“This color is the perfect color for art,” said Jessica Hart of her bright-red gown, with her date, Stavros Niarchos, nearby. “On any other night, I’d stand out like a sore thumb. Tonight it fits right in.”
Hart was standing in a tent on the Seagram Plaza last night for the 35th anniversary gala of Studio in a School, a nonprofit that brings working artists to teach in New York City public- school classrooms. It was founded by collector Agnes Gund during the fiscal crisis of the mid-1970s when funding for art education was cut.
Hanging from the transparent tent roof -- allowing views of dodged rain drops -- were ribbons of cloth painted red, green and blue. The walls were decorated with artwork by students. City Council Speaker Christine Quinn especially noted a portrait of a penguin in a party hat.
Actor Joel Grey opened the program with a rendition of “Willkommen” from “Cabaret” slightly altered for the occasion. “Here life is beautiful, the girls are beautiful. Aggie Gund is beautiful, Martha Stewart is beautiful, even the orchestra is beautiful.” It ended with a high-pitched “Bon appetit.”
Over a “TV Dinner” of chicken pot pie from one of Danny Meyer’s kitchens, designer Mary-Kate Olsen sat at one end of a long banquet table with company including designer Shoshanna Lonstein Gruss, wife of Josh Gruss of Gruss & Co., Tania Higgins, wife of Brian Higgins, of King Street Capital Management LP, and Mary Snow, wife of Ian Snow, of Snow Phipps Group LLC.
From the stage came accolades for Studio in a School’s president and chief executive officer, Tom Cahill, who has led the operation since 1979, helping it reach more than 750,000 children. In appreciation, Gund gave the honoree a work by Philip Guston.
Caroline Kennedy, an honorary director of the board of the Fund for Public Schools, also came to the stage. “The arts is what makes kids want to come to school,” Kennedy said. “It helps them chart their own path.”
Lastly Jeff Koons, the artist honoree of the event, talked about his art education. He recalled “when I was three, starting to be educated in how to put together Popsicle sticks.” For him art became a “vehicle to externalize information, information that’s a different form of abstraction than verbal language.”
The last speaker was psychiatrist Samantha Boardman Rosen, whose husband, developer Aby Rosen, had lent the Seagram Plaza for the event.
Art teaches problem solving, Boardman Rosen said. “When you draw a turtle and it starts to look like a camel, what do you do?” Art also teaches grit. “And the only way you develop grit is by getting your hands dirty, and that requires art supplies.”
As waiters brought out all the ingredients for make-your- own sundaes, guests mingled around giant coils of green and copper foil. Art dealers Larry Gagosian and Vito Schnabel huddled, while collector Jo Carole Lauder planted a kiss on sculptor Joel Shapiro.
The sundae dishes at the tables revealed circular placemats featuring drawings of girls and boys, a tiger, a turkey and an apple, made in classrooms at such schools as PS 200 in Manhattan, PS 268 in Queens, and PS 59 in Brooklyn. Many guests took theirs home; some left with proper sets of four, having negotiated with tablemates.
The event drew 400 guests and raised more than $2 million.
(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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