Healing Arts: Aspen nonprofit partners with WHO, Christie’s on art auctions for international COVID-19 relief
When conceptual artist and doctor Ahmed Mater’s “Magnetism” sold for $120,000 at an auction hosted by Christie’s in London last month, it began what is planned as a year-long partnership between international artist, public health leaders and the Aspen-based Open Mind Project to help support vulnerable communities affected by the novel coronavirus pandemic.
The artwork is a sculptural piece focused on a cuboid magnet that resembles the Kaʿbah of the Meccan rites. Around the cube are spiral patterns made of tens of thousands of particles of iron evoking the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca. Given that Mecca was seen mostly empty for the first time in its history during 2020’s pandemic, this work was chosen to launch the Healing Arts Auction series.
Mater was among the artists showcased at the 2016 Aspen gallery show “Gonzo Arabia,” which introduced several young Saudi artists to local collectors. Produced by cross-cultural arts nonprofit Culturunners and hosted by the Gonzo Gallery, that event also began the partnership between Culturunners’ Stephen Stapleton and Open Mind Project founder Andrew Scott.
Their new initiative is attempting to harness the power of the international art world to support communities in need during the pandemic.
“The Open Mind Project’s participation in this philanthropic effort aims to transform a moment of crisis into a paradigm shift for the health of humanity and the planet we depend on for life,” said Scott. “We have to ask how we can mobilize artists and philanthropists to participate in the recovery from a global shock that has resulted from mass lock-downs, controls on international travel, and the disruption of lives and livelihoods worldwide.”
The partners are calling the initiative The Future is Unwritten. It has gained support from the World Council of Peoples for the United Nations (WCPUN) Arts & Culture Advisory Council and UN75. Following the Mater sale, the group is planning a series of auctions scheduled to run over the course of the next year, with funds going to the World Health Organization Foundation and to specific projects in United Nations priority areas for COVID-19 relief.
Among the vulnerable, at-risk communities identified for support from Healing Arts are a public health campaigns in Yemen, New York City and small towns in the U.S., a project addressing the nutrition crisis among the Navajo Nation in Arizona, which was ravaged by COVID-19, as well as a cultural preservation project with Yazidi communities on the Iraq-Syria border.
In addition to the auction series, Healing Arts is planning to launch educational events covering urgent thematic topics from emergency response, to mental health, to the health effects of the environmental crisis, each through the lens of the arts.
“This initiative represents a unique opportunity for the art world to step up to this global challenge and support communities on the front line of the pandemic,” said WHO director general Tedroos Adhanom, “ensuring everyone, everywhere has the tools they need to overcome it.”
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