Celebrities, business luminaries, and artists gathered on July 15 at the Art For Life benefit, one of the hottest Hamptons parties of the summer. But besides enjoying the luxury of fine dining, live entertainment, an array of art on display, attendees raised over $1.1 million for an art education initiative founded by brothers Russell, Danny, and Joseph “Rev Run” Simmons.
Art For Life Honoree Chuck D. and Russell Simmons (Photo Credit: Jason Kempin/Getty Images Courtesy of Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation)
Their organization, Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation (RPAF), was launched in 1995 to provide children of color with access and exposure to the arts while helping to develop and support underrepresented artists, curators, and audiences. To fund the org, proceeds from Art For Life benefit RPAF’s arts education and gallery programs, which have directly served tens of thousands of at-risk youth for the last two decades. This year, the benefit, “Midnight at the Oasis,” was held at Fairview Farms in Bridgehampton, New York, and sponsored by Merrill Lynch, UBER, and Coty Inc. Renowned journalist Soledad O’Brien returned to host the gala, which welcomed stars like Star Jones, Super Bowl champion Darrelle Revis, artist Elle Varner, and legendary music executive Kevin Liles.
While on the red carpet, Black Enterprise spoke to the 2017 Art For Life honorees, including former President, Consumer Beauty Division for Coty Inc. Esi Eggleston Bracey; legendary hip-hop artist Chuck D; Chief Brand Officer for Uber Bozoma Saint John; former President of Programming for BET Stephen G. Hill; and 2017 featured artist, Sanford Biggers.
“It’s a dream come true. I’ve been coming to this event for a long time and now to be honored amongst such great artists, I’m so excited about that,” Saint John told BE, before mentioning her recent move from Apple to Uber.
Hill, who announced a surprising departure from BET in March, spoke about how the power of art unites cultures and stimulates innovation.
With the growing demand for STEM jobs, O’Brien lamented that funding for art programs “are often one of the very first things that get cut” from schools. She added her thoughts on the huge impact RPAF has made in the lives of disenfranchised children through scholarships and its signature programs in New York City schools.
BE also spoke to Tony, Grammy, and Emmy Award-winning artist Cynthia Erivo, who delivered a stellar performance at the benefit.
“Art is a wonderful way of teaching,” she said. “Whenever a child is able to access art, it opens up another side of them, and I think that’s important to share. The more ways that we can get kids to learn, the better.”
During the dinner, Russell Simmons took the stage and joked about the all-vegan menu created by Great Performances Chef De Cuisine Mark Russell, urging guests to keep an open mind. He also stressed how vital art is to student achievement and our overall well-being.
“When kids struggle, there’s nothing greater than exercising creative muscles,” said Simmons. “The creative process is how we move from step to step in life. Beyond the political landscape that we find ourselves in, the political landscape before that or even before that, we’re here to do the work for our kids. You guys have helped us do that for 22 years.”
Later, the media mogul hosted a live auction that raised an impressive $150,000 in less than 10 minutes. However, Chuck D stole the night with a surprising performance of the 1989 classic hip-hop hit “Fight The Power.”
Following the dinner and performances, Danny Simmons talked to BE about the immense impact that Art For Life has had on inner-city kids.
“We have been able to reach thousands of children through the New York City School System, we put kids in college, [and] we have kids who been through college that come back and teach other kids,” he said, adding that they plan to expand the programs outside of New York and Philadelphia. “We want to make this national because we know it works.”
Jaleel Wilson, a 19-year-old freshman at LaGuardia Community College in New York, is just one of the students who benefited from RPAF. He told BE that the Art For Life scholarship he received last year has helped him financially and pushed him closer to his aspiration to launch his own art organization.
“It’s helped me with college so that I don’t have to come out of my pocket and spend money for college. So I appreciate them very, very much for that.”
Likewise, Ardelia Lovelace, a 19-year-old student at the Fashion Institute of Technology, said being awarded a full scholarship through the Rush Arts has relieved her of an immense financial burden. No longer am I “worrying about how am I going to pay for college,” instead, the scholarship “allowed me to put that money and focus onto other things instead of stressing about if I’m in debt and how much I owe.”
She added, “Art is such an amazing part of life and I feel like a lot of people aren’t able to experience that.”