How Artist Freddy Sam Helped The Poor


SEATTLE — Those in extreme poverty need more than bread and water to live; they also need a reason to keep on living. The Borgen Project previously discussed how art programs give impoverished children opportunities for success and platforms for advocacy. But bestowing art is not a one-way street in terms of benefits. When artists donate their time to the needy, they are enriching their own lives. This is the story of how Freddy Sam helped the poor through his murals and thereby enriched his own life.

Freddy Sam, the alias of Ricky-Lee Gordon, began an ambitious project in 2011. He wanted to transform the Cape Town suburb of Woodstock, South Africa, into a haven for inspirational murals. Sam grew up in Cape Town and drew inspiration from the city. From a young age, he wanted his art to not just change the world, but be a part of the community it was changing.

Sam hoped to give young Woodstock creatives a chance for expression. He also thought his work would attract artists to a suburb with cheap rent. He was aware of how local art rejuvenates local businesses. “…I can influence the gentrification for the better, with art, with sensitivity, with communication between communities,” stated Sam in 2011.

By 2013, Sam’s artwork had been featured by the BBC and National Geographic. Freddy Sam helped the poor by beautifying their communities and was rewarded with international recognition.

Sam has led several creative initiatives, such as A Word of Art and The Colour Project, since 2011. He also worked with the Percy Bartley orphanage to teach young boys the power of art. “[Art] teaches self-awareness, sensitivity, expression, discipline and the ability to create something from nothing,” said Sam in an interview with

Sam’s revitalization mission succeeded past 2011. An editorial from AllAfrica noted Woodstock’s successes even while discussing the negative effects of gentrification. Cape Town will develop affordable housing in several suburbs as of November 2017. Sam hoped that his art would connect communities, and AllAfrica confirms that “Woodstock is already very diverse and possibly one of the most integrated neighborhoods in the city.” Moreover, the editorial argues for affordable housing in Woodstock, as both private and public developments have emerged rapidly in the suburb.

The risks of gentrification, like displacement and segregation, are still concerns. But in 2011, CNN described Woodstock as “run-down.” In 2017, AllAfrica described Woodstock as a great place to invest in helping the poor.

Freddy Sam helped the poor not just for their benefit, but for his own sense of purpose. In 2000, at the age of 16, Sam decided that he did not want to be as entitled and jaded as his peers. Through art, he found a way to better himself and better the people around him. Sam’s love of art gave residents of Woodstock a chance to love life in difficult circumstances. Or, as the artist himself puts it, “showing someone that you believe in turn makes them believe.”

– Nick Edinger
Photo: Flickr


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