Fountain House Gallery Makes Magic at “Mad About Art”
Jim Luce, Contributor 12/11/2017 08:10 am ET

Fountain House Gallery’s annual Mad About Art auction and benefit is an eagerly anticipated harbinger of the festive New York holiday season. This year’s splendid celebration, recently held at the venue Metropolitan West, attracted more than 400 guests who made merry as they supported the remarkable work of the Gallery, which provides an environment in which artists living with mental illness can express their creative visions, exhibit their work, and challenge the stigma that often surrounds mental illness.

The dancing, prancing Hungry March Band wowed the Mad About Art crowd. Photo: Leslie Barbaro Photography/Fountain House.

All Gallery artists are members of Fountain House, the leading community-based center for mental health recovery and the model for more than 300 programs throughout the United States and around the world.

Fountain House Gallery Director Ariel Willmott (center) with (left to right):Gallery Board member Frank Maresca of Ricco/Maresca Gallery, C. Hugh Hildesley of Sotheby’s, and Honorees Matthew Higgs and Robert Schifellite. Photo: Leslie Barbaro Photography/Fountain House.

This year’s Mad About Art theme was “Music on My Mind.” Many of the more than 100 art pieces on display for electronic auction depicted musical themes, while a host of other works represented a wider range of subject matter. The artwork was arrayed strikingly around the vast space, with one wall dedicated to pieces hand- picked by a roster of Special Guest Curators: Art-world luminaries including the likes of Cindy Sherman, KAWS, and William Wegman were among those who each selected one Gallery artist and chose one work by that artist to be featured on the “Curators’ Wall.”

Wall of Art: A special display featured Fountain House Gallery works curated by art-world VIPs. Photo: Leslie Barbaro Photography/Fountain House.

ThisMad About Artcelebration was a fitting capper to what has been an extraordinary year for Fountain House Gallery, and Gallery Director Ariel Willmott reported to the crowd news of two noteworthy happenings. Front and center was the realization of a long-held dream: the establishment of Fountain House Studio, a commodious space in which the artists can create and collaborate. Located in the landmark Silks Building in the art hub Long Island City, the Studio now complements the Gallery’s Manhattan home base.

The event’s signature image was Gallery artist Anthony Newton’s rendering of jazz great Dizzy Gillespie.The original oil painting resides in a private collection. Photo: Leslie Barbaro Photography/Fountain House.

Fountain House Studio provides member-artistswith the resources, training, inspiration, and support they need to succeed in the highly competitive art world. Access to the Studio, where free art supplies are available, assists these artists in moving to a new level of creativity, expanding their marketable portfolios, and advancing their efforts to achieve broader name recognition and commercial success. The Studio offers individual workspaces to artists on a rotating basis, and the space is available to all Gallery artists and to the larger Fountain House community during designated hours.

The “Fountain House Mural” is on permanent view on both sides of 34th Street, between 9th and 10th Avenues. Photo: Fountain House Gallery.

The other significant 2017 happening recounted by Ariel was the creation of a large- scale mural spotlighting mental health that is on permanent view to the public. Made by members of Fountain House in partnership with the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the mural is now enlivening the Port Authority Bridge on 34th Street between 9th and 10th Avenues. Installed last summer across both sides of the street, the 180-foot-long mural marks the culmination of a yearlong joint endeavor of people living with mental illness, artists, and community members.

Gallery artist Boo Lynn Walsh shared her personal story with the assembled guests. Photo: Leslie Barbaro Photography/Fountain House.

Gallery artist Boo Lynn Walsh took to the podium to share her personal story with the assembled guests. Boo Lynn was a particularly appropriate speaker for this year’s event, as she was among the inaugural crop of Resident Artists at the new Fountain House Studio and was a dedicated mainstay during the months of work on the West 34th Street mural. She spoke movingly of her profound gratitude for the Studio and said that the boon of working there had heightened her creative energies and inspired the addition of a number of fresh pieces to her portfolio.

Eminent Sotheby’s senior auctioneer C. Hugh Hildesley boosted the Studio Pledge Driveto a record-breaking high. Photo: Leslie Barbaro Photography/Fountain House.

As the establishment of Fountain House Studio was made possible primarily through the generous support of individual donors, Mad About Art featured a Studio Pledge Drive to ensure that the space continues to thrive. Conducting the Pledge Drive was the distinguished Sotheby’s senior auctioneer C. Hugh Hildesley, who brought the energy in the room sky-high, eliciting from the crowd record-breaking funds earmarked for the Studio. What a pro!

In keeping with the event’s musical theme, Gallery artist Deborah Standard created the “LPs & 45s” mobile that greeted the more than 400 guests as they entered. Photo: Leslie Barbaro Photography/Fountain House.

Mad About Art honored two recipients of the Esther Montanez Leadership Award, established in memory of the Gallery’s founding director. Honoree Matthew Higgs is Director/Chief Curator of the prestigious White Columns, New York’s oldest alternative art space. Known for his passionate commitment to supporting artists throughout their careers and for his prolific curatorial and writing endeavors, Matthew has curated an exhibition at Fountain House Gallery and has provided breakthrough opportunities for selected Gallery artists to show their work at White Columns.

The author with Honorees Matthew Higgs and Robert Schifellite. Photo: Leslie Barbaro Photography/Fountain House.

Honoree Robert Schifellite is President, Investor Communication Solutions, Broadridge Financial Solutions, Inc. Access to employment opportunities is central to the Fountain House philosophy; Broadridge has been a stalwart employer of Fountain House members for 25 years and a loyal supporter of the Gallery for 15. On hand to present the Award to his colleague was Broadridge CEO Richard J. Daly, who was himself honored at a past Gallery event. Following in the laudable Broadridge tradition of providing jobs for Fountain House members, the creative and strategic advertising agency Droga5 was recognized with the Emerging Employer Award.

Mad About Art 2017 was indeed a rousing artistic and financial success, but the artists of Fountain House Gallery aren’t resting on their laurels. They have made dozens of original works for the Gallery’s annual “Small Works: $100 & Under” show, a perennial favorite of holiday shoppers and collectors. You can catch this exhibition now through December 22 at the Gallery, based since 2000 at 702 Ninth Avenue. Treat yourself to a visit and feast your eyes on the dazzling cornucopia of works made by this gifted band of artists.

- With Camille Tibaldeo.

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