Since the beginning of time, music has been a catalyst for change. Today, music is linked to academic achievement, social and emotional development, civic engagement, and equitable opportunity.
That’s why Gigi Hancock — wife of legendary jazz pianist Herbie Hancock — and I co-founded the International Center for Art and Music in Ouidah (CIAMO) in 2010.
Through the support of the Rachel’s Network Fiscal Sponsorship Fund, CIAMO has become the first institution of its kind in Benin: one that promotes arts education as a tool for dynamic growth in the developing world.
CIAMO offers music and art classes taught by a variety of Beninese and international professionals. In any given week, 400 students pass through our doors. All classes at the center are free.
A team of International and Beninese curricula experts work in tandem to create relevant art and music curricula for the center that interweaves the deep multi-ethnic tradition of Beninese art and music. The lessons reinforce core curriculum in subjects like math and history. Extracurricular programs let students discover different musical instruments and visual art forms, as well as dance, theater, percussion, and multimedia.
This year, CIAMO is using its musical savvy to launch production on an exciting new project, Africa Calling.
Working in conjunction with the US Embassy in Benin, UNICEF, and USAID, Africa Calling will raise awareness about malaria treatment and prevention through music video public service announcements. Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter Angelique Kidjo, along with a team of international musicians, and CIAMO students will be featured in the film.
CIAMO isn’t the only organization I’m involved in that utilizes music to send a powerful message.
Across the Atlantic, at the Amazon Aid Foundation, we’re using the arts to educate people around the world about the importance of the rainforest.
In 2015 we released Anthem for the Amazon, a music video PSA that elevates the solutions to deforestation and climate change. The song brought together the voices of 500 children from 50 counties around the world united under one message: we must protect forests for a healthy future.
We also produced our first benefit concert at the beautiful Paramount Theatre of Charlottesville with Grammy Award-winning jazz musicians Wayne Shorter, Esperanza Spalding, Leo Genovese, and Terri Lyne Carrington. There was even a guest appearance by the children of the Venable Elementary School Choir!
To close out the year, the Amazon Aid team traveled to Paris to attend COP 21, the historic United Nations climate negotiations. We joined the Peruvian government and a coalition of parents, students, and schools from the Cut the Red Tape Project working to bring youth voices inside the negotiations, which we did through showing the Anthem for the Amazon. It has become very clear that the Amazon is an essential natural buffer for climate change.
In 2016, I’m looking forward to the release of my new film River of Gold, as well as Africa Calling through CIAMO. These projects are helping inspire people, particularly young people, to protect human health and a thriving planet.
Sarah duPont is president and founder of the Amazon Aid Foundation, and co-founder of CIAMO. For over 20 years, she has dedicated herself to promoting arts in education locally and internationally. She has served on the boards of the University of Virginia Council for the Arts, the Amazon Conservation Association, the Upton Foundation, Rachel’s Network, and others.