Roosevelt Row businesses fundraise for art theft victim at First Friday


Photos Courtesy of Greg Esser

This First Friday, Roosevelt Row businesses will have donation boxes to raise money for the stolen art of Bassim Al-Shaker.

Several paintings of the locally-renowned artist were stolen on Monday, Aug. 18. Mike Oleskow, one of the curators of 720 Gallery, suspects that the studio was broken into sometime between the hours of 4-4:30 a.m.

Oleskow was devastated because the art was valued at approximately $50,000. He also said he believes the incident could make surrounding community members question the safety of the neighborhood.

The gallery is located on Fourth and McKinley streets in the group of businesses known as SoRo, all of which have had to relocate after a Scottsdale developer bought the property.

“A lot of the tenants had moved out of the space,” Oleskow said. “It was around a lot of vacant studios and galleries, making it susceptible.”

Each space, excluding 720 Gallery and S&S Floral, is lacking the life it once held — one even has a broken window. This month is the last the gallery will house local art.

“We are so fearful now of an additional theft (that) Nuna Dow, the artist being featured for this First Friday, will only have a one-night show,” Oleskow said.

As a member of the community, Nuna has decided to donate a portion of her show’s proceeds to Al-Shaker to help him recover from the loss of his paintings.

Greg Esser, Vice President of Roosevelt Row CDC and Desert Initiative Director, is confident the Roosevelt Row community will continue to stand in unison when hardship occurs.

Al-Shaker, a barber that came from Baghdad on a business visa to pursue his passion for art, was granted permanent residency on the basis of his exceptional talent with the support of the Fragomen Law Firm. He is part of the ASU Art Museum International Artist Residency Program and was speechless when Esser explained to him that the fundraiser they were holding during First Friday was for him.

“I think there is a very strong sense of familial support for people (in Phoenix),” Esser said. “People are eager to see each other’s initiatives succeed whether they’re artists, coffee shops, or bookstores.”

Al-Shaker was saddened by the theft of his work, but has remained hopeful as the support of the community has flooded in. He speaks highly of the neighborhood, calling it home, with no desire to leave the city.

“People think when I go into different cities, this is good for me, this is good for any but no,” Al-Shaker said. “I go many country; Iraq, Jordan, Dubai, Turkey, Italy, France, Belgium, Holland, many. But these people here, this is my city.”

Roosevelt Row’s 720 Gallery and Eye Lounge will be putting out donation buckets so that First Friday goers can make their own contributions for Bassim.

“Our primary goal is that the more we tell Bassim’s story, that somebody may have information that will provide an anonymous tip that will help recover the paintings,” Esser said.

Anyone that may have any information regarding the missing paintings is encouraged to call Silent Witness. The art can also be returned anonymously without prosecution. But, no matter the outcome, Al-Shaker remains dedicated to the city and is working toward gaining his citizenship.

“Many people they tell me, “Bassim how long you stay here? When do you visit in different city? I told them, no problem,” Al-Shaker said. “I go to another city, but this is my city. I come back here. This is my city.”

Contact the reporter at rramir30@asu.edu