MY STORY Pencils of light
An exhibition, Multicolour, organised by Simon Butler, the founder of Migrate Art, opens in Mayfair on March 19 with work by artists including Michael Craig-Martin, Maggi Hambling, Mark Wallinger and Sara Shamma, all of which will be auctioned three weeks later. https://www.myartbroker.com/migrateart
You commissioned the artists by giving them a single pencil each. Why?
I visited the Calais Jungle before it was demolished and it changed my perspective of the world, and made me realise just how lucky the majority of us that work in contemporary art really are. When the Jungle was destroyed by the French authorities I decided to travel back to see what remained. Seeing a site where 10,000 people had lived reduced to dirt was the most poignant experience of my life. Out of the mud, I began to collect the traces of the people that had lived there. Where the school had previously stood, I found a number of colouring pencils, and the idea for Multicolour began to formulate. The original idea was for each artist to receive a single pencil, but as the project progressed, artists began to ask for more. We wanted to encourage full creative freedom, so started sending multiple pencils to anyone that asked.
The exhibition auction is under the umbrella of Migrate Art. What is it and how did it come about?
Migrate Art was formed when I first came back from Calais in 2016. I wanted to use my career in contemporary art to help in some way, and fundraising seemed like the most obvious and effective choice. I began to call on my contacts and reached out to artists. Julian Opie very generously gave a large original piece titled Bobby & Natalie.1 which sold at Christie's for £47,500. This gave us a fantastic foundation to build from, and lead to us working with many of the world's leading artists
There are many more artists than those mentioned above – Sean Scully, Jeremy Deller, Anish Kapoor and Rachel Whiteread are other famous names involved. How did you persuade them to give their art?
I have been amazed at the generosity of the art community- all of the artists we have worked with have given their time to our project simply because they want to make a positive change in the world. There is a huge range of stories of how we got each artist on board - some are friends of mine, some were complete cold calls, some were through galleries and others I had to use all of my detective skills to find a way to get in touch. Some may class these detective skills as borderline stalking, but I was a man on a mission!
Who will be the beneficiaries of the auction, and how much do you hope to raise?
We have four charity partners; The Lotus Flower, The Worldwide Tribe, RefuAid and Refugee Community Kitchen. We are hoping to raise in the region of £150,000. Migrate Art will keep 10% of this to ensure we can develop more fundraising projects in the future, and the remaining 90% will be split between our partners. The refugee crisis will not go away any time soon, so it is important that we have the resources to keep going and make a positive impact.
How did you choose the charities that will benefit?
I have known all the founders personally for at least two years and fully believe in what they do. Jaz O'Hara who runs The Worldwide Tribe originally inspired me to go to Calais. I had seen her work via mutual friends on social media and wanted to know how I could help. In 2016 I was invited to a conference at The House of Lords during which I met the founders of the three other charities, and was incredibly inspired by their work.
How did you get involved – are you a curator or a charity fundraiser?
That's a great question, and I would say a combination of both. Ultimately my goal is to raise funds for a cause that I care deeply about, but if I can do that in interesting and creative ways then I feel we've hit on something very special. My background is in contemporary art, and I have project managed and curated a number of exhibitions. Migrate Art is a way to combine two of my passions and create something that not only raises funds, but also raises awareness of a crisis that has fallen out of the media in recent months.
What else has Migrate Art done, and how much have you raised to date?
We have worked with a number of artists including Julian Opie, Antony Gormley and Conor Harrington. To date we have raised a little under £100,000, which has gone to help projects across three continents, and directly impacted the lives of tens of thousands of people.
Who are your partners and what are their backgrounds?
My partners in Migrate Art are Ian and Joe Syer who run a business called My Art Broker, which primarily works in secondary market sales. Ian and Joe's experience and knowledge has provided me with the freedom to push Multicolour as far as I can. Multicolour wouldn't be what it is without their continued support, for which I am very grateful.
Do you operate only in the UK?
Migrate Art is UK based only, but the charities we support have a much larger reach. The Lotus Flower works with women and children in Iraq who have been abused by ISIS; Refugee Community Kitchen supply hot meals every day for those living in Calais, Dunkirk and Brussels;The Worldwide Tribe supplies wifi and shelter to refugees across Europe; and RefuAid assists people to get back into work once they have been granted asylum in the UK.
Do you have any pencils left for another exhibition and auction?
All the pencils we salvaged from Calais have been used in the project - we wanted to get as many artists involved as we could. We are currently looking for items or objects for the next project. We have been invited to visit camps in Iraq later this year, so we will be keeping our eyes open then.
Multicolour is at Cork Street Galleries March 19-31, and the auction is at Philips in Berkeley Square on April 11