Pan-Asian Theme Pervades Russell Simmons' Art for Life Benefit

By Anna Sekula August 5, 2011, 12:38 PM EDT

Photo: Courtesy of Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation

Art for Life East Hampton Benefit
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Saturday was a busy day for fund-raisers in the Hamptons. In addition to the daylong designer garage sale Super Saturday and the Watermill Center's annual summer shindig, music mogul Russell Simmons gathered supporters at his East Hampton estate for the 12th iteration of his foundation's Art for Life benefit. Inspired by the traditional hues of Buddhist monk robes, the evening saw a color scheme of saffron yellow, magenta, and mango orange, as well as Asian entertainment and paper parasols painted with Asian-style designs by children in the Rush Kids programs—prompting the organizers to dub the event's theme “The Zen of Giving.”

In addition to raising funds to support arts education and gallery programs for New York City youth, the event for the Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation also honored singer-songwriter Mary J. Blige, actor Edward Norton, JPMorgan Chase Foundation president Kimberly B. Davis, nutritionist Oz Garcia, and Jimmy Choo founder and chief creative officer Tamara Mellon for their work and charity efforts. Overseeing the fund-raiser was the foundation's executive director Tangie Murray and director of special events and strategic marketing Vanessa Rodriguez. CNN anchor Soledad O'Brien and The View's Star Jones served as the hosts to an audience that included high-profile names like Gayle King, Taraji P. Henson, and Djimon Hounsou.

Aside from the decor elements by Sutka Productions and Asian-themed entertainers from Ten31 Productions, the event produced by Ronnie Davis Productions saw a couple of changes this year. With the summers becoming increasingly warm, the organizers decided to add air-conditioning to the 13,000-square-foot tent that served as the dinner space, an additional first-time expense they saw necessary to ensure the comfort of patrons. Another first was incorporating more performances, opening the program with violinist Miri Ben-Ari, bringing in mentalist Lior Suchard during dinner, and capping off the evening with a special performance by Jennifer Hudson.

To extend the auction to a much wider audience, the foundation did away with the event's traditional live auction, placing the items online at charitybuzz.com, starting more than two weeks before the benefit on July 13; the auction will remain open until August 10. However, one live auction component was kept: the element that asked patrons to donate $1,000 to support a year's worth of arts education programming for one child. Rush Kids auctioneer Star Jones helped push this segment, which raised more than $250,000.

Art for Life has raised more than $1.4 million to date, and those that didn't make it to the event could text “Rush” to 50555 to make a $10 donation.

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