A teenager’s art ini­tia­tive is rais­ing money to help un­der­priv­i­leged kids.

Keenan D’Abreo, 17, has or­gan­ised five art ex­hi­bi­tions rais­ing Dh73,000 for char­ity. He is not only help­ing chil­dren in need but show­cas­ing emerg­ing artists, he tells Shiva Ku­mar Thekkepat

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TThe pure white can­vas set up on an easel in Abu Dhabi’s Kha­lidiyah Mall at­tracts as much at­ten­tion as the 130 paint­ings on dis­play. As a crowd pauses near it, won­der­ing if it is an ex­am­ple of mod­ern art, Keenan D’Abreo am­bles up.

The strap­ping teenager hardly fits the con­ven­tional im­age of an artist, and the crowd watches in dis­be­lief as he mixes paints on a pal­ette, picks up a brush and rapidly be­gins paint­ing the blank can­vas with bold strokes in vivid hues. His au­di­ence presses for­ward, cran­ing to see the emerg­ing pic­ture. An hour later Keenan steps back, his hands smeared with paint, blotches of colour adorn­ing his denim jacket. He smiles as he sur­veys his work – the skyline of a mod­ern city, Dubai per­haps, with a mul­ti­coloured back­ground. The crowd breaks into spon­ta­neous ap­plause, and Keenan bows his head shyly.

‘Is it for sale?’ asks a 40-some­thing gen­tle­man, who has been eye­ing the work. ‘Yes,’ says Keenan. ‘It’s Dh500.’ The man smiles. ‘I’ll take it,’ he says. At the end of the two-day art ex­hi­bi­tion – the fifth he’s done so far – Keenan and his friends raise a whop­ping Dh34,188. All of it will go to char­ity.

‘I’m so happy to be do­ing this,’ he says. ‘It beats do­ing a bor­ing ge­og­ra­phy pro­ject. And it’s go­ing to­wards help­ing im­prove the life of a spe­cial needs child.’

Keenan is just 17, but he’s al­ready a vet­eran fundraiser. His char­ity ven­ture Artex (short for ‘art ex­hi­bi­tion’) has raised more than Dh73,000 so far through five ex­hi­bi­tions. Although just in grade 12 at Delhi Public School in Dubai, his words be­lie his age. ‘It’s so ful­fill­ing to raise funds for char­ity that ben­e­fits less-priv­i­leged peo­ple,’ he says. ‘I want to keep do­ing such deeds for as long as I can.’

Keenan col­lects paint­ings from stu­dents across the UAE and or­gan­ises ex­hi­bi­tions along with his eight friends, all aged 17, with­out help from any or­gan­i­sa­tion or

Keenan’s char­ity ini­tia­tive be­gan when he was 11 and he asked his fa­ther for a video con­sole for Christ­mas. His dad, Justin, 44, promised to get it for him if he did a good deed for the poor first.

‘He wanted me to do a paint­ing – as I was quite good at it – sell it and do­nate the funds to a char­ity,’ says Keenan. He cre­ated a set of eight pieces of art, which he sold to friends and rel­a­tives, and do­nated the Dh1,000 he col­lected to a char­ity, Friends of Can­cer Pa­tients.

Keenan got his video con­sole, but also some­thing far greater – a sense of pur­pose. ‘Since then I have been paint­ing a lot more, and selling the paint­ings so I can con­trib­ute to dif­fer­ent causes,’ says the teenager. He started volunteering for char­ity events, and in 2012 par­tic­i­pated in the ‘We Care’ film fes­ti­val or­gan­ised by Dubai’s Al Noor Cen­tre. The ex­pe­ri­ence started him on the path of or­gan­is­ing char­ity ex­hi­bi­tions. grown-ups. They do this to raise funds for spe­cial needs schools and char­ity or­gan­i­sa­tions. So far, they have helped char­i­ties Al Noor Train­ing Cen­tre for Chil­dren with Spe­cial Needs; Senses Residential Care Home for Chil­dren with Spe­cial Needs; Friends of Can­cer Pa­tients; and Sen­sa­tion Sta­tion with the funds go­ing to­wards aug­ment­ing their in­fra­struc­tures.

Most of these friends want to put their tal­ents to good use, help­ing oth­ers.

‘Keenan asked me to join him last year,’ says Roy­don Bar­boza.

‘It was in­spir­ing as I got to see the spe­cial needs chil­dren, play with them and in­ter­act with them,’ he says. ‘I was so moved that I promised them that I’d help them out in some way.’

That prom­ise got him think­ing about mak­ing more money out of his paint­ings. What bet­ter way than to sell them at an ex­hi­bi­tion? ‘That’s how I con­ceived the idea of Artex,’ says Keenan.

In Septem­ber 2013, he put to­gether his first ex­hi­bi­tion at Duc­tac in Mall of the Emi­rates. He’d done 11 paint­ings, mostly land­scapes and ab­stracts. ‘But I knew I needed more,’ he says. So he de­cided to reach out to other young pain­ters across the UAE he had be­friended at school com­pe­ti­tions. Emails and phone calls to them brought in 55 paint­ings, so he now had a re­spectable 66 to ex­hibit.

‘Duc­tac charged me Dh4,500 for the venue for four days,’ he re­calls. ‘One of my dad’s friend’s com­pa­nies, Blue Lines Ship­ping, do­nated Dh2,000. The rest I paid from my sav­ings and from do­na­tions of Dh50 each from a few friends.’

Keenan earned Dh8,200 from the ex­hi­bi­tion. ‘I was dis­ap­pointed,’ he grins. I’d ex­pected at least Dh10,000! But then it was just our first…’

He do­nated the pro­ceeds to Al Noor Cen­tre as promised so the char­ity could buy some much-needed equip­ment for its stu­dents.

The ex­hi­bi­tion proved to be a cat­a­lyst, with many more young artists volunteering to take part.

A friend, Uthara Hariku­mar, who is based in Abu Dhabi, got in touch af­ter see­ing the pic­tures of the ex­hi­bi­tion he’d And more ex­hi­bi­tions were held – at the Times Square Cen­tre in Dubai, Kha­lidiyah Mall and in Al Quoz. They were all a suc­cess and Artex slowly be­gan stream­lin­ing its oper­a­tions.

‘We are plan­ning to register as a busi­ness, cre­ate a fund and use the money to help peo­ple,’ Keenan says.

His friend Roy­don in­ter­jects. ‘We’re help­ing oth­ers but we’re also giv­ing teenagers the chance to show­case their tal­ent. We give them a plat­form other than school com­pe­ti­tions and ex­hi­bi­tions. Here, you can ac­tu­ally get in­volved, do some­thing, get your friends in­volved.’

Keenan agrees. ‘You make your­self use­ful do­ing some­thing you love,’ he says. ‘What more could you ask for?’ posted on In­sta­gram. ‘She was in­ter­ested in join­ing us, and we both be­gan col­lect­ing paint­ings for the next ex­hi­bi­tion,’ he says.

They soon had 120 paint­ings for their sec­ond ex­hi­bi­tion held at Kha­lidiyah Mall, Abu Dhabi in De­cem­ber 2013. ‘We sold al­most all of them over two days,’ says Keenan. ‘We col­lected Dh17,200 for the Spe­cial Care Cen­tre in Abu Dhabi.’ Union Na­tional Bank (UNB) agreed to add another Dh10,000 to this do­na­tion.

More artis­tic friends came on board in­clud­ing Pearl Lobo, Rachel Fer­nan­des, Anuthama Ma­hesh, Prashant Singh, and Aiza Ah­mad. Another, Sanaiya Jhaveri, doesn’t paint, but helps with co­or­di­na­tion.

Keenan’s DAD promised to get him a video con­sole if he did a GOOD DEED for the poor FIRST. ‘He wanted me to do a PAINT­ING – as I was quite good at it – sell it and DO­NATE THE FUNDS to a char­ity’

In ad­di­tion to the Dh17,200 Artex raised from paint­ings, it per­suaded UNB to do­nate another Dh10,000 to Abu Dhabi’s Spe­cial Care Cen­tre

Pearl Lobo

Sanaiya Jhaveri

Uthara Hariku­mar

Anuthama Ma­hesh

Aiza Ah­mad

Prashant Singh

Rachel Fer­nan­des

Roy­don Bar­boza

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