About 14 years ago, I agreed to place a full-page advertisement for Arts Project Australia in the back of a Fine Art auction catalogue. Norman Rosenblatt, a Leonard Joel regular, asked me to do this as a favour to promote awareness of the art studio that at the time I knew nothing about. The image was an abstracted portrait of Peter Fay, and it was an extraordinary work. That was it. I remained oblivious to the organisation that sat behind this work of art.
Around 4 years after that, Norman suggested I visit Arts Project Australia, meet Executive Director Sue Roff, and tour the studio. I was blown away. First by Sue’s ebullient, warm but also commanding manner and of course the studio and its artists. A studio and sanctuary where some 140 artists, with a diverse range of intellectual disabilities practice their art, refine it, and exhibit it for sale. As a parent I was moved by its mere existence and knew that this was a place I would want my child to be if they loved art and needed support. From then on we have supported Arts Project Australia, and our organisations and people have become friends.
Then in 2016, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) conducted a study on Australian auction house trade in ivory. Rebecca Keeble of IFAW wrote to me and shared the report that identified Leonard Joel as the largest trader in the country. I was shocked, I’d never thought about the cumulative scale of our trade in antique and second-hand ivory before. Rebecca asked me to consider an auction house’s responsibility in the global chain that begins with the slaughter of an elephant – what I now call The Slaughter Origin. I agreed with her, and within 40 days we developed a cessation policy, we no longer deal in ivory, and we are now an advocate for cessation globally. When we announced our new stance, it was labelled by a now failed competitor “blatant opportunism”. That hurt, briefly, but I didn’t care because our decision felt so good.
These remain Leonard Joel’s two most active engagements with community and conservation, and soon they were to come together.
In February 2020, I was invited to the IFAW global board meetings in Santa Monica. It was just as Covid-19 was presenting, and I recall people wiping down their plane seats and masks being worn at the airport here and there. At those meetings I was introduced to the Room to Roam project; IFAW’s grand and vital plan to reconnect the disrupted migration paths of elephants and their shrinking habitats in Africa, by engaging with countries and communities on the ground. Without it, elephants may well be lost to the world within 40 years. I found the project inspiring. The weather was beautiful in Santa Monica, but it was a strange time. I promised Azzedine Downes, IFAW’s CEO, that I would create an art event, a global one, that would support Room to Roam.
But what sort of an art event? How could it be global? And what art and from where? I was stuck for some time but eventually decided to give Sue Roff a call with an idea. Sue liked the idea and agreed to support it and help me realise it. An idea to bring supported studios from around the world together, many of which were severely disrupted by Covid-19, and curate no more than 100 works from these studios to raise funds, not just for Room to Roam but also each participating studio. Its name is Art to Roam, it will be a global auction event televised in real-time and it is our hope that bringing these two fund-raising themes together will connect with not just lovers of this important thread of contemporary art, but also those passionate about conservation and community.
John Albrecht / Leonard Joel Chairman & IFAW Board Member
Banner Image: ©IFAW_Colleen Cullen