“Art For Life is a labor of love,” says one of the Hamptons most famous former residents, music mogul Russell Simmons, of the annual summer gala that has become the most star-studded event of the season – think Oscar winners Jennifer Hudson and Gwyneth Paltrow, and musicians Mary J. Blige, Mariah Carey and John Legend. This year is no different with performances by Estelle, Maxwell, and Rick Ross as well as DJ MOS planned and honorees including filmmaker and philanthropist Tyler Perry, President and Artistic Director at Creative Time Anne Pasternak, Co-Founders of Demarest Films Samuel Englebardt and William D. Johnson, featured artist Rashid Johnson, and novelist Walter Mosley guaranteed to bring an A-List crowd out to celebrate and support the arts.
“When I was in school I had art programs and music programs. Everything I’ve done today has been because I was able to exercise creativity as a young person. Art allows people a way to dream their way out of their struggle,” says Russell. The man who would become a global icon grew up humbly in Jamaica, Queens. His father was a teacher, later a professor of Black History at Pace University, and his mother worked for the New York City Parks Department. Russell tells me, “They were also artists.”
“The reason we started Art For Life in the Hamptons,” Russell explains, “is because there are so many giving people there. Before I sold my house in East Hampton, my backyard was the space for this event and we were able to raise a lot of money and do good things for young people. Art For Life is the best party in the Hamptons.” Together with his brothers, artist Danny Simmons and Joseph “Rev. Run” Simmons of Run-DMC, Russell founded Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation in 1995 to “fill the gap that the disenfranchised and people of color faced in both accessing the arts and exhibition opportunities.” For the last 14 years, the family has hosted the fundraising event, Art For Life, at Russell’s East Hampton home. With the recent sale of the house came a new location, Fairview Farms in Bridgehampton, for the gala slated for Saturday, July 27, 2013.
To pull off a spectacular event for 1,000 – dressed this year in hues of “dreamy peacock, aquamarine, and amethyst” as per the invitation – and raise millions for art in the process takes a great team of dedicated people says Russell, “We have an amazing team and so many partners that come together to make the event a success. We’ve developed a broad base of friends, collaborators and supporters dedicated to addressing the issue of filling the gap that disenfranchised people face in both accessing the arts and exhibition opportunities.” That A-team includes honorary event chairs Star Jones and Michael Strahan, the evening’s host Soledad O’Brien, auction chairs Shamin Abas and Angella Forbes, and committee members including Lala Anthony, actress/model Patricia Velasquez, Miss Universe Olivia Culpo, Sara Herbert-Galloway and Barry Klarberg, model Petra Nemcova, designer Rachel Roy, and author and former “The Real Housewives of New York City” star Kelly Bensimon.
“My typical day in the Hamptons starts at the beach,” says Russell. “I usually meditate there for a while then head to yoga. I’ll have a vegan lunch at Babette’s then, if I have guests, its back home to hang out there with friends.”
Russell, who names Ross Bleckner, April Gornik, and Chuck Close as his favorite Hamptons artists, finds inspiration everywhere and passes on that positivity to his 2.8+ million @UncleRUSH Twitter followers, including yours truly. “What inspires me changes on a daily basis,” he says. “One day it’s Deepak Chopra and the Dalai Lama and the next it’s the selflessness of Nelson Mandela.”
What’s next for Russell? “I relocated to Los Angeles full time to spend more time with my kids [Ming Lee Simmons and Aoki Lee Simmons with former wife Kimora Lee Simmons]. I also recently launched my YouTube original content channel, ADD. ADD Video will be a platform for online users to celebrate and explore some of the coolest lifestyle projects with great access to current and rising stars across entertainment, music, fashion, sports, and film – all with a different take on the news.”
Over the years Hamptons.com has been proud to support Art For Life as a media partner, and will do so again this year. During those years Russell has told me time and time again that he “wouldn’t be here without art.” I am sure that the many children and young people who have benefited from the enrichment they received at the various Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation programs over the years would agree.
You can be part of “Art For Life” by purchasing tickets or bidding in the online auction that includes experiences with Magic Johnson, Sarah Jessica Parker, Robin Thicke, LL Cool J, One Direction, and Lyor Cohen on Charity Buzz.