It is officially benefit season. Over the past two weeks we’ve been to The Brooklyn Artist’s Ball, The ArtTable Luncheon and last Tuesday night, The Skowhegan Awards Dinner. This Saturday, we’ll be at the Smack Mellon’s Derby Day Fundraiser.
These are not randomly chosen benefits. We like that the Brooklyn Museum supports local art making, so we want to support them. We like that ArtTable supports women leaders, and we want to support them. In the case of both Skowhegan and Smack Mellon, we like that these non-profits offer essential residency programs to emerging artists who need the support. A brief look around New York and beyond shows how rare these programs are, and why they need support; artists need dedicated studio time.
In any event, unlike so many other benefits, where the artists are quietly shuffled off to the side, or not invited at all, the Skowhegan Awards Dinner distinguishes itself by seating a large number of artist alumni and friends amongst benefactors. To my mind, this makes the crowd a little more diverse, and the enormous fancy-pants dinner party that much better.
Unlike the Oscars, award recipients are notified well in advance, and advertised. This year artist Theaster Gates received the Medal for Sculpture in the Expanded Field, and former Commissioner for the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs Kate D. Leven received Award for Exceptional Civic Leadership. Also on the award roster was writer Lucy Lippard who went home with the Governors’ Award for Outstanding Service to Artists and Louise & Leonard Riggio who got the Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney Award for Outstanding Patronage of the Arts.
Tuesday’s gala began with a dance performance choreographed by Stephen Petronio and performed by Nick Sciscione and Janine Antoni (Antoni infused “stillness” into the Petronio piece by laying in a suspended cradle for the length of the performance). It ended with a speech by Theaster Gates and an adoring kiss from artist Carrie Mae Weems, who introduced the award.