Simon Butler

Migrate Art is a remarkable charity that raises money through contemporary art to help those affected by the refugee crisis. On the occasion of ‘Multicolour’, a new fundraising auction and exhibition which will be launched on 19th March, Art is Alive catches up with its co-founder, Simon Butler. Contemporary artists have produced new pieces using pencils that were salvaged from the former site of the Calais Jungle. The works will be on view at 9 Cork Street from 20th-31st March with an opening event on the evening of Tuesday 19th March 2019.

Please tell us more about Migrate Art.

Migrate Art was started in 2016 after our first visit to the Calais Jungle. As you may imagine, this trip had a hugely profound impact on my world view. When I returned to London (formerly, Simon was a Manager at Lazarides Gallery and Newport Street Gallery), I began to think how I could use my knowledge and experience working in contemporary art to raise much needed funds for this cause. After being invited to an event at the House of Lords, I met a number of grass roots organisations whose work I really believed in. It was refreshing to directly see where the money they raised was being spent, which was not something I felt confident in when I had donated to larger organisations in the past. We continue to support four of these organisations to this day- The Lotus Flower, The Worldwide Tribe, RefuAid and Refugee Community Kitchen.

How bad is the situation on the ground in Calais and what can people do to help?

The current situation is the worst I have seen. Although conditions in the Jungle were tough, at least there was some infrastructure and community. We spent Christmas in Calais in 2018 and the people we spoke to seemed at a point of desperation- they are sleeping in freezing conditions with little protection- mostly tents pitched on areas of wasteland. To add insult to injury, the French authorities are regularly (sometimes daily) destroying tents, confiscating fire wood and generally making life as unbearable as possible to deter people from staying in Calais.

How many artists are taking part in this year’s auction?

We have thirty of the biggest names in contemporary art including Anish Kapoor, Michael Craig-Martin, Rachel Whiteread, Gary Hume, Jeremy Deller and Sean Scully. We have been extremely fortunate that such wonderful artists were prepared to take the time to produce brand new work for the project.

What’s the concept behind the proposal to artists?

All of the artists have produced brand new pieces using pencils that we salvaged from the former site of the Calais Jungle. After the Jungle camp was demolished at the end of 2016, we returned to the area and found a number of colouring pencils where the camp’s school had previously stood. We collected these pencils from the mud and brought them back to London and developed the concept of Multicolour, and began sending pencils to artists for them to create work with.

Will the artworks be on display before the sale?

As well as being on show at Phillips in Berkeley Square from 4th-10th April, we will also be hosting an exhibition of all works at 9 Cork Street from 20th-31st March, with an opening event on Tuesday 19th March. The sale itself will take place at Phillips on April 11th at 2pm, as part of their ‘New Now’ sale.

What are your highlights of the sale?

For me, our piece by Sean Scully is a real highlight- I love his work, and 2018 was a hugely successful year for the artist. Scully’s style is very recognisable and his piece for Multicolour fits perfectly within his wider body of work. I also love the work of Syrian artist Sara Shamma. Shamma returned to her home city of Damascus in December 2018 and took her pencils with her, which provides an additional layer to the story of her piece. In Damascus, her children created drawings with the pencils, which Sara used as the basis of her final painting.

How many charities do you partner with and what are their specificities?

We support four grass-roots organisations, who have spent the last few years filling in the gaps left by the larger NGOs. We decided to support charities that assist with a varied range of responses to our current humanitarian crisis, for example The Lotus Flower support women and children that faced abuse from ISIS in the Kurdish area of Iraq, RefuAid support people that have been granted asylum in the UK, so they can gain qualifications and get back into work, Refugee Community Kitchen are on the ground in Calais and Dunkirk feeding over 1,500 people every single day, and The Worldwide Tribe have invented WiFi boxes that provide WiFi to refugees camps across the globe so people can stay in touch with family members and loved ones.

Are you planning more cultural events in the future?

2019 is going to be a year expansion and growth for us. As well as events in contemporary art, we will be developing a music event for the end of the year. Our ultimate goal is to fundraise through a number of creative disciplines, and not simply limit ourselves to art. Within the world of art, we have a limited-edition print release scheduled for the not too distant future- more information about this will be announced soon!

Can art aficionados still contribute and donate money to Migrate Art?

We can always take donations via our BT MyDonate page (https://mydonate.bt.com/donation/v4/chooseAmount.html?charity=184834&sourcePage=charityPage), and if anyone would like to become more directly involved in our work, they are more than welcome to get in touch via info@migrateart.com.

 

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Image: Kevin Francis Gray, Greek Girl (Pencils), 2019 © Kevin Francis Gray, courtesy Pace Gallery