For nearly half a century, Japanese-born avant-garde artist Yoko Ono has been a figurehead and ambassador for social change. She continues to be a vocal supporter of women’s and gay rights, as well as an advocate for peace. As such, she gives to several handpicked charities that she feels are in line with her world view.
“I’m helping a slew of charities,” Ono tells Samaritanmag. “I think I’m helping about 30 charities around the world.”
From a school in Harlem, NY to American’s Second Harvest to London’s National Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, Ono’s donations cover a range of needs, some through her own Spirit Foundation.
Now 78, Ono is still actively performing concerts and exhibiting her art. She rose to cultural prominence in the 1960s as the (occasionally loathed) paramour of The Beatles’ John Lennon. She inspired her soon-to-be husband to look beyond the superficial nature of his fame and, together, the duo would become a force for social change.
Starting with the first Bed-In for Peace in Amsterdam in 1969, to oppose the Vietnam War, the couple became the face of passive protest. They staged another that year in Montreal, resulting in the recording of the now anthemic “Give Peace A Chance.” In the 70s, Ono tackled racism and sexism head-on, once seizing the opportunity to raise the issues on national television when she and Lennon hosted The Mike Douglas Show.
After Lennon’s assassination in 1980 outside their Dakota apartment in New York, Ono soldiered on with their message of peace and tolerance, using her celebrity and art to inspire others to become active in the cause. In 2002, she established the LennonOno Grant for Peace, a biennial award given out to artists that are influencing positive social change.
She also continues to put her wealth to good use via her Spirit Foundation, which builds schools in Africa and Asia. Weary of outside influence, all the Foundation’s holdings are accumulated by Ono herself, without any fundraising or donation drives.
“I don’t want to ask anybody to donate money; it’s all my money. When I make money, I put it in there,” she says. “The reason for that is because there are so many people that offer to raise money on my behalf and there’s a whole racket there that I don’t want anything to do with. So Spirit Foundation is just gradually accumulating money; it’s not a lot, but it’s only from me.”
Ultimately though, the proof is in the results.
“We’ve been building schools for children in Africa for the past 10 years,” Ono beams. “We’ve built 90 some schools since we started and now we’re planning on expanding to Asia.”
Most recently, Ono has turned her attention to an extremely personal cause. Soon after a tsunami and earthquake ravaged her native Japan in March, she set up a series of benefit shows where her newly reunited Plastic Ono Band plays alongside some of her famous friends. The $100 tickets quickly sold out, raising thousands. Ono says she plans to continue concentrating her efforts in the near future to raise money and awareness towards rebuilding Japan.Boots