Cultural Action for Change: A case for cross-cultural, multidisciplinary collaborations



Media & Communications Design


  • health, cultural influence, multi-disciplinary education


Cultural Action for Change began in 2000 as a joining of artists, educators, and student-researchers to assess sustainability and address the impact of HIV within Phumani Paper; a government-funded poverty alleviation program, establishing hand papermaking and craft enterprises across South Africa. Inspired by ideals of empowerment and self-determination, a series of qualitative, Participatory Action Research (PAR) interventions for HIV awareness and action were introduced at six Phumani papermaking workshop sites. Student researchers and participants, with the collaboration of academics from the University of Michigan, were trained in Photovoice methodology to document with photographs and personal narrative the participants‘ struggles for economic independence. Through iterative processes of reflection and sharing, participants identified shared social action objectives.

Cultural Action for Change (also termed AIDS Action) consisted of arts-based, multi-disciplinary community interventions conducted over five years, and adopted a PAR framework as an approach that seeks to enhance the lives of the participants. The goal of the AIDS Action Intervention was to provide support to, and increase the agency of, participants of the Phumani Paper craft enterprises affected by the HIV pandemic. The aim was to enable the participants to break the silence, to confront the fear and stigma of HIV, and to seek voluntary counselling and testing (VCT), thereby contributing to reducing the number of deaths in their projects and communities. An additional objective was to achieve an increase in productivity and income for the enterprises as a result of greater group trust, information, networking and agency.

The creative strategies that the research teams used for the AIDS Action intervention were Photovoice and Paper Prayers. The impact assessment conducted revealed that members of the Phumani Paper groups see themselves as individuals who have acquired skills that can transform waste into objects of beauty and have understood their own sense of agency to effect personal and organizational change.

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