An organization co-founded by a Charleston woman is setting out to create 100 jobs in post-conflict Uganda.
The nonprofit, Artisan Global, was founded in 2018 with the goal of generating sustainable job strategies and workplaces for those living in extreme poverty in war-torn countries. First location on the list is Gulu, Uganda, where members of the organization have been posted for five years educating and empowering local artisans.
Laura Shipley, Charleston-based co-founder and executive director, along with Charleston-based creative director Mikayla Knizevski, have organized the first benefit, an "impact gallery" that will feature work from more than 30 Ugandan and Charleston artists, 6-8 p.m. Oct. 24, at Redux Contemporary Art Center.
Uganda has been subjected to violence on and off since the 1960s, and impacted most recently by the South Sudanese Civil War, 2013-2015, and the Kasese clashes of 2016.
Artisan Global is currently working with people who were kidnapped as children by Joseph Kony's rebel army and forced into guerrilla warfare and sex slavery. Now free adults, some have partnered with Artisan Global and have a lot to offer the art world, says creative director Knizevski.
Artisan Global seeks to recognize these artists and help them achieve their creative goals. The organization hopes to do that with a physical entrepreneur center that can host 100 artisans and serve as a location for training, collaboration and workshops. Wellness initiatives, from counseling to yoga, also are planned.
Knizevski says she knows that other charitable organizations have similar missions, but that Artisan Global is different because it's assisting these artists and entrepreneurs without exploiting their past hardships.
"There are a lot of nonprofits in Uganda, but from listening to the artisans, we really feel like their stories haven’t been shared properly," Knizevski says. "Not stories of pain and the past but of the present, with all these dreams that aren't being showcased."
The artisans come up with their own designs, from fashion and jewelry to painting and weaving, and Artisan Global helps facilitate creation, sales and sustainability.
Four Ugandan artists who previously did not know each other have collaborated for the Redux showcase. Their work will share space with pieces by dozens of local artists hand-selected by Charleston culture curators IllVibetheTribe and artist management company Straight to Art.
Videos of the Ugandan artists and Charleston artists captured in the midst of their creative processes will be played at the benefit.
"The vision behind this artisan event is about bridging diverse communities together through creativity," Knizevski says, which is why Artisan Global reached out to other local organizations to help pick a varied lineup.
Of those collaborating for the event, more than 20 are people of color.
Among Lowcountry artists are Shana Grugan, who made an abstract botanical piece called "Better Together" that represents "a movement that's taking place all over the world," and Jirah Perkins, who has contributed an abstract piece called "Ukaji" (Swahili for "growth").
"I have a lot of paintings based around African culture, which I think is really important, especially here in Charleston, because it doesn't get as much representation as needed," Perkins says.
IllVibetheTribe co-founder Asiah Mae says that collaborating with Artisan Global on selecting a diverse lineup was a no-brainer. Mae says that Artisan Global believes in creative entrepreneurship not only as a way to generate revenue but as a form of creative resistance.
"They empower their artisans to at be the forefront of their art and culture and take that power into their own hands rather than let government dictate what their art and culture should be and whether they're worthy enough to make a living from it," Mae says. "That's truly at the heart of what we are and what we do, so it felt like kindred spirits colliding."
At the impact gallery, there will be art on display, a photo booth, a short video presentation, a pop-up market of local and global artisan products, light hors d'oeuvres and specialty cocktails.
All of the proceeds from auctioned art will help pay for construction of the first Artisan Global entrepreneur center in Uganda. The fundraising goal is $50,000.