Creating Community: How One Art Space Is Flourishing In Tanzania

A delayed trip and a longtime love of art connected people who were investing in Tanzania’s art scene—from different parts of the world.


Bright murals and a bustling atmosphere welcomed Cristy when she entered Nafasi Art Space in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. A children’s dance workshop was underway on the stage. Playful installations made from recycled materials invited her inspection. Wandering inside, she met artists working in their studios and stumbled upon students honing their creative skills.

Cristy, a visual artist based in Washington, D.C., hadn’t planned to visit Nafasi. But when she found herself stranded in Dar es Salaam due to a string of canceled flights, she recognized the name in a Lonely Planet guide.

“On impulse, I decided to go pay a visit, and it happened that the stars aligned,” Cristy said.

Nafasi’s Executive Director, Rebecca Mzengi Corey, was there and ready to show her around.

For the love of art

Tanzania art exhibit at Nafasi Art Space
Photo: Nafasi Art Space

Nafasi Art Space was built by artists for artists to offer young people opportunities to express themselves. After more than a decade, it has become a strong community.

“Often, artists working in different disciplines end up in silos,” Rebecca said, “And I found it truly incredible how Nafasi managed to create a shared space where creatives from different backgrounds could all come together and share perspectives, and even end up collaborating with one another to create original, groundbreaking works of self-expression.”

In a world where inequalities and injustices can make art inaccessible, Rebecca considers Nafasi “one of the few spaces in Tanzania where artists and art lovers alike can gather to meet, exchange, and be inspired by the emerging art scene in the country.”

And although Nafasi has blossomed into an indispensable art platform in Tanzania, it didn’t grow from public funding or private sponsorships.

It grew because of people like Cristy.

Giving your values

Nafasi is one of the arts-focused nonprofits Cristy follows and has fueled for years through GlobalGiving.

“I have a deep conviction that the arts really matter—to heal, reveal, transform, connect people, bring joy, celebrate what it means to be human,” Cristy shared.

She lives—and gives—by her values.

For Rebecca and her team at Nafasi, donors like Cristy play a vital role in sustaining the organization. They allow it to stay true to its mission and free staff from feeling pressured to accept commercial projects just for the money.

“It helps remind us that there are people out there who appreciate and believe in the work that we’re doing,” Rebecca said, ”and that keeps us going even when things are tough, as they have been especially in the past few years of the pandemic.”

Creating together

During Cristy’s visit to Nafasi, an exhibition called “If the concept was HOME” was open. It featured work by students from the Nafasi Academy, a training program for aspiring and emerging artists from underrepresented communities.

The academy’s space was built with refurbished shipping containers from the Dar es Salaam port. It now includes studios, a classroom, a library, a production workshop, and an art supply shop—just a few of the places for creativity and collaboration.

Nafasi Art Space
Photo: Nafasi Art Space

When the artists who work in this space created pieces for their “HOME” exhibition, they explored themes of memory, identity, and belonging. And those are things Rebecca thinks art can create.

“I believe the power of art is to reflect and amplify a multiplicity of voices and interpretations that can contribute to a more nuanced understanding, and therefore, a connection between people from different backgrounds,” Rebecca shared.

For Rebecca and Cristy, the connection has transcended borders. Together, they’re caring for Nafasi and all that it brings to life. Supporting the space is another way for them to tap into art’s transformative power and create—for the future.

It’s like the phrase Rebecca includes at the end of her emails: “Life is short, but art endures.”

Create something enduring by supporting a project that matches your values.


Featured Photo: A Vibrant Space for Arts to Thrive in Tanzania by Nafasi Art Space

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