The New York charity circuit has started to come back. Here is how some philanthropists and society figures spent their time and resources during the pandemic.
Occupation: actress; fashion entrepreneur; ambassador for the Estee Lauder Companies’ Breast Cancer Campaign
Favorite charity: Breast Cancer Research Foundation
What has been your a safe harbor this year?
During the first lockdown, I was in my house in the country in England for 14 months, living with eight people. Two were over 80. One was my mother. It was a very scary time. But it was also great time, the first time I lived with my family since the ’80s. We had a lot of catching up to do. The minute my mother, who is 81, had her second vaccine her shoulders went down.
What else has boosted your sprits?
l was lucky enough to work on a couple of movies and produce and shoot “Welcome to Georgia,” a comedy pilot for CBS. Most people in my business in England during lockdown didn’t work at all.
As host of the Breast Cancer Research Foundation gala in May, you helped raise $6 million. What motivates you?
Twenty-six years ago, Evelyn Lauder explained her aims to me. She said that women were dying, no one was talking about it, that there wasn’t enough funding for research. Now, all these years later, there are funds for improvements in treatment, and the death rate has decreased. It’s been amazing to be part of that journey.
Another constant in your life has been the swimsuit company you founded in the early 2000s.
I’ve deliberately kept that business small, remembering how hard I had to work to make a buck. When the shops closed in England during lockdown, I stepped back from wholesaling. Now most of the business is online.
You posted swimsuit selfies on Instagram to promote the line. The response was largely positive. Were you surprised?
I’m not 23. I don’t weigh 100 pounds. But it is nice that some people are open to seeing women of different ages looking happy and healthy. I’m delighted if I’m encouraging them.
Favorite charities: Jazz on the Vineyard, Human Rights Campaign, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
Where have you been sheltering?
It’s been a tumultuous year. My wife, daughter and I moved out to live with my in-laws for several months in Ninevah, an African-American enclave right on the water in Sag Harbor. All the while we were working on our own summer home there in Noyack. We were moving around a lot. For a while we were homeless in the Hamptons. In the process of all this, we had a son, born in January.
Sounds stressful. Have you found distractions?
In some ways this time has been refreshing. I’m trying to learn how to make very good espresso, working on my mixology, making solid cocktails and doing watercolors with my 3-and-a-half-year-old daughter.
What about ways of giving back?
I’m creating a nonprofit that will teach young adults how to code and 3-D scan to create models in three-dimensional space. Later, they can bring that training to their work.
Your own work hasn’t suffered.
“Oracle,” a 15,000-pound, 25-foot-high bronze monolith, was in an installation at Rockefeller Center. It was part of a larger series, “Chimera.” The 17 works seeded throughout the installation included quilting works and the flags around the skating rinks. These are hybrid pieces that fuse parts of Greco Roman classical sculpture with cultures from different regions, including the Luba and Maasai people from Africa.
How do you think those objects will be read in the future?
Art objects morph and change as the culture changes around us. I’m thinking of Monument Avenue in Richmond, Va., and how that was turned into a Black Lives Matter park. All these graffiti we’re seeing on the monuments there end up mirroring culture around them.
You spend part of your time in working in New York. Have you seen a shift in the culture here?
Early in the pandemic, New York reminded me of the way things had been in the ’80s. A lot of times, you used to see empty streets. Underground clubs were flourishing. Artists had actual time to work in their studios. But New York has always been a magical place. It will be reborn, and I’m curious to see what its magic will be.
Occupation: rapper, singer, writer, model illustrator
Favorite charity: the Loveland Foundation
Where have you been sheltering?
I spent five months during lockdown living in Las Vegas, because my parents live there. I didn’t leave the house, except to go to protests. I spent almost every day there with my twin sister, Cipriana. Now I’m back at my apartment in Prospect Heights in Brooklyn.
What’s been toughest for you?
As an artist I felt creatively stunted. So, I started drawing and illustrating. I wrote and illustrated my first essay and won a grant. I wrote about racial microaggressions. I also released a single about police brutality, something that was experienced by my sister, my boyfriend and my father.
And by you?
I have been aware of racism from a young age. It has always felt imperative for me to discuss these issues. In Baltimore where my sister and I grew up, a truck full of young white men once tried to run us off the road. It was a hate crime. We contacted the police at the time, but nothing was done.
You’ve focused on giving back as a form of social activism.
My sister and I created a capsule sunglass line, Quann x Aperçu. We are donating a portion of sales to the Loveland Foundation. The foundation provides support to communities of color, with a focus on therapy for Black women. Within some communities there is a resistance to therapy. I was raised in a Black household, where therapy was seen as sharing your business with a stranger. I’m trying to change that stigma.
You are a favorite of the fashion world. What are you wearing now?
I’m in a floral-print satin robe. My hair is up in a scarf, a nice satin bonnet. For me style and dressing up has not much to do with going out. I’ll dress up for myself. I also do a lot of fashion content on Instagram. It’s a fun way to express yourself. The quarantine didn’t stop that for me. I try to find silver linings in difficult times.
Occupation: fashion designer, author
Favorite charities: Publicolor, Pratt Institute Summer Learning Project
Where have you spent the past year?
For the first few months I quarantined with friends at their house in New Jersey. We spent endless days cooking. One specialty was macaroni and cheese, using fontina, brie, cheddar, and Gruyère. We posted pictures that made lots of people jealous. I’m back now in my apartment in the Flatiron district with 18-and-a-half foot ceilings and 11-foot windows. I’ve lived here since 1981. I was a pioneer and I’m proud of it. They will have to carry me out in a box.
Were there surprises when you returned to the city?
Every night there was marching: young people, old people, Blacks and Asians. I’ve never seen that diverse a group of people protesting something. I don’t think that will change. Black Lives Matter, #MeToo, and other forms of activism are incredibly constructive and open. They are going to have reverberations long after you and I are alive. Young people, especially, are looking at life with more open eyes.
Have you found ways to support them?
I’ve been working with Publicolor. The founder, Ruth Lande Shuman, discovered that kids were getting into high school who still can’t read or do arithmetic. Through art they are taught math and reading. I also support the Summer Learning Project at the Pratt Institute. Students learn book binding, computer and other skills. For most of these kids, it’s the first time they’ve seen or been to a college.
What are you personally looking forward to?
Once the theaters open, once we have the opera and the ballet, there will be this groundswell of people wanting to go out, to buy something new, colorful, fancy and elegant. I don’t think we will go back to uncomfortable clothes. We are learning to live with clothes that are comfortable and comforting. But we will keep up some formality. People have been predicting death of the suit for decades and saying that this will be the end of the tie. It won’t. To younger men, a tie means you’ve arrived.
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