Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS) President and Chief Operating Officer Gary Cohn was in the hot seat last night at the Friends of the High Line Spring Benefit, supporting the park built on elevated railroad tracks along Manhattan’s far West Side.
On stage to accept an award on behalf of the company, Cohn was seated right behind the lectern. This meant that whenever someone spoke, he, too, was captured on the giant projection screens around the room, in his gray suit and pink tie with sea horses on it.
While Occupy Wall Street protests were taking place across the U.S. yesterday, Cohn managed to smile and look interested through speeches by Sarah Jessica Parker and Darren Walker, an officer at the Ford Foundation who spoke of the importance of High Line programs for the 5,000 public-housing residents who live next to the park.
Artist Jeff Koons talked about his expensive idea to suspend a real, working train car vertically above the High Line. He was in the right room to court a funder for the project, with guests including Pershing Square Capital Management founder Bill Ackman and David Rockefeller, board chairman of the Rockefeller Foundation.
Cohn, for his part, said Goldman and its people have given more than $6 million to the High Line and more than $1 billion to philanthropic initiatives in the past five years.
Pier 57 Menu
Most of the 1,000 guests gathered at Pier 57 talked through the remarks, distracted by the succulents decorating the tables courtesy of Bronson van Wyck, and the family-style meal courtesy of the caterer Bite. Among the offerings were spiced fried chicken with ginger watermelon skewers, shaved black kale with hen-of-the-woods and slow-braised short ribs. Parker House rolls and pats of butter seasoned with thyme and sea salt accompanied.
Another diversion was the people-spotting: film director Spike Lee, actor Ed Norton and New York City Planning Commission Chairwoman Amanda Burden were all present.
Later, Cohn and Koons sat together at the head table with Google (GOOG) Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt, whose date was his daughter Sophie, and former chairman and chief executive of Morgan Stanley, John Mack, whose companions were his children Jenna and Stephen.
“We talked about the world and the regulatory environment,” he said as the party wound down, around 11 p.m.
The benefit raised more than $3 million. The party favor was an umbrella with a rendering of the “Train” project by Koons.
An umbrella was also the giveaway at today’s Central Park Conservancy benefit, where the total raised was $3.5 million and one corporate sponsor of note was JPMorgan Chase & Co.
Mary Erdoes, chief executive, J.P. Morgan Asset Management, announced the firm’s $3 million donation to “Central Play,” the conservancy’s campaign to renovate Central Park playgrounds.
So far the conservancy has renovated five playgrounds for safety, accessibility, sustainability and fun, said the park’s chief administrator, Douglas Blonsky. The work at 16 other playgrounds will take place over the next seven years and cost about $30 million, he added.
The luncheon under a tent in the park’s Conservatory Garden was a fashion playground for 1,200 guests. Erdoes wore a gray Roland Mouret dress and Abigail Aldridge hat purchased at the Hat Shop on New York’s Thompson Street.
“You’re going on too long!” the author of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” barked at fellow playwright Tony Kushner under the blue whale at the American Museum of Natural History.
At the podium, Albee accepted the PEN Literary Service Award and recounted his youthful misadventures as poet, novelist and short-story writer. He also improvised a brief interview with a tyro reporter, playing both roles, before praising PEN for championing freedom of expression for writers, editors and publishers around the world.
The value of PEN was made clear by the others honored.
The 2012 Jeri Laber International Freedom to Publish Award went to Turkey’s Ragip Zarakolu, whose Belge Publishing House has translated and published Turkish editions of works by Armenian, Greek and Kurdish writers on such subjects as the Armenian genocide and the repression of the Kurdish minority.
His children Seref and Zerrin Holle accepted the award. Zarakolu is in prison for allegedly endorsing terrorism.
Eskinder Nega, a jailed Ethiopian journalist and blogger on trial for terrorism, received the PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award. He is being held in Maekelawi Prison in Addis Ababa, and may face the death penalty if convicted.
His wife, Serkalem Fasil, traveled to New York to accept the award on her husband’s behalf.
“Prison has been Eskinder’s home away from home for the past two decades,” she told the audience.
(Amanda Gordon is a writer and photographer for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Any opinions expressed are her own.)
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