Why Proceeds from an Art Auction Are Going to Philly’s Poorest Neighborhoods

Hint: It was Ajay Raju's idea.
Photo courtesy of Germination Project.

Photo courtesy of Germination Project.

This month, New York’s leading art auction house, Christie’s, held its annual Asian Art Week. Over just four days of eight sales, the famed auction house brought in more than $58 million, and in an unprecedented event, Philadelphia took a cut of the total.

That about $280,000 from the wallets of some of the world’s wealthiest art collectors would be funneled to some of Philadelphia’s poorest neighborhoods is unusual, but it’s the result of attorney and business magnate Ajay Raju’s maneuvering.

To Raju, art, and more specifically charitable art, is the next frontier that can bolster Philadelphia’s image on the international stage.

A trustee of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Raju over the last two years, through the Pamela and Ajay Raju Foundation, has sponsored the Initiative for South Asian Contemporary Art at the museum, which has showcased the work of popular artists like Indian painter Atul Dodiya and multi-media installation artist Jitish Kallat, the Philadelphia Citizen reports.

“We’re putting Philadelphia in the global conversation, in the conversations of these artists,” said Raju. “And by getting more artists to come to Philadelphia, we’re elevating our city and driving the traffic of collectors here.”

And through the foundation’s IntXchange arm, Raju has gotten South Asian contemporary artists and collectors to donate pieces to the foundation in recent years, and the work of 10 of those artists went up for auction at Christie’s. The auction house sold the pieces free of charge in a charity auction, an event that doesn’t happen too often there, Raju said.

The foundation’s goal was to raise $300,000, but was about $20,000 shy of the mark. “It wasn’t a buyout, but we are more than pleased with how much we raised,” Raju said. “This is only the beginning.”

The funds will go to CPR training for 10,000 low-income Philadelphians through the Pamela and Ajay Raju Foundation’s Germination Project, a mentoring program for the city’s high school students. The CPR initiative, in partnership with the American Heart Association, is the foundation’s plan to fight low life expectancy rates in poor neighborhoods.

Raju says he plans to introduce more artists to Philadelphia to have them “fall in love with the city.” In October, sculptor Ranjani Shettar’s work will be at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

“I want to build the trade route between Philly and India where arts and culture are the new spices,” said Raju, who came to Philadelphia from India at the age of 12. “I want these artists to realize that Philadelphia is a great region to invest in.”

Catch some scenes from the auction below.

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