In 2003, my colleague Tiffany Pinkstone and I founded The Sovereign Art Foundation (SAF), a charity based in Hong Kong. We had three aims: to foster an appreciation of art in Hong Kong; to assist the best artists in the Asia Pacific by giving them an international platform; and most importantly, to raise substantial funds to assist disadvantaged children using art as therapy and rehabilitation.
Happily, over the last 18 years, those aims have been achieved. We have raised over US$10 million and transformed the lives of many thousands of children. We have achieved this through setting up and funding programmes with like-minded organisations around the world, as well as launching our own initiative in Hong Kong: the Make It Better (MIB) programme. These programmes demonstrate the tremendous healing properties of art and creative expression, helping to nurture confidence, self-worth and build resilience in children. They and we are happier as a result.
We have happily been helped by our many supporters including the CEO and Founder of this esteemed organisation – Happy Ali.
One of the first projects we supported was in Sihanoukville, Cambodia. Our friends at ADM Capital had funded the building of a permanent centre to house M’Lop Tapang, a local non-profit dedicated to helping street children. They asked SAF to create and run an arts programme that would help support rehabilitation for victims of sexual abuse (which in those days were many in Sihanoukville). Children will generally not describe their experiences but will draw or paint them and that is the start of the all-important healing process. That programme still runs today but happily rarely sees victims of sexual abuse now, as the campaigns we have assisted with have largely eradicated that problem. We hope it has not just moved elsewhere. Art continues to form an integral part of M’Lop Tapang’s offering as they work to provide a safe haven for vulnerable street children.
More recently we have concentrated on our MIB programme. Hong Kong is a city that has huge wealth disparity, with a population of around 7 million of whom 1.6 million are living beneath the poverty line. Around 85,900 of those are children. We believe this unhappy diversity of wealth is shameful. Many of these children have special educational needs. Our work focuses on helping them and providing support and training to their teachers, social workers and caregivers by introducing them to the therapeutic benefits of art and nurturing a culture of peer-to-peer support.
MIB has been a huge success. The University of Hong Kong completed a three-year study on MIB, which points to remarkable improvements in participating children’s social competencies and reductions in emotional difficulties.
The major fundraising vehicle is our unique portfolio of professional art prizes, which began with The Sovereign Asian Art Prize and now includes prizes in Africa and Portugal. SAF appoints each region’s greatest independent art experts, such as museum directors, independent curators, and art critics to nominate the best artists working in their region and encourage them to enter the art prize. The nominators must have no commercial interest in the art they recommend.
We then appoint a panel of world-renowned experts as judges, and they sift through hundreds of entries to select the best 30 artworks for a major exhibition and some significant cash awards (the Asian Art Prize exhibition takes place in Hong Kong and attracts thousands of visitors). Then we sell the pieces with 50% going to the artists (same as they would get in a commercial gallery) and the other 50% being donated to SAF to further its work.
There is so much more to do. Assisting children makes us happy. We suggest you make yourselves happy by helping in one of many ways: volunteer, donate, become a patron… just spread the joy and let us help more children who are in desperate need.
Click here to donate to The Sovereign Art Foundation.