It was raining. Torrents. But the atmosphere was anything but damp at a recent fundraising wingding where I joined in a high-spirited soiree featuring an extravaganza of original artworks for auction by more than forty artists of Fountain Gallery, the premier venue in New York City representing artists with mental illness.
This yearly event is dubbed "Fountain Gallery's End of Annual Meeting Season Celebration," and it's an eagerly-anticipated night for professionals in the financial services and related industries. The "annual meeting season" is the time each year when shareholders cast proxy votes on corporate matters. Supporters of this event are movers and shakers in the trenches of this often-grueling process, so why not celebrate its successful completion by raising a glass with peers while bidding on art to support a unique cause?
The event was founded in 2004 by Carl Hagberg of Carl T. Hagberg and Associates and Ellen Philip and Cal Donly of Ellen Philip Associates. Additional hosts for this year, the event's tenth, were Bob Irvine, Barry Shapiro, and Brendan Sheehan. A number of the financial whizzes in attendance have become not only supporters of the event but also collectors of Fountain Gallery art. Ellen Philip's elegant, loftlike offices were transformed into an art gallery for the night, and guests got a kick out of tracking the electronic bidding.
I met Ellen - what a delight - and was tickled to hear about her pet rabbit, Pepper, who lives in the office (but moves to an undisclosed location when a packed-to-the-rafters event such as this is on the calendar). When I first arrived in NYC thirty years ago, I confessed, I lived in Brooklyn and tried my hand at raising rabbits for a while. Ah, the chitchat at benefits!
Ellen explained that established art-world luminaries Jason Rohlf and Harriet Sawyer had contributed their work for auction. Among the Fountain Gallery artists, some are self-taught, while others have extensive art education and are highly trained.
Photo: Saskia Kahn.
I then chatted with Fountain Gallery artist and friend Martin Cohen, who most certainly falls into the "highly trained" category (Master of Fine Arts, Carnegie Mellon). Marty has an easygoing, good-humored demeanor. He told me:
I became a member of Fountain House, the Gallery's parent organization, at just the right time. They were about to convert their thrift shop into an art gallery to exhibit and sell members' artwork. I had operated my own gallery in the East Village.
I'd been painting for years and had a lot of experience in installing and restoring art. Fountain Gallery began with a handful of artists, and in the early days we were concentrating on getting it open and keeping it running.
And now here we are, with events like this and a full schedule of exhibitions at the Gallery. Fountain House has been a leader in mental health recovery for 65 years, and at Fountain Gallery this summer we're celebrating our thirteenth anniversary. We've come a long way.
Over the years, Marty had quite a time with bouts of serious mental illness, but through it all he continued to make art. He has been stable for many years now and consistently produces a prodigious quantity of work, primarily in his signature Abstract Expressionist style, with an emphasis on collage and mixed media. His pieces have been acquired by corporate patrons such as the Estée Lauder Companies Inc., Eli Lilly and Company, and Citi.
Photo: Saskia Kahn.
It's been a big year for Marty: He was a winner of the 2012 Wynn Newhouse Awards, a prestigious program that provides grants to artists of excellence who happen to have disabilities, and he was recently tapped to show his work in an upcoming group show at 25CPW. His "Doors of New York 1-5" - a series of magnificent mixed-media works on large wooden doors - will soon be installed (and will remain on view through the end of the year) at Gallery New World Stages in Midtown. It's a goal of Fountain Gallery to facilitate its artists' success in the wider art world, and Marty is making this goal a reality. Bravo.
A prime collector of Marty's pieces was honored at this year's event: Kathleen E. Shannon. She retired last January as Senior V.P. and Deputy General Counsel of American International Group. On this night, she was the winning bidder on two more Cohen originals for her collection. Rich Daly, C.E.O. of Broadridge Financial Solutions, presented the Award to Kathleen. Broadridge is a loyal supporter of this event and a significant provider of jobs through the Fountain House Transitional Employment program.
Event founder Carl Hagberg is bullish on the importance of employment on the path to recovery for people living with mental illness. He noted:
I think for most people work is key to a sense of well-being and identity. The professionals at this event are hardworking and focused, and they've come to appreciate the industriousness and dedication of these artists in making art and running Fountain Gallery as a cooperative business. It's gratifying to watch people who are recovering from mental illness as they enter - or re-enter - the working world. And demonstrating what these individuals can do, whether it's painting a canvas or filling a more conventional job slot, is effective in combating the stigma that surrounds mental illness.
Photo: Saskia Kahn.
The affection that Carl and fellow event founders Cal Donly and Ellen Philip hold for Fountain Gallery and its artists is palpable. Ellen appeared to be having the time of her life as she observed guests moving about her space, viewing art and meeting the artists, quaffing cocktails and nibbling delicacies, and placing bids. The petite Ellen is an ebullient big-city businesswoman with the air of the nicest next-door neighbor you ever met.
One of the perks of running my own foundation is that I get to choose the organizations supporting young global leadership we assist. My team is attracted to nonprofits that are the most uplifting of humanity while using resources as wisely as possible. Both Fountain House and Fountain Gallery meet these criteria, and I am delighted to promote such outstanding work.
See Stories by Jim Luce on:
Fountain Gallery Is "Mad About Art" (HuffPo)
Mental Illness Tackled at Fountain House Luncheon in NYC (Daily Kos)
Fountain House Stands Up to Mental Illness (Stewardship Report)
The James Jay Dudley Luce Foundation (www.lucefoundation.org) is the umbrella organization under which Orphans International Worldwide (OIWW) is organized. If supporting young global leadership is important to you, subscribe to J. Luce Foundation updates here.
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