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Russian oligarchs skirting US sanctions through shady art sales: Congressional report – BNN

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NEW YORK — Russian oligarchs have skirted U.S. sanctions through murky high-end art deals, according to a congressional report released Wednesday that urged lawmakers to rein in an unregulated industry favoured by money launderers.

The secrecy of the art world — in which buyers often remain anonymous — gave billionaire friends of President Vladimir Putin access to the American economy even after the United States sanctioned them following Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, the report found.

Investigators traced US$18 million in art buys to shell companies linked to Arkady and Boris Rotenberg, close Putin associates who American officials say benefited financially from the Crimean annexation.

The Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations highlighted loopholes that exempt even the most lucrative art sales from financial safeguards aimed at stopping money laundering.

Major U.S. auction houses acknowledged never asking for the true identity of the buyer, the report found, dealing with an intermediary for the sales in question “even when it was well-known that the ultimate owner was someone else.”

In all, the shell companies linked to the oligarchs moved at least US$91 million through the U.S. financial system after the sanctions were imposed, the report found.

“It is alarming and completely unacceptable that common sense regulations designed to prevent money laundering and the financing of terrorism do not apply if someone is purchasing a multimillion-dollar piece of art,” said U.S. Sen. Tom Carper, of Delaware, the subcommittee’s top Democrat.

U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, Republican of Ohio, said he supports legislation to lift the “curtain of secrecy” that has made the art industry a preferred vehicle of money launderers.

The Rotenbergs could not be reached for comment. They have been the subject of U.S. sanctions since March 2014, singled out for their close ties to Putin. Arkady Rotenberg is a childhood friend and former judo sparring partner of Putin. His companies won billions in road contracts in Sochi, the host of the 2014 Winter Games.

Global art sales reached about US$64 billion last year, with the United States accounting for nearly half the market. The industry remains unregulated in the U.S., however, attracting the likes of racketeers and money launderers.

Any reforms to the notoriously opaque art world will face vigorous opposition from well-heeled collectors “who don’t want anybody to know what they have,” said Robert Wittman, a former FBI agent who founded the bureau’s Art Crime Team.

U.S. art sales would plummet, Wittman said, if Congress followed the subcommittee’s recommendation to extend the Bank Secrecy Act to businesses brokering high-value art transactions.

The report points to new anti-money laundering rules the European Union adopted recently for expensive art deals, including verifying the identity of the buyer and seller of the art. That directive followed the release of the so-called Panama Papers, a collection of more than 11 million secret financial documents that illustrated how some of the world’s richest people hide their money.

The congressional report released Wednesday cited an email chain contained in the Panama Papers that listed nine shell companies in the British Virgin Islands linked to the Rotenbergs.

It said the Rotenbergs’ art deals in the U.S. were facilitated by Gregory Baltser, an American citizen and art advisor based in Moscow who has “no plans to return to the United States.”

Baltser’s attorney sent the congressional subcommittee a letter denying allegations that he did business with the Rotenbergs.

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Arts Society King encourages artists to submit work to original art challenge – yorkregion.com

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The people behind Arts Society King wanted to get people engaged with art despite a worldwide pandemic.

That’s where the original art challenge came to fruition.

“When the coronavirus came along and everything started getting shut down, I sort of said to the board of directors, ‘We should do some sort of art challenge,’” said Michele McNally, vice president of Arts Society King.


McNally was inspired by the rainbows children had made and put in their windows as a way to lift spirits during the pandemic.

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“I thought, ‘The kids are doing all this artwork, why doesn’t Arts Society King put out there that we’re going to have an original art challenge?’ And it doesn’t just have to be paintings. It can be poetry, it can be TikTok videos, writing short stories, whatever you like,” she said.

The response from the artist community in King has been amazing, McNally said.

A special Facebook page was made for the challenge where the art is posted.

The challenge has garnered about 40 submissions through Facebook or Instagram by tagging Arts_Society_King.

McNally said she was hoping more youth and children would participate in the challenge, but that hasn’t been the case.

There isn’t a prize to be won because McNally didn’t want to make it a contest with an end date.

“I decided not to make it like a contest with a prize at the end with a deadline and hopefully it would just perpetuate itself,” McNally said. 

Established artist Bill Lunshof decided to participate in the challenge as a way to express his passion for painting.

“I just thought it would be fun to post and see what happens,” Lunshof said.


Lunshof is a longtime member of Arts Society King who has been painting on and off for about 10 years and has been doing it full time for the last four years.

Lunshof uses oil paints as his medium. He paints in a style he calls “looser.”

“I’m trying to paint in more of a plein air style where somebody paints outside and paints quickly. I’m trying to loosen up my style a little bit and get away from all the detail,” he said.

Lunshof paints every day and his style has progressed naturally.

“I think (painting) is just my passion. It’s how I express myself,” he said.

Arts Society King is a volunteer-run not-for-profit that promotes, celebrates and advocates for art in King Township.


STORY BEHIND THE STORY: Reporter Laura Broadley noticed social media posts from artists in King and wanted to find out what it was all about.

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U’mista Cultural Centre will host a native art contest to raise funds for artists

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U’mista Cultural Centre has called on the artists of Kwakwa̱ka̱’wakw descent to participate in a native art contest to be held on August 28.

Indigenous artists have been economically affected due to COVID-19 slowing down business and tourism said Joseph Isaac, U’mista Cultural Centre’s business manager.

The contest is a fun way for people to engage with arts and raise funds, said Isaac.

The contest is open for children and adults and two winners will be selected from each of the three categories. Winners will also receive cash prizes ranging from $250- $1000. The artwork design produced will be used for the logo of U’mista’s merchandise.

The theme for the contest is ‘resilience.’

“Our people are extraordinary stories of resilience,” said Isaac and added that First Nation communities have historically been resilient through pandemics and residential schools.

The society is also planning to host an art exhibition, featuring works of Kwakwa̱ka̱’wakw artists from across the region.

“We’re going to be reaching out to our community to participate in the exhibition,” said Isaac. The exhibition will be held at the U’mista cultural centre in Alert Bay.

The exhibition will also mark the 40th anniversary of the U’mista Cultural Centre.

U’mista Cultural Centre is one of the longest-operating and most successful First Nations cultural facilities in BC, founded in 1980 as a ground breaking project to house potlatch artifacts which had been seized by government during an earlier period of cultural repression.

‘U’mista’ which also means ‘the return of something important’ operates a museum and cultural education facility in Alert Bay.

Source:- Campbell River Mirror

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Mental health art show in Vernon until Aug. 17 – Vernon News – Castanet.net

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The therapeutic power of art is being showcased in Vernon.

The Vernon & District Canadian Mental Health Association’s 17th annual Awakening the Spirit art show and sale is on now at the Vernon Community Arts Centre.

More than 20 works are featured, including photography, acrylics, pen and ink, and watercolour.

All the artwork is from those living with mental illness, who have used art to positively improve their mental health.

“Through art and creativity, we hope to break down some of the barriers and stigma surrounding mental health and mental illness,” said Julia Payson, CMHA Vernon’s executive director.

For the past 20 years, CMHA volunteer Christine Schmidt has been using art to help her express herself and practise self-care.

“It keeps the creative juices going, connects me to nature, and is a way of expressing emotion,” she said.

She has been contributing to the show and volunteering at the CMHA’s Georgette Thrift Shop for three years.

At the beginning of the pandemic, Schmidt spent her time walking, doing photography, cooking, baking, meditating, and connecting with others over the phone. 

She also dedicated herself to drawing a picture every day for six weeks. 

“It was neat to have a focus, to have something on the go during that time to commit to. I decided to stay calm and collected when B.C. launched its COVID-19 measures,” said Schmidt, who decided to create an art calendar.

“My plan was to take a photo for inspiration and do a drawing each day of the month.

The arts centre donated its gallery for the show, which runs until Friday, Aug. 17, Monday to Wednesday: 9:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Thursday to Saturday: 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

The show and sale is also being featured online.

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