Creativity, like nature, knows no borders, and we’re all about putting politics aside for the greater good, but a pair of naive American women behind the Israeli startup ArtSetters pulled a stunt that could have put Beirut artists in serious danger.
Officially launched towards the end of October, ArtSetters curates cutting edge design from 19 cities across the globe.
Registered in the United States, the website was founded by Lee Rotenberg and Alex Schinasi to provide a platform for international artists and designers to showcase their creations.
It’s a worthwhile project that curates beautiful, unique creations by artists, fashion experts, and designers from as far afield as Casablanca and San Francisco.
Both Americans who moved to Israel in 2010 and 2011 respectively, the two women are particularly interested to reach “impenetrable” markets such as Beirut and Hong Kong in order to give designers from those cities access to a “global stage.”
To this end, they employ locals to work as ambassadors who seek out new talent; they also conduct their own outreach. Rotenberg and Schinasi receive a 20 percent cut of all sales finalized.
But ArtSetters’ recent foray into Beirut was not only gravely misguided, it could also have put the lives of five Lebanese designers who joined their site and the city’s 28-year-old “Ambassador” Hazem Haddad in grave danger.
The women have made quite a name for themselves already, though not necessarily in a way that should make them proud. After they unveiled a temporary pop-up store in Tel Aviv’s Brown Urban Hotel, local media interviewed them, and they bragged about doing business in Beirut.
“We are very big in Beirut,” Schinasi told Haaretz, a success she attributes to Haddad, who connected them to Lebanon’s best fashion blog Plush Beirut. She also said that someone in Beirut purchased work from Tel Aviv, which was only made possible since it was shipped from the United States.
As Al-Akbhar reports, Lebanon considers Israel to be an “enemy state,” and the Lebanese Boycott Law passed in 1955 prohibits Lebanese from having anything at all to do with Israelis, and that includes any kind of direct or indirect contact.
That means any kind of contact between Lebanese and a business or organization even remotely involved with Israel could result in terrible punishment for the former.
Regardless of whether or not we may think this boycott is warranted, it’s there, which means that non-political actors such as artists and designers are prevented from cross-cultural dialogue, and that’s a tragedy. But Rotenberg and Schinasi are both foolish and naive to think that they can singlehandedly circumvent this reality by deceiving Beirut designers.
Al-Akbhar contacted the five designers whose work was published on ArtSetters, and four of them responded. Three of them said they had no idea that there was an Israeli connection and said they would immediately pull their work from the site following this revelation.
The Beirut page is no longer available, and hopefully no long term damage was done, but ArtSetters would do well to conduct their business with more transparency in the future.
Beirut designers really are rock stars who deserve to be more widely known, and many of them are making great strides with more environmentally-thoughtful materials and processes, but they deserve to know who they are dealing with.