Gordon Parks Foundation Awards Dinner and Auction Raises Over $2.2 Million for Next Generation Artists

On the evening of May 19 at Cipriani 42nd Street in New York City, a hip crowd of approximately 500 guests celebrated the legacy of photographer Gordon Parks and raised more than $2.2 million to support educational programs at the Gordon Parks Foundation and the Gordon Parks Art and Social Justice. Fund, which supports today’s generation of artists in their creative endeavours.

Presenters from various industries introduced each winner of the Gordon Parks Foundation Awards, singing their praises with beautifully poignant speeches: CNN presenter Anderson Cooper presented to Mark Bradford; minister and social activist Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II introduced Laurene Powell to Jobs; Jackson Lee and Satchel Lee introduced their parents, Tonya and Spike Lee; Jazz at Lincoln Center musician and artistic director Wynton Marsalis presented Darren Walke, and Gordon Parks Foundation Executive Director Peter W. Kunhardt, Jr. presented a special tribute to Cora Taylor with LaToya artist Ruby Frazier. Kunhardt opened the awards ceremony by sharing her own memories and her father’s close friendship with Parks.

One of the highlights of the evening was a sermon by Reverend Dr. Barber II who reminded the audience how sacred our lives are and to make every moment count. Jobs followed with his beautiful reflection on Parks, highlighting how he embodied the notion of a multidisciplinary artist. “Gordon was like many people, brimming with creativity that could not be contained by any one medium,” she said. Indeed, Parks excelled in all media – photography, film, music composition and writing – and it’s only fitting that the hall of supporters and winners includes talents of all kinds like Amy Sherald, Bisa Butler, Julie Mehretu, Jill Krementz, Henry Taylor, Lorna Simpson, Renee Cox and Radcliffe Bailey.

Upon accepting his award, Braford spoke from the bottom of his heart as he proclaimed the importance of supporting artists at their highest and lowest points. Other moving moments of the evening included heartfelt tributes to the late Maurice Berger, my late writing mentor who wrote extensively about Parks’ work, and to Genevieve Young, Parks’ wife and accomplished writer and editor. The first Genevieve Young Writing Fellowship was awarded to Nicole Fleetwood, who shared her plans for showcasing Parks’ impeccable aesthetic.

The evening ended with an auction of selected photographs from Parks’ portfolio. Kaseem “Swizz Beatz” Dean, co-chair of the Gordon Parks Foundation Awards, took the final photo of the lot, a striking image of Malcom X for $200,000. Parks famous shot, Separate drinking fountain, from his 1956 Life magazine essay documenting segregation in the Jim Crow South, sold for a winning bid of $170,000. Cora Taylor, who was recently identified as one of the photo’s subjects, was also honored and shared a lovely speech reminding all women not to give up: “Y’all got it.” Taylor’s resilience and encouragement echoed the mood of the evening, and Black Thought’s musical performance had attendees celebrating each other and, more importantly, Parks’ legacy.

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