NEW YORK – Artist Takashi Murakami joined the leaders of UNICEF, Spanish soccer club FC Barcelona and the director of the Reach Out To Asia campaign in New York on Friday to launch a joint drive to improve the lives of marginalized children in Bangladesh, Indonesia and Nepal.

The “1 in 11″ campaign involves artists and world-famous athletes, including Argentine soccer superstar Lionel Messi and American tennis pro Serena Williams, to raise global awareness of the fact that 58 million out of 650 million children of primary school age, or 1 in 11 youngsters, are not in classrooms.

“Through my participation in this campaign I have been learning a lot about the actual condition of the children around the world,” Murakami said.

“If participation in the campaign can help improve the situation even little by little, it would be wonderful,” he said.

Murakami is one of 17 artists who will donate works to a major auction at Sotheby’s in London on Feb. 12.

In a work specifically commissioned for the project and called “Lionel Messi and a Universe of Flowers,” Murakami presents an image of the soccer star, who plays for FC Barcelona, surrounded by the artist’s signature flowers. Murakami also designed the logo for the project.

Jeremy Hartley, chief of communications for the private fundraising and partnerships division of the U.N. Children’s Fund, hopes the donated works will fetch $10 million to $15 million to kick start the project.

He also envisions a future expansion beyond the three initial countries.

Contemporary artist Takashi Murakami poses with his ‘Miss ko2’ sculpture at a gallery in Tokyo in July 2007. | BLOOMBERG

Essa al-Mannai, director of the nongovernmental organization Reach Out To Asia, explained how162,000 disadvantaged Bangladeshi children, 100,000 disabled Indonesian students and 265,000 Nepalese children with little access to education will be targeted at first by the new campaign.

“Every child has the right . . . to an education . . . because education is not a luxury of some sort, it is a necessity,” UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake said in his remarks.

A “1 in 11″ film featuring Messi and Williams is scheduled to be shown at half time on the big screens at FC Barcelona’s Camp Nou stadium during the team’s game with Atletico Madrid on Sunday.