CULTURUNNERS was launched as a project in 2014 and incorporated in 2016 as a UK Social Enterprise, registered in England and Wales Company Number: 10014253.
In the fall of 2014, a group of international artists, film-makers, scientists and journalists gathered at MIT to discuss alternative lines of communication between the Middle East and United States. Believing in the power of traveling artists to connect communities and inspire greater empathy across ideological and geographical borders, the idea of CULTURUNNERS was born.
As its first project, CULTURUNNERS embarked on a multiyear artists’ road trip criss-crossing between the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region and the United States. With the aim of producing meaningful counter narratives, the collective transformed a 34ft 1999 Gulf Stream RV into a mobile artists studio and broadcast vehicle, and set out across North America; along the way hosting exhibitions, talks and workshops, while creating mobile dispatches for CULTURUNNERS interactive website and partner media platforms.
The journey began at dawn on 14 September, 2015 (United Nation's International Day of Peace) following a special event at The Rothko Chapel in Houston, Texas. Over the next 4 years, over 127 artists, from the US, Iran, Iraq, UK, Turkey, Italy, Russia, UAE, Spain, Bahrain, Egypt, Tunisia, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Palestine, Syria, Brazil, Yemen, Sudan and Morocco traveled over 36,000 miles, through 27 states across America.
The cultural pilgrimage included exhibitions and events at The Middle East Institute and Freer & Sackler Gallery at The Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C.; the United Nations, Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts, The Armory Show, ISCP and Columbia University in New York; MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts; San Diego Art Institute & Low Art Gallery in California; New Mexico State University in Las Cruces; Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge; and La Caja Galeria in Mexico.
In 2016, CULTURUNNERS partnered with The Guardian newspaper to produce Crossing the Line, a documentary video series embodying a new type of journalism – one that champions the soft power of artists to explore complicated subjects with empathy and insight. Five episodes of the series were published and seen by hundreds of thousands of people across the Guardian and CULTURUNNERS’ platforms. Each film explored an urgent social issue through the lens of an artist’s journey. Khaled Jarrar explored the politics of borders, comparing the struggles for those who live on the US/Mexican border with those who are located along the Palestinian /Israeli wall. One of the most viewed episodes was about a group of Saudi artists traveling across the US to confront Islamophobia against the backdrop of rising anti-Muslim feelings across the country. Ahmed Mater presented a historic exhibition in Washington D.C. exploring the construction of a new capitalist city at the centre of the Islamic world; he later traveled to North Dakota to make a second film about the oil-pipeline protests at Standing Rock. Khalid Albaih, a Sudanese political cartoonist, traveled across the American South to explored race, politics, the American civil rights movement and how it compares to those fighting for human rights in the Islamic world.
Following the success of Crossing the Line, CULTURUNNERS conceived and produced a major cultural diplomacy initiative as part of Ithra's 'Bridges' initiative. In June 2016, a group of Saudi artists, both men and women, set out with CULTURUNNERS to discover the people and diversity of North America. The tour began in Texas with a large scale exhibition at the Station Museum of Contemporary Art in Houston, before traveling to the Gonzo Gallery in Aspen, CO; Minnesota Street Project in San Francisco, CA; Bates College Museum of Art in Lewiston, ME; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), CA; the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn, MI; the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art in Salt Lake City, UT; the Art Museum of the University of Memphis & Memphis Brooks Museum of Art in Memphis, TN; the Corcoran School of Art & Design at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.; and the Brooklyn Museum in New York. Bridges also included a two year residency program in New York and curated visits for US artists, curators and cultural leaders to Saudi Arabia.
Over two years Bridges attracted an estimated 430,000+ visitors to exhibitions and events across 13 States.
In 2019, CULTURUNNERS initiated The Future is Unwritten (TFIU) - a project to engage the international Arts and Culture sector in the accelerated implementation of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. The project was formally launched in 2020 by CULTURUNNERS and the World Council of Peoples for the United Nations (WCPUN), as part of the UN’s 75th Anniversary Programme. With leading UN agencies describing the recent pandemic as nature’s first ‘warning shot’ to civilizations playing with fire, TFIU is a cultural call-to-action in response to the challenges the next decade will bring.
The journey continues ...