Creation Story: Russell Simmons and Tyler Perry Go to Bat for the Arts

“I’ve been begging for years to be here, and Russell finally invited me to perform,” rejoiced neo-soul recording artist Maxwell

Estelle and Russell Simmons at Art for Life. (Photo: Patrick McMullan).
Estelle and Russell Simmons at Art for Life. (Photo: Patrick McMullan).

“I’ve been begging for years to be here, and Russell finally invited me to perform,” rejoiced neo-soul recording artist Maxwell at Danny and Russell Simmons’s 14th annual Art for Life benefit last Saturday. “I knew early on that music was for me, and if we can bring that to children, it can change the world,” the Brooklyn native continued, wearing a three-piece suit for the festivities at Fairview Farms in Bridgehampton.

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Plenty of other stars turned out to support the cause as well, proving once again that the Hamptons is undoubtedly king when it comes to splashy summertime philanthropic events.

“Arts education gives kids an escape from the streets—that’s why I’m here,” explained actor Anthony Anderson, who hosted a Rush Kids auction during the evening. “As a kid, anything that got me in front of an audience was my outlet.”

“This event is part of my passion,” effused a glammed-up Star Jones, who went flapper in a white ostrich-tiered mini-dress. “Bringing joy and art to young black and brown children.”

The gala also honored a variety of notable creatives, including Sam Englebardt and William D. Johnson of Demarest Films, writer Walter Mosley, Anne Pasternak of Creative Time and filmmaker Tyler Perry. For entertainment, there were performances by Estelle, Rick Ross and rap pioneer Doug E. Fresh (in addition to our man Maxwell).

“It’s important to have arts education, because you get people like me!” laughed Estelle after her set.

“I’m here because it’s all about helping whenever you can,” bellowed Mr. Ross, who was decked out in golden chains so heavy they gave us Mr. T flashbacks. “Art is what kept me entertained as a kid. Cutting arts education would be the biggest mistake ever.”

Retreating for another glass of rosé, Shindigger ran into retired football star Michael Strahan, who posed for photos with his ex-wife, Wanda Hutchins.

Rick Ross (Photo: Patrick McMullan)
Rick Ross. (Photo: Patrick McMullan)

“I want every kid to have the same opportunities I had,” the morning-show host divulged with a smile. “My favorite artistic endeavor as a kid was making things out of clay for my mom. She still has every single one in her cupboard!”

How precious, we thought, just as we spotted Al Sharpton in the distance. Shindigger beelined toward the good reverend—who had been poured into a slim-fitting gray double-breasted suit—hoping to get a word in.

“What Russell Simmons does with Art for Life is critical and brings people from all walks of life together,” said the bombastic host of MSNBC’s PoliticsNation. “Only he can bring such a diverse group of people together.”

Soledad O’Brien appeared to be an even bigger fan of the charity. “If anyone knows how to throw a party, it’s Russell Simmons!” she cheered, before adding in earnest: “Kids have to learn how to express themselves, and it disturbs me that art education is the program that gets cut first.”

Charity founder and dapper dan Mr. Simmons gave that mentality a big amen: “Kids need to practice and appreciate art,” he told Shindigger. “Nothing happens without creativity, and kids need to have a creative spirit.”

As if to prove Mr. Simmons’s point, Shindigger shimmied a few days later with another creative brother, Questlove, at a special musical event hosted by the Roots drummer and fashion designer John Varvatos. The event was held to fête McIntosh Laboratory’s shiny new MT5 Precision turntable and indulge in neat pours of Johnnie Walker Blue Label at Electric Lady Studios. Meanwhile, the creative pair discussed how music had influenced their lives, intermittently spinning some of their favorite vinyl for the cozy crowd.

Maxwell at the Art for Life Benefit. (Photo: Patrick McMullan)
Maxwell at the Art for Life Benefit. (Photo: Patrick McMullan)

Between quaffs of premium scotch, Shindigger asked Quest what his favorite track of the summer was.

“‘Deluge’ by Wayne Shorter,” came his response.

“And where, pray tell, would you be blasting that jazzy tune?”

“My car, because nobody’s iPod is messing with mine,” he said resolutely.

“Obviously he only enjoys music in his car, not Johnnie Walker Blue Label,” a publicist assured us.

Shindigger wasn’t able to question Jimmy Fallon’s bandleader about the essay he had penned, republished by New York magazine, in response to the Trayvon Martin verdict, although we did get an unexpected opportunity to discuss current events at Surface Magazine’s second installment of “Design Dialogues,” which featured hotelier, developer and coverboy Ian Schrager and the award-winning creative design duo George Yabu and Glenn Pushelberg.

“We’ve come to a career point wherein great satisfaction for us is achieved by being able to talk about the wealth of information and experience we’ve gained over the years,” Messrs. Yabu and Pushelberg told Shindigger about the event, which took place at the private work-space collective Neuehouse. “There isn’t enough unfiltered sharing in the design world, and it’s harder to obfuscate fact when you are put in front of a live audience.”

In terms of current events, both men were consumed with recent bold headlines. Mr. Yabu was gulping up the Edward Snowden drama, one Russian asylum rumor at a time.

“Whether guilty of leaking classified information or not, his situation clearly opens up countless debates about who’s spying on who,” he said. “Clearly, it’s the hypocrisy of so many government agencies around the world that’s so fascinating.”

Mr. Pushelberg was transfixed with national historic achievements. “The Supreme Court’s decision that DOMA is unconstitutional,” he said, “those rights have been available in Canada for over a decade, so it’s great that America is gradually becoming equal for everyone.”

Spoken like a true Canuck.

Creation Story: Russell Simmons and Tyler Perry Go to Bat for the Arts