This week, the Ford Foundation announced a redoubling of their effort to engender world leadership through their Global Fellowship program, responding to what they see as a crucial inflection point in terms of global systems of inequity. Now in its second year, the fellowship fund represents a $50 million dollar investment to be dispatched over 10 years, with the intention of supporting 240 leaders in communities around the globe. These fellowships seek to empower leaders in parts of the world and populations that often bear the brunt of unfair labor practices, climate change, disease, and other issues that affect the planet as a whole, but specific demographics disproportionately.
In addition to recommitting support to last years inaugural cohort of 24 fellows, the foundation announced 48 new fellows this year — double the number originally slated — and among them, seven identify as artists and storytellers. These are Peruvian artist María Del Pilar Cáceres Cartagena; Brazilian curator Diane Sousa da Silva Lima; Indonesian artist and musician Aristofani Fahmi; songwriter Sara Curruchich Cúmez and journalist and filmmaker Andrea Isabel Ixchíu Hernández, both from Guatemala; as well as Lewis Raven Wallace, a US journalist and podcaster, and Ramsey George Tesdell, a podcaster from Jordan.
That the Ford Foundation recognizes artists and storytellers among its global leadership cohort acknowledges the power that art and narrative have on changing ideas of power. These fellows are each quoted on their bio pages, speaking to the role of art in changing social systems.
“Art and music can empower Black and Indigenous women and break oppressive cultural narratives,” said Cartagena, who has a degree in sociology from Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos and spent her time there researching how Peru’s Black population has been studied by Peruvian academia.
“Art is a powerful force that can challenge outdated notions of social justice and spur social change,” said Sousa da Silva Lima, who is a key Black feminist voice and has played a leadership role in changing Brazilian contemporary art.
Aristofani Fahmi, based in Indonesia’s Riau province, is a Riau Rhythm music group program director, and seeks to empower indigenous artists who “carry the legacy and culture of Traditional people, and deserve to have equal opportunity and rights.”
Wallace is an independent journalist based in Durham, North Carolina, and longtime activist engaged in prison abolition, racial justice, and queer and trans liberation.
“I want to weave stories that bring us closer to a decolonized, liberated world,” said Wallace.
“Music has the power to embrace memory, heal communities and resist injustice,” said Curruchich, who is Maya Kaqchikel singer-songwriter from Guatemala. She developed various art festivals in communities in Guatemala and led concert tours. Fellow countrywoman Ixchíu Hernández is a Maya K’iche’ woman, journalist, filmmaker and land protector. She is coordinator at Hackeo Cultural, an initiative and community communication methodology for the construction of collective narratives for the defense of Indigenous territory.
Tesdell is the CEO and partner of Sowt.com, an Arab podcast network based in Amman, Jordan, producing leading podcasts in Arabic. He is also a founding partner of 7iber.com, a news magazine in Jordan.
“I believe in the power of storytelling to build community and create a more equitable world,” he said.
These are just seven of the 48 new fellows being announced by the Ford Foundation, but even as they come from just myriad perspectives and lived experiences, all of them believe in the need for art and storytelling in movements to affect substantive social change.