• Meghan Harvey

Juniata Students Create Opportunities for Gambian Artists

Students at Juniata College have started a unique project to help Gambian artists sell their craft in the United States.

Julia Newman, Evelyn McCammon, and Sarah Borgardt created The Gambian Art Coalition as a way to promote sustainable development in The Gambia through partnering with local artists and investing in their communities.

The Gambia, a small West African country, has a very short selling season for the craft markets where the artists work. As tourist season is only October through February, these artists have a few months to sell their artwork and make money that has to last them the rest of the year.

“We’re working to create a platform for Gambian artists to sell their craft in the U.S. and assist in creating more opportunities for them to earn a sustainable income year round,” says Julia Newman, Director of Communications and Marketing.

The Gambian Art Coalition offers a wide range of art pieces, including works from woodcarvers, silversmiths, batik makers, leather workers, jewelry beaders, weavers, tailors, and more.

“The majority of the money goes back to the artists,” says Julia. “We only take a small portion to keep the company running and to pay for shipping and upkeep. We personally do not make any money from it. All of the money stays within The Gambian Art Coalition.”

Julia, Evelyn, and Sarah were first introduced to The Gambia by Juniata Professor Dr. Emil Nagengast, who has been immersing students in Gambian life for the past 15 years through annual study abroad trips. Dr. Nagengast helped Evelyn to develop the initial idea for an “African Etsy.”

The co-founders first traveled to The Gambia on one of these study abroad trips, and then stayed an additional two weeks to lay the groundwork for their business, meet the artists, and hand-select their products. “We’ve created some incredible relationships,” says Julia. “We love working with all of these artists.”

The Gambian Art Coalition has an online store, as well as a small store on campus. They also do pop-up shops around Huntingdon County.

Shipping has temporarily been suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as all of the inventory is on the closed campus. Instead, the students are working to raise money to support their artists, who are also in a current shutdown in The Gambia. “They haven’t been able to sell anything,” says Julia. “They’re struggling to find money to feed their families. We’re hoping to raise $1,000 to send over to them and provide some relief while their economy is frozen.”

Julia, Evelyn, and Sarah recognize the importance of supporting small businesses, which are the only form of income for so many residents in The Gambia. “There’s not an overwhelming amount of opportunity in The Gambia,” Julia says. “Keeping the craft markets open for these families is so important. We really want to create more opportunities, and give these artists the ability to provide for themselves.”

Donate to The Gambia Art Coalition by visiting their webpage.

See how The Gambia is being affected by the COVID-19 pandemic by watching this short documentary filmed and produced by The Gambian Art Coalition’s videographer, Abdoulie Jarju.

Check out the beautiful art pieces on Facebook and on Instagram @GambianArtCoalition.

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