With record roadside-pollution levels recorded in Hong Kong last year, one activist group is hoping to tap a new sector for its cause: the art scene. Monday’s Clean Air Auction, sponsored by the nonprofit Clean Air Network, will sell 43 works by local and global artists with the aim of raising awareness about air pollution. As part of Sotheby’s week of spring auctions, which the auction house estimates will bring in 2.7 billion Hong Kong dollars (US$340 million), the sale aims to raise HK$2.5 million to fund the organization’s advocacy for the next two years.
“Art is sexy; activism in a city like Hong Kong is absolutely not,” says Clean Air Network Chief Executive Joanne Ooi, who also owns an art gallery in Hong Kong. Trying to merge the two, she will display messages about the negative health effects of air pollution alongside the art, most of which has an environment theme. (Her organization’s awareness campaigns aren’t always so somber: Last August it produced a tongue-in-cheek YouTube video in which local actor Daniel Wu peddled cans of clean air.)
Hong Kongers do seem to have grown more concerned about air pollution in recent years: A December survey by local think tank Civic Exchange found that one in four is considering leaving the city because of poor air quality, up from one in five in 2008. But greater awareness isn’t the same as progress, cautions Mike Kilburn, the environmental program manager at Civic Exchange.