AiW note: Following Lizzy Attree’s Words on the Times, in which she spoke about teaching and fundraising during a pandemic; Dami Ajayi’s responses to the same Q&A, in which he discussed his experiences of working as a doctor and writer amidst COVID-19; and our most recent Words from Nduka Otiono, who powerfully relays the effects of the #COVOID for books in the production and distribution of Wreaths For a Wayfarer, an anthology of 267 original poems written by 127 poets from Africa, Asia, Europe and North America in honour of Pius Adesanmi, on its release last year, as well as work and life during the pandemic, we are excited to share Teesa Bahana’s reflections on creating nurturing spaces for contemporary art and artists in Uganda with you today.
Teesa is the director of 32° East I Ugandan Arts Trust, an independent non-profit organization based in Uganda’s capital, Kampala, that’s focused on the creation and exploration of contemporary art in Uganda.
32° East I Ugandan Arts Trust’s multi-purpose resource centre includes studios, accommodation for artists in residence, a contemporary art library, meeting areas, and outdoor workshop spaces; one-on-one drop-in sessions for critique and professional development are offered, as well as workshops for practical skills and regular discussion series for social engagement.
AiW: Could you tell us a bit about your work and the ways that the pandemic affected your plans?
Teesa Bahana: We run an arts centre in Kampala that provides artists with a nurturing platform for their work, and audiences with experiences to explore art’s possibilities. We do this through our residency programme, discussion series, workshops, library and resource centre, and public arts festival KLA ART.
After two years of intensive planning and preparation, we had to postpone our festival once it became clear that the pandemic would be with us for a while. We also had ambitions of beginning construction of our new home that has been designed specifically for artists, but the pandemic also impacted our fundraising plans.
How are things on the ground with you and in what ways are you working now that you weren’t before?
The pandemic hit a lot of people hard economically and artists were no exception. There were a few experiences during the first few months of the pandemic that made us think about how to incorporate more financial opportunities into our programming. We ramped up our online presence and launched a series called #32StaysatHome, and part of it included sharing financial opportunities with artists. We noticed that there were so many grants that artists in the US and Europe were able to apply to but African artists often weren’t eligible.
With support of one of our partners, Newcastle University, we were able to offer artists small internet packages and a materials budget. Through our membership in Arts Collaboratory, that is based predominantly in the Global South, we also were able to advocate for an emergency fund so artists in our ecosystems could access small stipends. Now we are working with some of the artists in our community to put together an artists’ cooperative where artists can build savings and have greater financial stability.
As for the festival, we had been working with 11 artists consistently for about 9 months so for the first few months into the pandemic we were trying to figure out how to restructure, whether or not to postpone, and how to keep gathering. We first had monthly check-ins online and then reached out to amazing public arts practitioners in our network who we ordinarily wouldn’t have had access to, to just hear different perspectives about how they think about and through public art. So in a way, more digital work but with a renewed commitment to what it means to make art for non-traditional arts audiences and how to think about accessibility particularly in these times.
What have you found most supportive and/or heart lifting in this time?
Community, collaboration, and collective working. There have been so many moments where I have been completely overwhelmed with how terrible everything is for so many people, and feeling utterly powerless in the face of so many structures that seem so immovable. Being a part of something bigger, and working alongside people who believe in making a better world for everyone, is truly life giving.
How can our blog communities support you?
We have a crowdfunding campaign on right now! It’s for our new home, a purpose-built contemporary art centre, so that artists will always feel like they have a home
and infrastructure that is designed to support them. It has environmental and financial sustainability at its heart with community at the centre. We’ve raised $325,000 so far, enough to fund phase 1 of construction, but we’re trying to fund all of it and need all hands on deck! No amount is too small, so please contribute if you can. Otherwise shares are free and also impactful so do spread the word; we appreciate your support!
Teesa Bahana is director of 32° East I Ugandan Arts Trust, a not-for-profit that promotes the creation and exploration of contemporary art in Uganda. As director, she has supported the development and execution of projects such as KLA ART Labs for research and critical thinking through public practice, the third edition of KLA ART, Kampala’s public art festival, and residency exchanges.
She is also currently overseeing 32° East’s capital project, raising funds to build the first purpose-built art centre in the country. With an academic background in sociology and anthropology, she is particularly interested in the intersection between art and Ugandan society, and how artistic environments should be protected and nurtured.
With its fundraising campaign ongoing, 32º East | Ugandan Arts Trust is nearing a new construction milestone. Nantume Violet spoke to director Teesa Bahana about the latest updates and challenges.”
Electronic artists Kampire and Darlyne, who are key players in Kampala’s Nyege Nyege collective, launched a fundraising team as part of 32° East Ugandan Arts Trust’s #32BreaksGround campaign. The duo played in-person and virtual DJ sets in Kampala on the 2nd April as part of the campaign.
Aiming to raise $200,000 between the 16th March and 16th April, the #32BreaksGround campaign will support Phase 2 of a new, purpose-built contemporary art centre in Kampala. Phase 1 of the fundraising saw donors and pro-bono architectural services from New Makers Bureau design three artists’ studios, a library, and a café.
Speaking about Phase 2, 32° East said: “We have ambitions for a centre that is financially resilient, that gives artists access to more opportunities to thrive, and introduces new audiences to transformative art.”
“Our crowdfunding campaign is also a celebration of community and the power of collectivity! We would not be where we are today without our global and local community. It is at the heart of 32° East being a centre for connection and cross-cultural collaboration.
“Arts Collaboratory is an ecosystem of 25 like-minded organizations situated predominantly in Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America. It is a radical experiment in exploring the potentiality of art and social transformation when the experiences, dreams, and critical reflections of cultural practitioners from across the globe are allowed to meet.”