Usually when we envision the Hamptons, it isn’t easy to disassociate it from its ritzy mystique. It’s generally known as an enclave of private land, privilege and pinkies in the air. Saturday night however, humility, grace and Black star power manifested among hundreds who attended the Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation’s 20th Anniversary. With a Roaring Twenties theme and mouthwatering fashion and art, the star-studded event (which took place at Fairview Farms in Bridgehampton) raised over $1.5 million to help establish and fortify art programs for inner city youth.
Russell Simmons and brother Danny Simmons hosted the program with Soledad O’Brien as their mistress of ceremonies. Saturday’s Art for Life benefit honored comedian Dave Chappelle, director Ava DuVernay, Michaela and Simon de Pury and featured artist Wangechi Mutu for their career achievements, support and social impact on the arts in a addition to their overall commitment to our communities.
The evening featured crowd-pleasing performances by Bell Biv DeVoe and Elle Varner with music by DJ MOS, a special presentation to the recipients of the 2015 Kimora Lee Simmons Scholarship and graduates of the Rush Teens program. Bevy Smith hosted the Art for Life red carpet, and the event’s honorary chairs included Star Jones, Loren Ridinger and J. R. Ridinger, Hill Harper, Gayle King and more.
Rush Philanthropic was founded in 1995 by the Simmons brothers: Danny Simmons, visual artist and community builder; legendary hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons; and Joseph “Rev. Run” Simmons of Run-DMC. Their goal was and still is to fill the gap that disenfranchised people face in accessing the arts and exhibition opportunities.
“I think it’s our responsibility as we continue to be successful,” says Kevin Liles. “We have to respect the fact that we all got here by somebody helping us, 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.”
Sherry Bronfman (who established the first Art for Life benefit 20 years ago) said, “The fact that they’ve taken art out of the schools is really disgusting. And the way that art helps a child to think is as important as music and physical education. Critical thinking is so very important to the growth in the independence of a child. When you take those things away that are creative, you’re not allowing the child to really blossom and grow to the fullness of who they’re meant to be.”
Russell Simmons himself chimed in saying, “It’s the 20th anniversary, and what I learned is that art 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? The idea of creative expression as part of the kids education is now that much more important.
“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,” Simmons concluded.
Accepting an award, Dave Chappelle expressed: “Programs like this actually did save my life. Like Soledad mentioned, I went to an arts high school when sh*t was awful. It was a crack epidemic and AIDS and all this crazy sh*t 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 with a laugh.
“Here I am in the winners’ circle and the Hamptons,” he continued. “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 Peele do my show and it doesn’t hurt me at all,” he said jokingly.
In accepting her award, Selma diretor Ava DuVernay explained, “It’s only been six months since 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, 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.