October 17, 2018

Arab Art & Education Initiative Launches Amid Controversy Around Saudi Journalist’s Disappearance

NEW YORK—The Arab Art & Education Initiative, a yearlong program of exhibitions, seminars, and events produced by the organization Edge of Arabia and hosted by various New York art and education institutions, launched this week amid controversy surrounding the disappearance and suspected murder of journalist and political dissident Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Edge of Arabia receives fifteen percent of its funding from the Misk Art Institute, a foundation created by the Saudi royal family to promote Saudi culture and position the kingdom as a major supporter of international academic and cultural projects, which serves as a partner to the initiative.

The New York institutions participating in AAEI include the Brooklyn Museum, the Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, Asia Society, and Columbia University. AAEI was organized in accordance with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals to foster cross-cultural dialogue.

Daniel Weiss, president and chief executive officer of the Met, told the New York Times, “As a global cultural institution, a core activity of our museum is to engage with representatives from museums and governments around the world. We are in process of learning more, and our engagement will reflect additional information.”

Anne Pasternak, director of the Brooklyn Museum, said in a statement about the AAEI-affiliated exhibition Syria Then and Now: Stories from Refugees a Century Apart, “Support for our exhibitions comes from a variety of sources—both public and private—and we always seek partners who share our mission and values of creating a more connected and civil world. Recently, we have been working with Misk Art Institute, an organization with a mission of cultivating cultural dialogue to build greater understanding between the United States and the Arab world, on a small exhibition that looks at the historical and present day experience of refugees in Syria. While we always reserve the right to re-evaluate sources of funding depending on changing circumstances, we have nothing to report at this time about any of our funders.”

No New York institution has yet announced a withdrawal from the initiative, but the Washington, D.C.-based think tank the Middle East Institute, which coordinated several projects, has cancelled its involvement with AAEI.

“We’re doubling down,” Stephen Stapleton, Edge of Arabia director, told Artnet News. “I spent the whole day on the phone talking to our partners and I’m just so proud that they are standing by us. It’s a tough situation for everybody because obviously this is connected to expression and freedom of speech. We’re talking about issues of refugees, talking about the issue of sustainable development goals, and issues of human rights and gender equality. All of these are issues that we need to stand up for right now. We have to focus on the mission that we set ourselves and that’s what we’re going to do.”

AAEI’s launch program will continue through October 23.

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