Arts Activists honored at benefit for DowntownNYC! ArtsVan

by Abigail Martinez

City Councilmember Alan Gerson (District 1) and Richard Skipper as Carol Channing. Photo by Victor Nelson

Cabaret performers and members of the Downtown community gathered at the SoHo Playhouse, 15 Vandam Street, on the evening of May 30 to raise money for Downtown NYC's ArtsVan.

The ArtsVan is a mobile hospitality center and ticketing truck that will provide tourist information for cultural institutions in downtown Manhattan.

The evening consisted of performances by over 20 cabaret artists and was emceed by MAC Award winning cabaret performer Richard Skipper playing the role of Carol Channing. A silent auction and raffle were also held prior to the performance.

Honorees were Alan Gerson, NY City Council Member, District 1; Theodore S. Berger, Executive Director, New York Foundation for the Arts; Norma P. Munn Chairperson, NYC Arts Alliance; and Amy Schwartzman Brightbill, Arts Activist and Mover/Shaker.

All the honorees were presented with a "diamond" by Skipper, playing Ms. Channing, in recognition of their integral roles in keeping Downtown arts vital since the events of 9/11.

"Because of his thorough research, his commitment to the issue, and his far-sighted work, Mr. Gerson is currently the City Council's foremost authority on arts revitalization strategies for downtown," said Richard Skipper (as Carol Channing) in welcoming Gerson to the stage.

Mr. Gerson is taking the lead in initiatives and long term strategies to strengthen the City's arts infrastructure. He has supported ArtsVan since its very earliest stages, and his staff have given liberally of their time and expertise to help DowntownNYC! formulate its operational and financial plan.

L-R: Jonathan Slaff, Richard Skipper (as Carol Channing), Theodore S. Berger and Norma Munn. Photo by Victor Nelson

Jonathan Slaff, Chairman of DowntownNYC!, introduced Theodore S. Berger and Norma Munn to the audience as pathfinders in service to artists, who had offered key counsel and direction to DowntownNYC!

Mr. Berger was commended for his stewarzdship of the New York Arts Recovery Fund through NYFA and his vision in commissioning DowntownNYC!'s survey of the economic impact of 9/11 upon individual artists. The study was conducted last year by the Government Outreach Committee of DowntownNYC! on behalf of the New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA) in conjunction with Consortium For Worker Education (CWE) in an effort to ascertain the economic impact of September 11th on the estimated 150,000 working artists of all disciplines, who are the key drivers for the arts and entertainment industry in New York City.

Slaff cited Berger for the integrity and vision of his service to artists, and his unique ability to hearten others in their service to the arts. Slaff named himself as a beneficiatry of Ted Berger's "magic" in that respect, citing "the extra motivation that comes from Ted Berger's confidence in you."

Norma Munn was cited for her leadership and advocacy in efforts to preserve funding for the arts. "Norma talks to the City Council and the assembly like a Dutch uncle and they listen to her," said Slaff.

It was Munn who initially suggested to Downtown NYC! that it help the recovery effort after 9/11 by doing research on aspects of the downtown community that were being ignored. From this, the committee was inspired to do two surveys on the economic impact of 9/11 on the lives of downtown artists.

Amy Schwartzman-Brightbill and Richard Skipper (as Carol Channing). Photo by Deborah Jean Templin

Arts activist Amy Schwartzman Brightbill was honored for her long-time work as a member of the NYC arts scene, as Arts Administrator, Dancer, Actress, Choreographer, Director, Teacher, Arts Administrator and Attorney-at-Law. After 9/11, she was brought on board by the NYC Arts Coalition to write two guide books for artists, "An Artist's Guide to 9/11 Relief Efforts" and A Non-Profit's Guide to 9/11 Relief Efforts." She also contributed extensively to DowntownNYC!'s survey on the economic impact of 9/11 upon New York artists.

"For all her good works on behalf of individual artists and the arts in New York, Downtown NYC! is extremely grateful," said cabaret performer Sue Matsuki, who marveled at Schwartzman-Brightbill's multifaceted career as both an artist and advocate for the arts.

The Cabaret artists appearing included Risa Benson, Kelly Briggs and Jerry Christakos (with John MacMahon, pianist), Mychelle Colleary, Donna Coney Island (accompanied by Nicholas Levin), Mary Foster Conklin, Scott Coulter and Audrey Lavine, Brandon Cuttrell, John De Marco, Natalie Douglas, David Gurland, Bobbie Horowitz, Liz Keever, Quinn Lemley, Lorinda Lisitza, Dana Lorge, Sue Matsuki, Susan Neuffer, Melissa O'Connell, Rick Skye, and Pam Tate. Musical director was Doyle Newmyer.

The show was the first benefit organized by DowntownNYC! to help fund the ArtsVan. Members hope to have the van running by the end of June.

| Go to DowntownNYC! home page |