Equitas Health’s ‘Art for Life: On The Town’ Kicks off September 27
Until recent day, and in some places still, members of the LGBTQ+ community have long dealt with hate, prejudice and discrimination. Looking through an intersectional lens, it’s safe to say that the struggles that cis, white individuals within the community have seen improve or disappear still exist, and can even be magnified, when factors like race and country of origin are considered. There’s still a long way to go.
For sanctuary, many LGBTQ+ folks have turned to the arts community, a seemingly natural hotbed for free thinking, open-mindedness and acceptance. Locally, this organic connection has been formalized, manifesting in the biennial Art for Life event created by Equitas Health.
First executed in 1989, at the height of the HIV/AIDs epidemic, Art for Life’s gala brought together partners from the arts community to raise money and awareness.
“The way it originally started was the AIDs epidemic was taking a lot of lives, specifically in direct correlation with the arts community,” said Heather Llewellyn, Development and Special Events Manager for Equitas Health. “So, artists got together and said ‘You know, we don’t have a lot of money, but we can donate art.’ And then the philanthropic side said ‘We can purchase the art.’”
So began Art for Life. Every other year since then, the event has come back and raised more and more money. Starting with a collection total of just $3,000 at the event’s premiere, Art for Life now boasts an annual total of hundreds of thousands of dollars. The down side? The benefits haven’t been felt by the arts community itself — the organizations and institutions who’ve supported the event for nearly 30 years.
This year, Llewellyn is “flipping the script,” using a new format called Art for Life: On the Town to put supporters of the arts and LGBTQ communities inside the galleries and venues involved.
“I think galas are a little played in Columbus. There’s one every weekend, if not two or three, so we were just trying to figure out how to do something unique and that showed thanks for our partners for what they do for us every other year,” Llewellyn said.
Participants in this year’s Art for Life will be able to attend any of 13 “experiences,” which delve into every art discipline, from visual to performance, to music, to film.
Short North’s Torso will host one experience, A Rudely Elegant Tribute to Corbett Reynolds. Reynolds spent much of his life on the frontline of the AIDs crisis, and helped establish a vibrant nightlife for the local LGBTQ community when he opened his nightclub Rudely Elegant, in Franklinton. He passed away in 2002, leaving behind a colorful reputation marked by his famous RED party, which raised funds and awareness around HIV and AIDs.
For one night only, on Thursday, September 28, the RED party is coming back, featuring DJ Julian Marsh, who spun at the party’s last incarnation in 2001. Torso will transform into a gallery of Corbett’s art and will include food and beverages.
Equitas programming goes deep into the arts community at the Columbus Museum of Art as well, which will give a tour to 20 participants exploring the “Secrets of the Museum.”
Going behind the art, Leadership Giving Officer for the Columbus Museum of Art, Gabriel Mastin, will accompany executive director Nannette Maciejunes in exploring the backgrounds and contexts of pieces in the museum’s collection.
“Artists are people, too, with lives and stories,” Mastin said. “I think that art comes to life when you know the story about the artist.”
“We want to show that the Columbus Museum of Art’s permanent collection encompasses many queer artists,” he continued.
Men and Mountains, by Rockwell Kent, is one piece worth examining. Finished in 1909, it was added to collection in 1912, and was considered too scandalous to be viewed by women and children. As a result, the painting was placed into a private gallery with men-only access, “which is just funny now,” noted Mastin, “because there was no thought of them being homoerotic; it was just that it was scandalous.”
Men and Mountains is just one of many works to be pieced apart by Maciejunes during her tour of scandal and intrigue. By highlighting queer artists, as well as art with relevant subject matter, Mastin said the museum is showing how its message parallels that of Equitas Health.
“I think part of our message is that we’re proud of our queer artists. We’re proud of our collection,” Mastin said, “and I think Equitas believes in care for all, and we believe in art for all.”
Mastin relates the event to his own personal experience growing up as a gay man in a small town.
“I mean, I’ll speak for myself — I think LGBTQ people often come from places where they feel marginalized or shut out from other circles or afraid of the people that they’re around,” he said, “and I grew up in a small town and felt ostracized and condemned for being gay, but I always felt at home at cultural and arts institutions even in my small town. I think the arts have provided, historically, a safe place for people from the LGBTQ community.”
The event, also taking place on September 28, will be followed by wine and hors d’oeuvres provided by Cameron Mitchell Restaurants.
For more information on Art for Life: On the Town, visit onthetown.equitashealth.com.
For more information on Equitas Health, visit equitashealth.com.