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The Sigrid Rausing Trust is helping activists and artists respond to the outbreak of COVID-19

Posted on 19 October 2020

Founded in 2008 at the University of York, the Centre for Applied Human Rights’ (CAHR) mission is to support human rights defenders who risk their lives to fight injustice and to strengthen democracy around the world.

The Centre’s pioneering Protective Fellowship Scheme was made possible with support from the Sigrid Rausing Trust and since it was founded it has hosted more than 80 visiting human rights defenders from around the world.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic and with a start-up grant from the Open Society Foundation the Centre has created another pioneering initiative that brings activists and artists from across the world to work together. The Arctivism project is helping to raise awareness of the implications of the coronavirus pandemic for human rights defenders, activism, and shrinking civic and political space. Through grants of up to £3,000, projects are supported to provide innovative responses to the current emergency, in a reactive, therapeutic or imaginative form and through diaries, podcasts,  blogs and other media.  

Projects funded so far include Re!gnite Africa’s Covid-19 Youth Voices, which is monitoring, analysing and documenting in real-time stories and experiences of youth artists and activists dealing with the impact of COVID-19 government guidelines and measures to their livelihood and wellbeing. And Letters from the Front, which is a collaborative project between artivist Aris Papadopoulos and artist Hamed Soltani, that seeks to empower refugees in Lesvos-Greece, to gather stories from the frontlines of the European humanitarian crisis that capture the essence of Europe as an open and shared public space. These stories are transformed into compelling creative and artistic expressions that movingly reveal Europe’s face of solidarity.

Within just a few weeks of the launch of the Arctivists project demand for funding from arctivists around the world outstripped the availability of support available and so the Centre turned the University’s crowdfunding platform, YuStart, to raise support for further projects. And in October, the Sigrid Rausing Trust awarded a grant to support the next phase of the initiative.

This pioneering project, alongside the wider work of the Centre for Applied Human Rights, were the reason that University of York gained University of Sanctuary status in September this year. York has long been a welcoming and safe place for refugees, asylum seekers and other people who have been forced to migrate. And we are proud to offer financial support to students  who are attracted to our open and inclusive environment through a number of initiatives, including the Protective Fellowships Scheme and the Equal Access Scholarship programme, which supports asylum-seeking students.  Through philanthropy and the support of our donor community we will continue to be a welcoming place of safety for all and we will help others around the world to tell their stories.