The Art of
Consider the host committee of Hollywood stars, among them
The always-impressive crowd, along with an ingenious art installation for a venue, help account for the gala's ever-growing popularity, but there are other key factors as well.
Of primary importance is that the charity's 4,000 actors, musicians, filmmakers, writers, fashion designers and other artists care deeply about the cause: bringing art into the lives of children coping with serious medical conditions. They donate their time by doing volunteer work at 17 hospitals, hospices, special-needs schools and outpatient facilities in Los Angeles and five hospitals in New York. The fact that many volunteers are famous came as a side benefit.
"We never went out looking for celebrities," said Jennifer Howell, who founded the organization in 1997. "We look for artists of any kind who can reach inside their hearts and souls and use what they have creatively to help children express themselves."
In Greek mythology, Elysium is where the gods bring fallen heroes after death. The thesaurus gives "heaven" as a synonym — hence, the name of the organization that strives to offer "a place or condition of ideal happiness." Howell said she hopes to bring hospitalized children to that place through creative workshops in acting, fine art, music, fashion design, writing and other pursuits.
Howell founded the organization after a friend who was dying of
She started volunteering in children's wards and brought along friends, most of whom were artists. Given a common belief in the healing power of art, the initial volunteers brought in more volunteers, also artists. "It's all been word of mouth," she said.
David Arquette said he believes the charity's focus on creative expression appeals to the acting community. "That's what's guided us in our lives, and beyond that, it feeds our souls," he said, naming art, drama and dance classes, theater games and a "fun Olympics" among his previous volunteer activities at various medical facilities, "wherever kids need a little fun, something to take their minds off their difficulties."
Such work, he said, "keeps our egos in check and brings us down-to-earth. It keeps us from getting caught up in the stuff that's not real in Hollywood."
Participants continue to rally friends to the cause. James Franco said Kirsten Dunst introduced him to the group at a time when he was achieving career success but not finding inner contentment. "I was grateful for the outside success, but I learned a lot of unhappiness comes when I'm a little too focused on myself," he said.
Through the organization (www.theartofelysium.org), Franco started volunteering by shifting his focus to All Saints HealthCare, a home for patients with complex medical problems. "A loving presence would have been enough for the kids," he said, but because he had experience with acting and writing, Franco and one of the children co-wrote a holiday play. That play is still performed annually, and Dunst has been a cast member.
Colleen Atwood brought her design team to Kaiser Permanente Medical Center to work with children in the outpatient cancer program for
The gala helps fund the activities. Since the first one in January 2008, the annual event is traditionally scheduled for the night before the
"Everyone was out here for the Globes," Howell said. "[The women] had their dresses, and they had nowhere to go. Everyone wanted to come to our party."
People — celebrated and otherwise — still do. Howell said last year, many potential guests had to be turned away because of the venue's space limitations.
For that shindig, vintage fashion king Cameron Silver turned Union Station into his idea of a timeless heaven. Other years, downtown's Vibiana , the
As this year's Visionary Award recipient, Atwood will imagine her afterworld, noted in the invitation as "where the sea meets the sky in the mist of the eye." In more concrete terms — literally — the gala will take place inside a tunnel in Los Angeles.
Atwood explained the meeting place as the horizon, as seen from the drive along the ocean, which seems to drift through space. "I love it, because I love getting up really early in the morning and taking the drive along the ocean," she said. "It's a really creative time for me."