The Color of Light

Featured image
Looking up. Photo: JH.

Thursday, September 24, 2020. A bright, sunny day, yesterday in New York, with temps reaching up to 79 degrees, no humidity and occasionally a slight breeze. Although it was comfortably warm it didn’t feel hot the way 80 degrees a month ago was torrid.

With just a week of the month left, the town’s beginning to get around to business. The (outdoor) restaurants are very busy, even during the very cool of the evening, and philanthropic events are setting up shop for fundraising “virtually.”

This past Tuesday, Literacy Partners presented The Lizzie Awards: honoring filmmaker Perri Peltz and featuring a conversation between Perri and Jon Meacham, journalist, broadcast-producer. Perri reflected on her career breaking news and championing social justice. They were joined for a discussion moderated by NBC News correspondent, Cynthia McFadden.

Originally founded in 1973 in New York City, Literacy Partners is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing low-income parents and those whose lives are fundamentally shaped by the immigrant experience, with the literacy and language skills. Its expansion and foundation was the brainchild of publisher Parker Ladd and his life-partner, fashion designer Arnold Scaasi and our beloved social and entertainment columnist Liz Smith, whom the Lizzie Awards were named for.

“And I thought, holy cow, we could teach this guy to read.” — Liz Smith

One of the very private secrets of many adult Americans, as well as newly emigrated citizens, is that they can’t read. The numbers are astounding, very often the result of leaving school early. What seems simple to many of us evades a lot of people for a variety of reasons including lack of proper teaching as well as the embarrassment (afraid to admit) of being behind. It’s more common but unacknowledged because of the embarrassment factor – people disguising or hiding their inability: they faked it enough that it remained a private secret.

Liz Smith was one of the most voracious readers I’ve ever known. She loved to read and could read a book in a night, and often did. Her great career as a journalist and columnist were the result of her passion. She was shocked when she realized that so many of us lack that gift and pleasure. Her 30+ years of leadership with Literacy Partners helped teach more than 25,000 adults to not only read, but write and speak English more proficiently.  

The lives of Literacy students and their families as well have been transformed by the experience: many got better jobs; helped their children succeed in school and earned high school equivalency degrees for themselves. Some have even gone on to graduate from college.

Literacy Partners has been providing free English classes to parents. Online classes offer parents the opportunity to improve their English while feeling connected to their community.

Today Literacy Partners is the City’s leading adult literacy program with a focus on African-American and recent literacy students.  The response to the Covid-19 pandemic has been to move all classes online and to refocus learning to meet new needs for parents and their children’s learning at home. There are now Zoom classes and Literacy has provided computers and WIFI hotspots, food and other essential supplies for many of their students.

They have come up with a bold plan to educate 3,000 new students over the next five years – almost double their reach now. They plan to honor Liz with this by creating the Liz Smith Center for Adult and Family Literacy with the objective of providing basic literacy to prepare people for jobs; to deliver High School Equivalency and College Transition Classes for young adults, as well as English for immigrant workers.

To learn more about their goal and contribute, click here.

The Play’s the Thing. A few years ago, a random Internet search led Jesse Kornbluth (the man behind Head Butler and countless exposés and deep-dive articles for VF in its heyday) to the the Chapelle du Rosaire in Venice in the South of France. The chapel that Henri Matisse designed, and referred to as the “masterpiece” of his career, seemed to be known only by hard-core art lovers and scholars. 

Jesse loves a good back story and became hooked. In the process of searching for more information on the subject, he was surprised to learn that it had never been dramatized. Although he’d never written a play, he applied the skills of his long career in journalism: reading every biography of Matisse and every art book about the chapel. And then he wrote “The Color of Light.”

For ONE NIGHT ONLY, The Schoolhouse Theater is reading Jesse’s play, “The Color of Light,” which was triumphantly staged at Schoolhouse last year and was possibly moving to New York when … This reunion reading features the original cast, led by Tony Award Nominee Tim Jerome as Henri Matisse. 

“The Color of Light” will be read on ZOOM this Friday, September 25 at 7:30 pm EST. To secure a “ticket,” please donate to The Schoolhouse Theater HERE or sharing with your friends.

One thing you will learn form Jesse’s play is that Matisse was a man depressed. Starting in his childhood, it never went completely away. He was frequently so depressed that he found it difficult to work at all. When asked about art, Matisse would tell people that an artist makes art not out of joy but out of pain.

Throughout his life, he would search for ways to obstruct his dark thoughts at every pass. Color was his weapon.

Unlike Matisse, very few of us have the palette to defend ourselves from the affliction of depression. That’s where Audrey Gruss and organizations like the  Hope for Depression Research Foundation come in.  Audrey  founded HDRF  in memory of her mother, Hope, who suffered from clinical depression — to combat depression using the power of science.

Audrey Gruss welcomes guests to the pool pavilion.

Audrey, always soigné, and always creative in pushing the acceleration of breakthrough research, introduced the new Hope Night Parfum at a small dinner last week in the cross breezes of the pool pavilion at her Southampton home (maintaining social distancing guidelines, of course).

The luxury fragrance was presented as a fine product with a unique charitable message: 100% of net profits go to support depression research at Hope for Depression Research Foundation.

Audrey introducing the fragrance.
Hope Night Parfum.

Guests arrived with masks and were guided to cocktail “pods” that consisted of U-shaped banquettes, where they had drinks and hors d’oeuvres, properly socially-distanced 6’ from each other. Dinner was served at a 24’ long table and guests were seated 6’ from each other.  The table was decorated with flowers cascading from a grapevine sculpture above the table, which reinforced the romantic theme of Hope Night.

Guests at table.

Guests included: Debbie Bancroft, Candace Bushnell with Jim Coleman, Kim Heirston, Tania and Brian Higgins, Marie-Noelle and John Pierce.

Candace Bushnell with Jim Coleman — masked and unmasked.
Brian and Tania Higgins.
Candace Bushnell, Debbie Bancroft, and Martin Gruss.
Kim Heirston, Debbie Bancroft, and Tania Higgins.

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