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Exclusive: Russell Simmons reflects on his Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation

Tangie Murray, Russell Simmons, Danny Simmons and Kurtis Blow attend the 15th annual Art for Life Gala hosted by Russell and Danny Simmons at Fairview Farms on July 26, 2014 in Water Mill, New York.
Tangie Murray, Russell Simmons, Danny Simmons and Kurtis Blow attend the 15th annual Art for Life Gala hosted by Russell and Danny Simmons at Fairview Farms on July 26, 2014 in Water Mill, New York.
Photo by Brian Ach

Today on July 30, 2014, had the opportunity to interview Russell Simmons about Art For Life celebrating its fifteenth anniversary and the work he does with his Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation. This past weekend Mr. Simmons and his brother Danny threw their Art For Life Benefit in the Hamptons. Naughty By Nature, Doug E. Fresh and Kurtis Blow performed for the crowd of 750. Additional guests included Gayle King, Rick Ross, Nicky Hilton, Angela Simmons, JoJo Simmons, Kim Porter, Jonathan Cheban, Bevy Smith, Star Jones, Reverend Al Sharpton, Miss Universe Gabriela Isler, Miss USA Nia Sanchez and model ​Vita Sidorkina.

The event raised more than one million dollars and honored Michael R. Bloomberg, Kimora Lee Simmons, Valentino D. Carlotti, Jason Flom and artist Carrie Mae Weems. Event sponsors included Bombay Sapphire Gin, Target, and Cadillac. Another special moment during the gala was the announcement of a one million dollar gift from Kimora. This donation will help provide scholarships for Rush students going to college. The inaugural class of recipients were recognized at the benefit. Kimora’s children – Ming Lee Simmons, Aoki Lee Simmons and Kenzo Lee Hounsou – welcomed the scholarship recipients at the event and accepted the honor on their mother’s behalf.

Can you reflect on Art For Life celebrating 15 years?

It's an incredible blessing. A blessing not only to have had this event be such a success for so long but to have all these people support us year after year. More than 750 friends and family come back and give to us for 15 years, I mean that is amazing. And the youth and the artists that we have been able to support and offer a platform for to become bigger and more successful; it's exciting to see and be a part of that, and I'm so happy that we have had the love and support of all those who give to us to give so much that we have been able to make it this far.

What was one of your proudest moments?

For me, the proudest moments will always be centered around being able to give and give more, serve and so more. I believe the biggest rewards or proudest moments are always found in the giving. My brother Danny would also say that we are most proud of the role we have been able to play in the success of artists who have taught in our galleries or shown works in our galleries. Also having seven of our Rush Kids that have grown through our program to receive scholarships for their colleges and universities is something that brought overwhelming happiness not only to me and Danny, but all our staff and supporters. Quentin, one of our Rush students who was with us since he was 8 years old, I believe, and now he is going to college on a Rush scholarship to become an architect.

What are your hopes for the future?

My hope will always be to do more. That's it, keep doing what we are doing but have our impact and our work and money, the giving from our audience, be more. The need for access and exposure to the arts never goes away. The children need more opportunities, all these amazing artists need more opportunities. So we want to grow to be bigger and better and keep doing the work we do touching and changing as many lives as we can.

Please speak about Honoring former Mayor Bloomberg and why he is being honored.

Mayor Bloomberg is a great friend of mine. We don’t always agree on everything but one thing no one can disagree with is his trailblazing leadership and his immense philanthropy that changed and uplifted the cultural and arts landscape in New York City. His philanthropy is unrivaled and it’s not only in the arts, it goes beyond!

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