Queenstown peace warrior on $100m mission

SHARE

Giving something back has taken on gigantic proportions for one Queenstowner.

Stu Robertson says his Orange Group event industry entities in Auckland regularly did charity work – “But it was on the scale of a company in New Zealand, not something massive.”

Shifting to Queenstown with wife Semele three years ago, Robertson, 44, had time on his hands as he had capable people running his group.

“We came up with the idea of ‘Peace in 10,000 Hands’, a global art project to raise a conversation for peace and raise a lot of money for charity.

“I still need to work but as Steve Jobs said, if you’re middle class and you live anywhere in a developed country, you’re not going to starve.”

Robertson says people in the 1960s thought there was a genuine chance for peace – “You had Lennon, the peace movement, hippies, drugs, all the rest of it.

“Then it became about whales and the environment and trees, which all need to be done, but no one talks about peace.

“So there’s very few global projects saying, ‘hang on, let’s start this conversation for peace again, why are we just accepting what’s going on?’”

Robertson hit upon the publicity and fundraising potential of photographing 10,000 pairs of hands holding a white rose – an ancient symbol of peace – and asking his subjects what peace meant to them.

Robertson’s ambition is to photograph people from the world’s 197 countries holding the same white silk rose.

In 15 months, he’s visited 10 countries and shot people from about 50 nations.

Visiting every country isn’t practical, Robertson says: “Some you can’t get into, for starters.

“But I need to get to places that are scary, there’ll be no bed to sleep on, no water, no car, I’ll be hiking 10 days to find a tribe no one’s ever seen before.”

Where necessary Robertson will employ an armed security guard yet dresses to blend in wherever he is: “I tend to look a little bit roper-doper when I travel so I can go up to someone who’s slightly threatening-looking and engage with them”.

Robertson’s goal with his photos – he expects to take up to one million – is to raise $50 million to $100m.

“We’ve got kids’ books, coffee table books, movies, selling the artwork, touring global exhibitions – lots of ways we can make money from this.”

Money will go to children’s charities and peace groups, Robertson says.

One example is Seeds of Peace, bringing Israeli and Palestinian young leaders together.

Some forms of help are more practical. After four days photographing in an Indian village, Robertson went to the poorest school to offer a gift like stationery – however, the principal showed him students who literally had rags for clothes.

“I’d never seen anything like it in my life so we bought each child two sets of clothes and two pairs of shoes.”

Robertson’s globetrotting will take two or three more years but because of the fundraising and touring exhi-
bitions, he’s dedicating a significant part of his life to it.

Because of its substantial cost – already a six-figure sum, Robertson says – he’s also selling 99 packages for $4950 so other benefactors can come aboard.

“We’ve got people around the world following us on Facebook, Instagram, emailing us, connecting us to people. We’re creating this spiderweb or tree root system from Queenstown to the globe.”