Sean Penn’s star-studded CORE Gala in L.A. raises $5 million

Balthazar Getty, from left, Sean Penn and Sean Parker at the CORE Gala at the Wiltern in Los Angles on Wednesday.
(Kevin Mazur / Getty Images for CORE Gala)

From the podium at the star-studded CORE Gala on Wednesday, a modest Sean Penn began by acknowledging that many people contributed to the formation of CORE, the Community Organized Relief Effort, and its ongoing work.

“I get an undue amount of credit for [CORE], but that’s the job of a poster boy,” he said. Formerly known as the J/P Haitian Relief Organization, CORE has been saving lives and strengthening communities in crisis since Haiti’s 2010 earthquake and then continuing to provide assistance after disasters in Puerto Rico, the Bahamas and the U.S.

For the record:

2:26 p.m. Jan. 17, 2020An earlier version of this story reported that the Chuck Close lithograph, “Cindy (Smile),” donated by Leonardo DiCaprio, brought in $120,000 during a live auction. It raked in $110,000. Also, the ambassador of Qatar to the United States, Sheikh Meshal bin Hamad al Thani, was incorrectly identified.

Then again, not everyone would agree with Penn’s downplaying his contributions. “I’m forever grateful to Sean Penn for the work he’s done in Haiti,” said Haitian American actress Garcelle Beauvais in a conversation during cocktail hour at the gala, held at the Wiltern in Los Angeles.

Honoree Fernando Sulichin, left, and Naomi Campbell at the CORE Gala.
(Michael Kovac / Getty Images for CORE Gala)

Also, early in the evening, fashion designer Donna Karan called the two-time Academy Award-winning actor “amazing.”

By way of introducing honorees Rosetta and Balthazar Getty, Patricia Arquette, too, gave a shoutout to Penn. In speaking of the Gettys’ many philanthropies, Arquette mentioned their trip together to Haiti, where they found people lacking in basic essentials and then did “what you do when you have nowhere else to turn. We called Sean Penn for help.”


Hosted by talent manager Bryan Lourd, venture investor Vivi Nevo and Penn; chaired by Lynne and Marc Benioff, Alexandra and Sean Parker and Jolene and Michael Rapino; and emceed by Conan O’Brien, the gala raised $5 million and honored the Gettys along with artist Ed Ruscha, civil rights attorney Ben Crump and filmmaker Fernando Sulichin. Record producer Jimmy Iovine, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and supermodel Naomi Campbell did the presentations.

Honorees Rosetta and Balthazar Getty speak onstage during the CORE Gala.
(Michael Kovac / Getty Images for CORE Gala)

During his time onstage, Penn emphasized the importance of today’s climate crisis to a crowd thick with A-list celebrities and other VIPs, including Leonardo DiCaprio, Julia Roberts and Danny Moder, Roma Downey and Mark Burnett, Dylan Penn, Hopper Penn, Connie Britton, David Arquette, Jason Derulo, G-Eazy, Alyssa Milano, Laura Dunn, Soleil Moon Frye, Karolina Kurkova, Dree Hemingway, Sara Gilbert, Rebecca Gayheart, Alexander Ludwig, Leila George, former California Sen. Barbara Boxer, Canadian financier Frank Giustra and Sheikh Meshal bin Hamad al Thani, Qatar’s ambassador to the United States.

“With the climate emergency, disaster striking at an ever-increasing rate, there’s no time to waste in responding to them,” Penn told the audience. “So, when people are dying, our CORE pledge is to take action the moment action is demanded.”

And thus a high-stakes auction began, raking in $110,000 for a Chuck Close lithograph, “Cindy (Smile),” donated by DiCaprio; $65,000 each from two bidders for a trip to Qatar for the final match of the 2022 World Cup; $50,000 for Jim Carrey’s painting “Out of Nowhere — Eva”; $100,000 for lunch with Penn and Ruscha; and $140,000 for a living-room concert performance by Portugal. The Man.

Jenny Lewis, left, and Beck perform onstage during the CORE Gala.
(Kevin Mazur / Getty Images for CORE Gala)

Musical entertainment, curated by singer-songwriter Linda Perry, punctuated the evening, beginning with Henning May, who launched into “Roxanne” as soon as guests settled at their tables. Portugal. The Man served as a house band, playing its songs between the onstage remarks; Beck and Jenny Lewis teamed up for a duet; and Dwight Yoakam closed the evening.

Presented by Generation Amazing, which uses soccer to teach life, learning and leadership skills to young people in vulnerable communities such as Haiti, the affair attracted more than 400 guests, buying tickets ranging from $5,000 to $10,000 for tickets.

For anyone wanting a selfie, Penn also offered to take them — for a price.

“I’m anxious to do it,” he said. “We’ll go $5,000 a pop.”