Almost two million Ukrainians have fled the country in the past two weeks, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said over the weekend, representing the “fastest-growing refugee crisis in Europe since World War II.” As the Russian invasion intensifies, the human rights advocacy group Artists at Risk (AR) has put together a dedicated website centralizing emergency resources for Ukrainian artists and cultural workers who are seeking to relocate to, and in some cases continue their studies or pursue employment opportunities in, a new country.
The landing page of the website provides those seeking help with two application forms, one for artists and cultural workers from Ukraine and another for those who are Belarusian and Russian dissidents at risk of “persecution or political threats.” Marita Muukkonen and Ivor Stodolsky, co-founding directors of AR, said that the organization has adopted the role of “matchmaking” residency-hosting organizations and applicants, pairing those who are able to extend housing and support with refugees in need.
“We have already relocated more than 20 artists, and as we speak, we have been going through … 100 names and matchmaking them with residency locations,” Muukkonen told Hyperallergic in an interview. Stodolsky said that there are currently 115 applicants from Ukraine and 40 applicants submitting as Russian and Belarusian dissidents, but added that they were getting applications “every few minutes.” (The total number of people seeking relocation through AR is far higher, since many primary applicants have dependents.)
Currently, there are approximately 100 hosting organizations located throughout Europe, including locations in Ireland, France, Greece, Belgium, and elsewhere, with the number “growing as we speak,” Muukkonen and Stodolsky said. As an example, they mentioned that the Swedish Artist Residency Network (SWAN) has recently joined the list, offering both short and long-term emergency residencies to accommodate artists, art professionals, and in some cases their families.
“We have worked since 2013, and we have never experienced this wave of solidarity from institutions — small ones, big ones, artist collectives, activists, and funders,” Muukkonen said.
A wide range of hosting institutions are represented. Some are smaller, artist-run initiatives and collectives, such as Project Space From the A in Bremen, Germany, which has the capacity to host one to two individuals until September, and Babel Cultural Organization in Portugal, which can house six people. Others include larger and more established institutions like ZKM Karlsruhe in Germany, a museum of art and media technology, which will sponsor a residency in association with AR. They created a form for interested host organizations to submit because so many individuals and institutions had contacted them in past weeks to volunteer help.
Muukkonen estimates that they have relocated or are in the process of relocating 40 artists to locations in Helsinki, Vienna, and Prague.
They also reported that applications from Russian dissidents were climbing. Some applicants are currently stuck in “administrative detention”; AR says they will work to relocate them as soon as they are released. The first group of six Russian artists seeking relocation has already arrived in Tbilisi, Georgia. Stodolsky expressed grave concern about a law passed by the Russian parliament just last Friday that forbids citizens from spreading “fake” information about the military, an offense newly punishable by a 15-year jail sentence.
“The situation of Russian dissidents is very worrying,” Muukkonen and Stodolsky told Hyperallergic. “They are the core of political change in Russia and therefore have to be protected, and they need fast passage to the EU area.” Russian refugees can only enter Georgia, Turkey, Armenia, and Kazakhstan without a visa, but AR has requested that the Finnish Committee on Foreign Affairs offer humanitarian visas to them.
Artists at Risk is also collecting donations on their website to raise funds for refugee artists’ and art professionals’ living expenses. They are also soliciting additional applications for host organizations.
Both represent avenues for those not currently at risk to provide mutual aid to the Ukrainian arts community through a trustworthy organization that has a storied history of supporting artists in times of crisis. Founded in 2013, AR has worked with nonprofits and governments around the world to protect artists escaping persecution and war across 19 countries. In particular, they have worked to build a network of “AR-Safe Havens around the world,” which provide residencies to artists who face persecution for exercising their right to freedom of expression.
Artists that the organization has aided in the past include Pussy Riot members Nadya Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina, Catalan musician Pablo Hasél, Egyptian poet Galal El-Behairy, and Kurdish artist Barıs Seyitvan.
Muukkonen and Studolsky were hopeful that the influx of support they have received in recent days will build AR’s network in the long run and be sustained for future waves of displacement. Although the ongoing Taliban takeover in Afghanistan is no longer front page news, for instance, they urge the global community to remain vigilant about threats faced by artists in the country.
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