Long after the headlines about Haiti have died down, actor and director Ben Stiller is still hard at work raising money and awareness and helping to rebuild the country. His most recent effort is Artists for Haiti, a nonproﬁt charitable organization that is holding an art auction on Thursday, Sept. 22, at Christie's in New York. He hopes to raise millions of dollars to help the struggling island nation still recovering from the devastating earthquake in January 2010 that killed an estimated 230,000 people and displaced more than 1.6 million.
Stiller says, "Haiti's gone out of the news, and it's really important that people understand how much need there is still there and how devastating the earthquake was, and how many years it's going to take to rebuild from it."
Stiller's first trip to Haiti was with Save the Children. That was before the earthquake, but a similar trip to Africa was enough to show him how desperately Haiti needed help. Of the Haiti earthquake, he says, "I guess it just affected me seeing how close it was to our country. There are so many causes, so many people in need in our world, I think you just try to do whatever you can."
Stiller, known for such films as Night at the Museum, was introduced to the art world by fellow comedian Steve Martin, who also happens to be an art aficionado. He put Stiller in touch with gallery owner and art dealer David Zwirner. The two traveled to Haiti 10 months after the earthquake. It was that trip that convinced Zwirner to throw his considerable art-world weight behind Artists for Haiti.
"That was a life-altering experience for me; I have never seen that kind of poverty," he says. "The art world goes to Miami [for Art Basel] every year, and there we are happily sipping champagne and eating fancy food, and literally an hour away, people can't find clean bathrooms, can't find water, can't find housing, and the children can't find schools."
The Stiller Foundation has been at the forefront of rebuilding several schools in Haiti, including École La Dignité, the only free private school in the Jacmel area, serving 227 students. Stiller says that while the rebuilding effort is crucial, it's just as important to keep reminding people what's going on in Haiti, and that's what he hopes to accomplish with his star-studded auction.
The sale has generated quite a bit of buzz, says Christie's Amy Cappellazzo, chairwoman of the postwar and contemporary-art department in New York. Christie's, which donated its services, expects the auction to raise between $7.5 million and $10.5 million. Some 25 of today's most important artists have donated work, including black artists Chris Ofili and Glenn Ligon. There is also a drawing of Jay-Z for sale by artist Elizabeth Peyton.
Organizers say that 100 percent of the proceeds will go directly to support nonproﬁts and nongovernmental organizations that are already performing work on the ground in Haiti, including Architecture for Humanity, Artists for Peace and Justice, Ciné Institute, Grameen Creative Lab, J/P HRO, Partners in Health and the Stiller Foundation.
More information is available at the site for the auction.
Julie Walker is a freelance journalist based in New York.