Arts Alliance Illinois Celebrates 36 Years 
at its Sixth Annual Benefit Luncheon

Sixth Annual Benefit Luncheon for Arts Alliance Illinois

For immediate release May 29, 2018

Media contacts Zachary Whittenburg, Communications and Engagement Director, 312-855-3105 ext. 11

Carly Leviton, Carol Fox and Associates:, 773-969-5034

CHICAGO – Arts Alliance Illinois, under the leadership of Executive Director Claire Rice and Board Chair E. Brooke Flanagan, Managing Director for Development and External Affairs at Chicago Shakespeare Theater, welcomed nearly 400 artistic, business, creative, and philanthropic leaders from across Illinois to the organization’s Sixth Annual Benefit Luncheon on Monday, May 21, 2018 at the Marriott Marquis Chicago.

The event raised approximately $180,000 for the organization, among the largest and longest-standing networks in the United States dedicated to advancing the creative sector and arts education policy. The event’s Honorary Committee comprised nine legislative leaders: Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner; US Senators Richard J. Durbin and Tammy Duckworth; Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel; State Senate President John J. Cullerton; State Senate Republican Leader Bill Brady; State House Speaker Michael J. Madigan; State House Republican Leader Jim Durkin; and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.

A reception began at 11am with a seated luncheon following in the Grand Horizon Ballroom at noon. Candida Alvarez, artist and professor of painting and drawing at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, presented entrepreneurs and philanthropists Denise and Gary Gardner with the Alliance’s Citizen Advocate Award, for their numerous contributions to arts education, arts access, civic engagement, and cultural equity, all primary focus areas of the Alliance.

Accepting their award, Denise Gardner noted, “One of our family’s longtime missions has been to celebrate and support the artistic endeavors of our community and, in particular, the many diverse communities in Chicago and our state. Today’s program, as you can see by the talent that’s coming to the stage, is a testament to what communities can create.”

Art collectors and philanthropists Marilyn and Larry Fields presented the Alliance’s 2018 Creative Voice Award to renowned multimedia artist Nick Cave.
Marilyn Fields recalled her first encounter with Cave’s art at an exhibition in 2006, calling it “the beginning of a truly beautiful relationship. Nick is not only an artist, educator, and community activist, he is also the most wonderful, kind, sincere friend I have ever had, and a perfect choice for the Alliance’s Creative Voice Award. The Alliance and Nick share many of the same principles — they are both involved with promoting art through education, and giving communities the tools and encouragement to see, understand, and enjoy art.”

“We’ve followed Nick throughout the United States,” added Larry Fields. “We’ve seen him activate many different spaces and captivate their visitors. He’s an alchemist who transforms small, sometimes mundane objects into creations that capture the imagination.” Cave responded by emphasizing that he is “a messenger first, and an artist second,” and was later joined onstage in conversation with Natalie Y. Moore, South Side Reporter for WBEZ 91.5FM Chicago.

The awards presented to Cave and the Gardners’ were created by Richard Hunt, the first African-American sculptor to receive a major solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

In addition to video presentations about Cave and the Marriott Marquis Chicago’s art program and collection, featuring local visual artists, attendees enjoyed an original spoken-word piece by Illinois State Champion and National Finalist at Poetry Out Loud 2013 Rapheal K. Mathis. Four young artists from the Chicago Multi-Cultural Dance Center (CMDC) performed Hiplet™, created by CMDC founder and artistic director Homer Hans Bryant. A global phenomenon seen on Good Morning America, The Steve Harvey Show, and Harry, hosted by Harry Connick, Jr., Hiplet™ fuses ballet with hip-hop and has taken the world by storm.

“Our work benefits the entire field, from individual artists to major cultural institutions. The Alliance takes on challenges that no single cultural organization or artist can manage alone,” noted Alliance Executive Director Claire Rice. “We are an Alliance. We come together as a field with a unified voice, a cohesive story of impact. We in this room know the civic, social, and economic value that creative work has across our state, but we must further embed that value in the DNA of Illinois.”

Arts Alliance Illinois thanks its Sixth Annual Benefit Luncheon’s Benefit Sponsors Allstate, The Chicago Community Trust, Denise and Gary Gardner, and The Gardner Family; Benefit Committee Co-Chairs Michelle T. Boone, Chief Program and Civic Engagement Officer at Navy Pier, Inc., and Deana Haggag, President and CEO at United States Artists; Benefit Committee Members Kassie Davis, Chris Jabin, Tony Karman, Dana Rice, Heather Ireland Robinson, Scott Silberstein, and Janet Carl Smith; Host Committee Members Cheryl Cooke, Dr. Helene Gayle, Marilyn and Larry Fields, E. Brooke Flanagan, Lori Healey, Roche Schulfer, and Steve Solomon; Patron Sponsors Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Exelon Corporation, Marilyn and Larry Fields, Goodman Theatre, and the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority; Partner Sponsors Columbia College Chicago, Kassie Davis, The Field Foundation of Illinois, Ingenuity, Irving Harris Foundation, the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Navy Pier, Inc., The Poetry Foundation, Presence Health, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Diane Spradlin, the Terra Foundation for American Art, United States Artists, and Helen Zell; and Media Sponsor Modern Luxury. Special thanks to the Chicago Multi-Cultural Dance Center, Bob Faust, HMS Media, Richard Hunt, M&G Graphics, Rapheal Mathis, Natalie Y. Moore, Josh Shearer, Twoxfour, and Erik Unger Photography. Event Management for the Sixth Annual Benefit Luncheon was provided by Carol Fox and Associates.

About Denise and Gary Gardner

Denise Gardner is the retired President and Founder of Insights & Opportunities, a marketing research firm. Along with her husband, Gary, she was the Co-Founder of Namaste Laboratories, the leading multicultural hair care brand in the nation. Denise also spent 15 years as the Vice President of Marketing for Soft Sheen Products. She now uses her passion and skill for multicultural marketing and communication to help promote a greater understanding and appreciation for art and artists of African descent. She currently serves on the Board of Trustees of the Art Institute of Chicago and was recently named Vice Chair of the Board. She has served as chair of the museum’s Leadership Advisory Committee and is dedicated to insuring that citizens throughout Chicago engage with and are represented at the museum. As the daughter of a lifelong educator, Denise is passionate about youth and education, serving on the Board of Governors of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and on the Chicago Public Library Board. She recently completed a ten-year term on the Executive Committee of The Chicago Community Trust, where she served on the Arts and Civic Vitality and Donor Relations and Civic Engagement Committees. Denise earned both her BSJ as well as her MBA from Northwestern University.

Gary Gardner is a lifelong entrepreneur who changed the face of the ethnic hair care industry as Co-Founder and President of Namaste Laboratories, as well as former President of Soft Sheen Products. Currently, he spends his time investing in and mentoring other young entrepreneurs as President of the PFG Group, LLC, a local venture-capital firm. Gary, being the son of two educators and entrepreneurs, is also an avid philanthropist and advocate for a number of education and development programs throughout the Chicagoland region. He is a former member of the Boards of OneGoal and the City Colleges of Chicago. As a proud and lifetime Chicagoan, Gary also serves on the Chicago Plan Commission. Gary earned his BA in Political Science at the University of Illinois at Chicago and his MBA / JD from Northwestern University. 

Together, Gary and Denise are committed to increasing representation for people of color in the visual arts. They have supported numerous exhibitions at both major museums and at community-based galleries, advancing the careers of many individual artists. Their personal collection includes works by Nick Cave, Kerry James Marshall, Norman Lewis, Charles White, Elizabeth Catlett, Amanda Williams, Bethany Collins, Samuel Levi Jones, and Amy Sherald, among others. Gary and Denise reside on the South Side of Chicago and have two sons, Brandon and Kyle.

About Nick Cave

Nick Cave is an artist, educator and, foremost, a messenger, working between the visual and performing arts through a wide range of media including sculpture, installation, video, sound, and performance. Cave is well-known for his Soundsuits: sculptural forms based on the scale of the body. Soundsuits camouflage the body, masking and creating a second skin that conceals race, gender, and class, forcing the viewer to look without judgment. In a 2013 feature in Interview magazine, Cave said of his project HEARD • NY — a largescale performance in Grand Central Terminal organized by Creative Time — “I was really thinking of getting us back to this dream state, this place where we imagine and think about now and how we exist and function in the world. With the state of affairs in the world, I think we tend not to take the time out to create that dream space in our heads.” 

Cave’s recent, massive, immersive installation Until was on view at MASS MoCA from October 2016 to November 2017, and his solo exhibition Here Hear was on view at the Cranbrook Art Museum in 2015. Other solo exhibitions include the St. Louis Art Museum (2014–15), the Institute of Contemporary Art Boston (2014), and the Denver Art Museum (2013). Public collections include the Brooklyn Museum; Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art; the Detroit Institute of Arts; the High Museum; the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden; the Norton Museum of Art; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Birmingham Museum of Art; the DeYoung Museum; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; the Orlando Museum of Art; the Smithsonian Institution; and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, among others. 

Cave’s many awards and recognitions include the Americans for the Arts 2014 Public Art Network Year in Review Award, in recognition of his Grand Central Terminal performance, HEARD • NY; the 2008 Joan Mitchell Foundation Award; a 2006 Artadia Award; a 2006 Joyce Award; Creative Capital Grants in 2002, 2004, and 2005; and the 2001 Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Award. Cave, who received his MFA from the Cranbrook Academy of Art, is Professor and Chairman of the Fashion Department at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Nick Cave has been represented by Jack Shainman Gallery since his 2006 Soundsuits show. Other solo exhibitions at the gallery include Recent Soundsuits (2009), Ever-After (2011), and a two-part exhibition, Made by Whites and Rescue (2014). Visit to learn more.

About Natalie Y. Moore

Acclaimed author and journalist Natalie Y. Moore is South Side Reporter for WBEZ 91.5FM Chicago, where she covers segregation and inequality. Her enterprise reporting has tackled race, housing, economic development, food injustice, and violence. Moore’s work has been broadcast by the BBC and on NPR’s Marketplace, Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition. Moore is the author of The South Side: A Portrait of Chicago and American Segregation, recognized with a 2016 Chicago Review of Books award for nonfiction, and named among the Best Nonfiction Books of 2016 by BuzzFeed. She is also co-author of The Almighty Black P Stone Nation: The Rise, Fall and Resurgence of an American Gang, and Deconstructing Tyrone: A New Look at Black Masculinity in the Hip-Hop Generation.

A regular columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times, Moore’s work has been published in Essence, Ebony, the Chicago Reporter, Bitch, In These Times, the Chicago Tribune, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Guardian. She is the 2017 recipient of Chicago Library Foundation’s 21st Century Award. In 2010, she received the Studs Terkel Community Media Award for reporting on Chicago’s diverse neighborhoods. In 2009, she was a fellow at Columbia College Chicago’s Ellen Stone Belic Institute for the Study of Women and Gender in the Arts and Media, which allowed her to take a reporting trip to Libya. Moore’s many awards for journalism include a Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism, and honors from the Radio Television Digital News Association (Edward R. Murrow), Public Radio News Directors Incorporated, National Association of Black Journalists, Illinois Associated Press, and Chicago Headline Club. The Chicago Reader named her best journalist in 2017.

Prior to joining WBEZ’s staff in 2007, Natalie was a city hall reporter for The Detroit News. She has also been an education reporter for the St. Paul Pioneer Press and a reporter for the Associated Press in Jerusalem. Moore holds an MSJ in Newspaper Management from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and a BA in Journalism from Howard University. She has taught at Columbia College Chicago and the Medill School. She and her husband Rodney live in Hyde Park with their four daughters. Visit to learn more.

About the Chicago Multi-Cultural Dance Center and Hiplet™

A groundbreaking fusion of hip-hop and ballet, Hiplet™ has taken the world by storm, forever changing the field of dance training and performance. Created by CMDC Founder and Artistic Director Homer Hans Bryant in the 1990s as “The Rap Ballet,” it was conceived as a new way to keep young people interested in classical ballet, continuing to evolve toward adopting the name Hiplet™ in 2007. During the summer of 2016, videos posted by Bryant to Instagram went viral, gathering more than 10 million views in just a matter of days. As Hiplet™ quickly grew into a global phenomenon, Bryant and CMDC students were invited to appear nationally on Good Morning America, The Steve Harvey Show, and Harry, hosted by Harry Connick, Jr., in addition to local appearances on Good Day Chicago and Windy City Live. Features on Hiplet™ have been published by Vogue, The New York Times, and digital media outlet Refinery29, and the Hiplet™ ballerinas have been featured at corporate events and in campaigns sponsored by global brands Mercedes-Benz, Nordstrom, Old Navy, and more. Hiplet™ videos and media impressions have now surpassed one billion to date — and these young artists are only just getting started. Visit to learn more.

About Richard Hunt

Born in Chicago in 1935, Richard Hunt entered the Junior School of the Art Institute of Chicago in the seventh grade, continuing his studies there through earning a BAE in 1957 and, while still a student, seeing his work Arachne acquired by the Museum of Modern Art. (Hunt would later become the first African-American sculptor to receive a major solo exhibition at MoMA.) The youngest artist to exhibit at the Century 21 Exposition (World’s Fair) in Seattle in 1962, he completed his first large-scale, commissioned public sculpture, Play, five years later — the first such commission by the State of Illinois’ Public Art Program. Hunt has created more than 150 commissions since, many of them on display throughout Chicago including Jacob’s Ladder at the Carter G. Woodson Library, Freeform at the Michael A. Bilandic Building, Flight Forms at Midway International Airport, and We Will at the Heritage at Millennium Park. Hunt’s works are found today in many museums and collections both public and private; his fellowships and prizes include a Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Sculpture Center (2009), one of five inaugural Fifth Star Awards from the City of Chicago (2014), and 15 honorary degrees from universities across the country.

About Rapheal Mathis

Rapheal Mathis began his journey with poetry in the eighth grade, continuing throughout high school and beyond. In 2013, Mathis was recognized as the Illinois State Champion representing our state as a top nine National Finalist at Poetry Out Loud, a partnership program of the National Endowment for the Arts and The Poetry Foundation. (Poetry Out Loud reaches three million students and 50,000 teachers from 10,000 schools in all 50 states plus the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands.) Mathis is no stranger to the arts, having grown throughout his college career to become a spoken-word artist who is spreading a message of hope. He believes that everyone has a place here on Earth and should be passionate about their purpose in life. Mathis is always looking for new opportunities to spread this message and to use his gift to impact lives.

About Arts Alliance Illinois

Arts Alliance Illinois activates artists, creatives, and cultural organizations through systems and policy change to put arts at the center of Illinois communities. With nearly 25,000 active subscribers and hundreds of members, the Alliance is the only statewide, multidisciplinary organization concentrated on the health of the entire creative sector, strategically focused on civic engagement, arts education, cultural equity, and arts access. The Alliance works to realize a world in which the arts are central and indispensable to Illinois, where people acknowledge that the arts fuel creativity and innovation, sharpen our state’s competitive edge, attract and retain talent, promote cross-cultural understanding, and aid in solving civic and social issues, keeping Illinois nationally and globally connected. Visit to learn more.