Since the beginning of Russia’s war on Ukraine in February, more than 5 million people have been displaced within the battered country and at least 3 million people have emigrated to escape the violence, according to the United Nations. Global art organizations have stepped up with initiatives to support cultural workers and students affected by the war, from residences to job placements and direct financial aid.
On Wednesday, the New York–based Helen Frankenthaler Foundation said it will distribute $2.5 million in grants to international organizations leading efforts to protect at-risk artists and cultural heritage in Ukraine. The foundation will work with PEN America and the World Monuments Fund to identify the recipients most in needs of the funds, as well as which heritage sites and institutional collections that are in peril.
“Our mission calls us to promote greater public interest in and understanding of the visual arts. It is impossible to fulfill this mandate without being responsive to the needs of our times,” Lise Motherwell, board chair of the foundation, said in a statement. “As art and artists are caught in the crosshairs of conflict and crisis, it is imperative to preserve both the artistic freedom and cultural heritage that is being threatened around the world.”
Some $2 million awarded to PEN America will be split between two initiatives over the course of three years. One is the Emergency and Resilience Funds for Visual Artists at Risk in Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia, which includes grants covering basic needs as well as career support for artists, such as networking opportunities and and practical resources. The other initiative is the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC), which supports artists worldwide whose lives and livelihoods are threatened due to their creative work or as a consequence of war.
Meanwhile, $500,000 will go to the World Monuments Fund, which launch an initiative known as the Ukraine Heritage Response Fund that will be dedicated to the documentation and preservation of heritage sites. Through the fund, cultural professionals working on conservation and restoration projects will receive direct financial aid.
Bénédicte de Montlaur, president and CEO of WMF, said in a statement that with support from the foundation, the WMF will “be able to intervene quickly in Ukraine—which is the most essential element of emergency response to crises of this scale and nature—and provide early recovery actions to document and recover cultural heritage.”
According to a recent report from UNESCO, 53 heritage sites in Ukraine been damaged since the invasion began. Of those sites, 29 were religious in nature, 16 were historic buildings, and 4 were monuments.
The Kuindzhi Art Museum in Mariupol, dedicated to local artist Arkhip Kuindzhi, one of Ukraine’s most influential Realist painters, is believed to have weathered damage. So too is the Ivankiv Historical and Local History Museum, which is home to dozens of works by Ukrainian folk artist Maria Prymachenko. The latter museum was burned by the Russians in the early days of the war.
The destruction of Holocaust memorials across Ukraine has become an international flashpoint. On March 26, the Drobitsky Yar Holocaust in Kharkiv, where at least 16,000 Jews memorial were murdered, was reportedly shelled by Russian forces. Images shared on social media showed a large sculpture of a menorah in ruins.
“While we are keenly focused on the creation and dissemination of art, we know that art has always been a palimpsest on which the world writes its pains and dreams,” Fred Iseman, president of the Helen Frankenthaler Foundation’s board of directors, said in a statement.
He added that “the real world brutally intrudes onto the canvas. So brutality intrudes into museums, artists, and arts. When it does, we cannot turn our backs.”