writing toolkit for artists, offering for the first time training provision in the writing skills that artists told us they need. In Kenya, a new partnership between Nairobi Contemporary, a new art magazine published and Art Monthly, one of the UK’s longest standing art magazines, has shared skills and experiences across the two editorial teams and created opportunities for new African writers to publish and promote their work, many for the first time. Workshops have brought leading art writers and curators from across Africa, and the African diaspora together to discuss what makes art writing in Africa distinctive and important. In 2019 we obtained funding for a new project, New Engagements for Curators in East Africa. This is creating spaces, skills and opportunities for new African curators, with mentoring and guidance provided by experienced African curators.

Group of women talking and taking part in a workshop

NOFA partnerships are dynamic, embracing arts organisations such as Kampala Arts Trust and big institutions like the National Museum of Kenya and the British Council, to small grass-roots artist-led organisations working in low-income area of Kampala. We have worked with over a hundred independent artists, art writers and art professionals.

For Newcastle, an important part of the project is to learn from our partners. Whilst the arts ecology in the UK has many challenges and needs better funding, the situation for artists in Africa is much more challenging. There is little government funding, few resources such as studios or workshops and little of the infrastructure we take for granted – public art galleries, arts organisations and support networks. And yet visual artists and the visual arts are vibrant and flourishing. As in the UK, many artists support themselves through other work, and their resourcefulness, entrepreneurship and creative thinking is astonishing. When we took a group of students to work alongside their peers in Kampala, and they were blown away with the sheer energy and dynamism of their peers in Africa.

Artist working on sculpture outside with East African landscape behind him

0ver 70% of grant funding we have received has been spent in East Africa, directly benefitting communities working there.  The project team in Africa are Teesa Bahana (32 Degrees), Lilian Nabulime, Anthony Tibaingana (Makerere University), Daudi Karungi (Kampala Arts Trust), Doseline Kiguru, Freda Nkirote and Joost Fontein (BIEA) Tusiime Matthias (UCASDR), Rasheeda Nalumoso and Rocca Holly-Nambi (British Council). Newcastle staff working on this project are Wanja Kimani, Fiona Anderson, Megan Todman and Andrew Burton (Project Leader), and students Meela Thurlow, Maxi Lee, Katie Wright and Abi Giltinan, Liz Oughton. Our partners in Newcastle University Business School are Paul Richter, Bob Newbery and Andrea Lane.