Art has the power to shape communities, generate hope, and create lasting emotional bonds. Some artists, however, feel that they may never attain these revolutionary moments through their art, but Jamey Ponte is here to convince us otherwise. House of Friends was founded by Ponte in 2003 and is an initiative born from the Child Wellness Fund where artists help community growth through art. In an interview this year in Portland, OR, Ponte gave a brief history of how he first came to Kenya–out of a series of random happenstances which miraculously landed him and his partner on a safari–and then explained how he came to enjoy Kenyan culture to its fullest. Open, friendly, humorous, and well-traveled, Ponte intrigued our audience with anecdotes that made travelling long distances seem worth it for the unforgettable memories. Memories, of course, are not the main reason to apply for the NOW•FRIENDS artist residency; the impact one’s art projects have on the Kenyan residency communities will last for generations. Imagine helping the maternal line of a family write their own book, Ponte suggested, which could be passed down from generation to generation. Imagine not creating for a community, but with a community, to help them tell their story in their own words. Ponte emphasized that the most important skills to take with you to Kenya are not artistic, but networking-oriented. Be flexible, be open, and bring a compassionate heart along with your paints and canvas. The biggest goal of NOW•FRIENDS is to create projects based on the community’s needs and desires, not the artist’s. If there was one thing I took away from Jamey Ponte’s talk that afternoon, it was that this experience will prove to you how effective art can be in this changing, frightening, seemingly unforgiving world, and that the world won’t stay so frightening if artists like you act up.
If you’re perusing the NOW•FRIENDS artist residency, keep in mind the passionate tales Ponte has to offer from past trips, the people you could meet who you would never contact otherwise, and these words of advice from Ponte himself which I could not fit into the above paragraph:
Don’t buy into the system.
Never do something just to be recognized.
Your grassroots projects do matter, because change never starts at the top, it starts with artists like you.