When we were shooting the documentary Generosity of Eye, we were surrounded by painters and sculptors for a week. One of them, painter Catherine Murphy, said, "Art saved my life." Can it? Can art save a life?
POLKA DOT DRESS by Catherine Murphy
For 50 years, Julia's dad, William, has been collecting art. He now has more than 3,000 drawings, paintings and sculptures. He collected art when he was broke and young, when he became a successful businessman and continues to collect today (he's now retired -- he's nowhere near the billionaire he's rumored to be, and thus Julia is, alas, no billionaire heiress, but he's a pretty well-off guy).
Growing up, there was always art all over the place in their apartment. Julia had no idea where it all came from and didn't know much about it, except that it was one of her dad's two big passions. The other was justice for the African American citizens of this great country.
In one of those fantastic little miracles sometimes that happen in life, Julia's Dad saw a TV interview with Geoffrey Canada, who founded the Harlem Children's Zone; a program in Harlem that is aimed at doing nothing less than breaking the cycle of generational poverty for the thousands of children and families it serves. Her dad was blown away.
Geoffrey Canada, Photo Credit: Marco Grob for TIME
At about this time Julia's dad had a few fancy art types come over and have a look at his art. Low and behold, it turned out that this very personal, very eclectic collection was worth some real money.
So, he gave it to the Harlem Children's Zone.
Now, the beautiful work that these artists were moved to create in their studios all over the world will directly benefit the children of Harlem, ensuring that some third grade boy in the Harlem Children's Zone will have the support and resources necessary for him to fulfill his potential and, as Geoffrey Canada says in the film, "Go to Howard, or Princeton, or Yale instead of Riker's Island."
So, Brad made a short documentary about art transforming into education. And, as often happens, the film became about much more: the relationship between artist and collector, between benefactor and cause, about injustice and justice. We learned an awful lot about art, artists, the Harlem Children's Zone and its founder Geoffrey Canada, and, in a complete surprise to us both, we learned a lot about Julia's dad by seeing his passion for art and his passion for justice connect in a single act of generosity.
Can art save a life? You bet it can.
The exclusive screening of the "Generosity of Eye" documentary is being hosted by Town & Country as a kick-off to the magazine’s first-ever Philanthropy Summit in New York City on Wednesday, May 28. For more information on the event, read here. The film will be available free online at generosityofeye.com on May 28. See the Louis-Dreyfus Family collection here.