Albers Foundation celebrates second anniversary of Senegal project

The foundation's centre hosts cultural and agricultural efforts in a small village


This month, the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation and Le Korsa, an offshoot of the foundation that does charity work in Africa, mark the second anniversary of Thread, their joint cultural hub in the village of Sinthian, Senegal.

The hub, which opened in March 2015, hosts residencies for regional and international artists, a community agricultural programme and dance and music festivals. Construction of the building and the first two years of programming were funded by the sale of a single Homage to the Square painting by Josef Albers at Christie's in New York in 2014.

Thread's director, Nick Murphy, says the programme grows from the artists' wish that artists explore new regions. Josef and Anni Albers made 14 trips to Mexico and Latin America after they settled in US and "critical to that was the way they experienced the art there, which was with incredible respect, rather than condescension," he says. "We want to perpetuate that philosophy."

Perhaps Thread's most notable achievement to date is a gardening programme that helped quell hunger in the village's most recent hungry season, which generally runs from August through December. "Sustainable development and organisation are at the root of that," Murphy says. "It's bottom-up organising, instead of top-down, and just by having a physical space in which people can gather allows for incredible steps to be made towards economic stability."

The building was designed by the architect Toshiko Mori with that purpose in mind. Built by local labourers with local materials, the hub can host 400 people or flex into 12 separate meeting spaces. The roof is built to collect rainwater, which is funnelled into water basins. The space, which combines form and function, extends Bauhaus principles about useful design, Murphy says.

This summer, the David Zwirner gallery, which represents the Albers Foundation, will open a benefit show in New York to raise more money for Thread. Zwirner artists and others have donated works for the exhibition.

But Murphy stresses that it is possible to do a lot of work with modest means. "Part of what we always come back to is the notion of minimal means for maximum effect. Josef and Anni believed in the value of starting at zero in any process. From there, you can go anywhere."

Correction: an earlier version of this article stated that Josef and Anni Albers made around 30 trips to Mexico and Latin America. In fact, they made 14 trips.