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A Campaign to End AIDS With Vodka Bottles, Chicken Feathers, and Modern Art

Corporate philanthropy in America surged in the past decade and rose to $18.46 billion for 2015. While individual donors, private funds and foundation grants made up the majority of overall giving (totaling $373+ million) last year, businesses are finding new and unexpected ways to make an impact in the philanthropic sector.

Belvedere Vodka is one of the companies connecting its brand with charitable giving in a smart and creative vein. Its 2016 campaign “#MAKETHEDIFFERENCE” combines singer John Legend as spokesperson and South African artist Esther Mahlangu as painter-in-residence. Legend lends star wattage and experience as a hands-on supporter of global health and anti-poverty initiatives, while 80-year-old Mahlangu’s colorful designs are replicated on a limited-edition premium vodka bottle; Belvedere donates fifty percent of the bottle’s sales to fight AIDS via (RED) and the Global Fund. (Gap, Apple, and Coca-Cola have also supported (RED), which was founded by Bono and Bobby Shriver in 2006.)

Celebrities joining forces to support charitable work is common, but Belvedere celebrates Mahlangu’s art in a fun and funky way: the company took the artist on a brief US gallery tour to showcase and auction her designs and also to give a painting demonstration for attendees. At the Woodruff Arts Center in Atlanta on September 28, Mahlangu taught her Ndebele-style technique — with its characteristically bold black lines— while guests (including Real Housewives of Atlanta star Cynthia Bailey and ​stylist ​Lawrence Washington) created their own artwork on canvases, using chicken feathers as paint brushes. Participants also toured the High Museum of Art’s African Art Collection.

Esther Mahlangu paints at the Woodruff Arts Center in Atlanta. Photo courtesy of Mission.

Mahlangu’s bright, graphic style became renowned in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when she was commissioned to create a BMW “art car“ and her designs were used to decorate the tails of British Airways jets. Although her work is in private collections around the world, she still lives and teaches community art classes in the village where she grew up near Middelburg, South Africa.

As the HIV epidemic spread in her country over the past three decades, Mahlangu became passionate about education, prevention and providing lifesaving treatment to fight the disease. South Africa has the largest antiretroviral treatment program globally and deaths from AIDS-related causes were down from 200,000 people in 2014 to 180,000 in 2015, yet the country’s statistics remain startling: according to AVERT, 19% of the general population in South Africa is HIV-positive. Mahlangu is donating her profits from the sale of artwork on the Belvedere tour to her community school.

To date, Belvedere’s partnership with (RED) has provided funding equivalent to 12 million days of antiretroviral drugs and the delivery of 30,000 babies born without AIDS.

“I would love for my daughter Luna to grow up in a world where no one has to die from AIDS,” John Legend said in a statement about the partnership. “I think that would be a beautiful thing.”

For more information about Belvedere’s partnership with (RED), click here. For other (RED) products that support the fight against AIDS, click here.

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