Russell Simmons’ Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation 20th anniversary gala

Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation 20th Anniversary 5
Kevin Liles

Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation 20th Anniversary Gala: The Hamptons evening of Black star-power and class

Usually when we envision The Hamptons, it isn’t easy to disassociate it from its ritzy mystique. Us common folk know it to be a an enclave of private land, privilege and pinkies in the air. Last night however, humility, grace and Black star power solidified its existence among hundreds who attended the Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation’s 20th Anniversary. With a roaring 1920’s theme and mouth-watering fashion and art, the star-studded event, which took place at Fairview Farms in Bridgehampton, NY raised over $1.5 million to help establish and fortify art programs for inner city youth.

Brothers Russell and Danny Simmons hosted the program with Soledad O’Brien as their mistress of ceremonies.

Saturday, July 18 the 2015 ART FOR LIFE benefit honored Dave Chappelle, Michaela and Simon de Pury, Ava DuVernay, and featured artist Wangechi Mutu for their career achievements, support and social impact on the arts and overall commitment to our communities.

The evening featured standing ovation performances by Bell Biv DeVoe and Elle Varner with music by DJ M.O.S. a special presentation to the recipients of the 2015 Kimora Lee Simmons Scholarship, graduates of the Rush Teens program. Bevy Smith hosted the Art For Life Red Carpet, and the event’s Honorary Chairs include Star Jones and Loren Ridinger & JR Ridinger; Hill Harper, Gayle King and more.

Rush was founded in 1995 by Danny Simmons, visual artist and community builder; media mogul Russell Simmons; and Joseph “Rev. Run” Simmons of the legendary hip-hop group Run-DMC. Their goal was and still is to fill the gap that disenfranchised people face in accessing the arts and exhibition opportunities.

Giving Back:
I think it’s our responsibility as we continue to be successful we also have to respect the fact that we all got here by somebody helping us, somebody pulling us up. And rush philanthropic is always giving an opportunity for people to learn and love the arts. Russell taught me how to live but he also taught me how to give. And being able to give back to Rush philanthropic is a blessing to my family and a blessing to all those who come to support them on this event.”–Kevin Liles

“Fashion is an art form. All the clothes you’re wearing, it starts off as a sketch it goes on to be fabric and produced. We could all walk out in a paper bag but no we’re here in beads wearing friends or brothers it’s fabulous. Fashion is another art form and its one that we wear.” –Claire Sulmers of Fashion Bomb Daily

Sherry Bronfman (who put together the First Art for Life benefit 20 years ago) said, “The fact that they’ve taken out of the schools is really disgusting. And the way that art helps a child to think, he is as important as music and physical education. Critical thinking is so very important to the growth in the independence of a child and when you take those things away that are creative and you’re not allowing the child to really blossom and grow to the fullness of who they’re meant to be.”

Russell Simmons chimed in saying “It’s the 20th anniversary and what I learned is that our education has always been an important part of a kid’s growth process but today when problem-solving is even more important.. What you can memorize is in your Google glasses, so what do you do with it? So the idea of creative expression as part of the kids education, is now that much more important.

On representing disenfranchised people, he explains: “The truth is all the inner-city schools have no Art programs and so what we’re trying to do is supplement where that hole is.”

Dave Chapelle in his acceptance speech expressed: “Programs like this actually did save my life. Like Soledad mentioned, I went to an arts high school when shit was awful it was a crack epidemic and aids and all this crazy shit was happening and the National Guard was policing Washington DC. And I found out about this arts program and it changed my life in ways that I couldn’t even imagine. And now look at me today, he said jokingly, “here I am in the winners circle and the Hamptons, I have The Great Gatsby hat under my seat… and I feel like I’m hungry but I’m satisfied. I’m one of these weird guys that’s as famous for what he didn’t do as I am for what I did. I can say honestly that I’m happy.” He added, “ I can sit home on Tuesday nights and watch Key and Peel do my show and it doesn’t hurt me at all, he said jokingly.

Chapelle spoke candidly about speaking at his alma mater recently. “I never went to school past high school and what I told the kids then was that they live in a more complicated time than I did. A kid gets killed by the police and not by a T-shirt …and before I can even wear that shirt, there’s another kid and another kid and I’m running out of closet space. With this fucking tidal wave of information. The biggest enemy of an artist is apathy.

In accepting her award, honoree Ava DuVernay explained” It’s only been six months in Selma was released and so tonight takes me back to the time when I was given the script on a bit of a mission to fail. So to be here and for people to come up to me around the world with one words about at work means a lot to me thank you. Also this is my first time in the Hamptons I’m from Compton, she said throwing up the west side gesture. Reiterating “west coast”. It’s different than I thought it would be its warm and it’s lovely and everyone’s been so kind so I thank you for that. She added “I feel really strongly about the name of this organization, art for life because are really is life for me. I was a publicist for twelve years helping other people and other artist amplify their visions and publicity and marketing for about 12 years until I got the courage to make my own things. And I felt during that time that I was really drowning really smothered and really suffocating. I think there’s nothing worse than when you have something that you need to do, want to do, strive to do and dream about doing and you can’t find a path to do it. So to think of young people who were not given that path and not given an idea of what their vision could be is a real violent thing to me, so this program means a lot and I think it’s vitally important. We have so many different kinds of art here and the cinematic art is really something that we all participate in. It’s a forward-facing thing.

In closing, “Most consumers can’t afford the very best sculptures or the very best theatrical experiences in a theater but almost everyone can enjoy a film and I think that accessibility also makes it so that sometimes Hollywood focuses on the lowest common denominator with films. They’re jewels and they reflect the way we see ourselves and the way when we are seen. And that’s powerful. We know that’s vitally powerful for women, for people of color and are people who are under represented.”

(Feature and photos by Eeshé White)

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