art4life_simmons.jpgThe future of arts education looks a little brighter in sunny South Florida thanks to Russell Simmons and some of his well-intentioned and well-heeled friends. Rush Philanthropic Foundation’s 1st Art for Life Miami Benefit Gala raised close to $600,000 for youth arts organizations on South Beach last week.

“We were really pleased with the turnout and the energy we saw at the event,” said Tangie Murray, executive director of Rush Philanthropic. “Miami is very arts friendly and passionate about supporting arts education.”

The gala honored musicians John Legend and Wyclef Jean, personal finance expert Suze Orman and Miami- based real estate developer R. Donahue Peebles. The honorees were recognized for their work  supporting youth arts programs.

“To hear the speeches of the honorees is always a special part of the gala. Our honorees gave great speeches and it was inspiring to hear them tell their stories of life with the arts,” Murray said.

Art for Life is the brainchild of Russell Simmons and his brother Danny. The fundraising event raised $200,000 during the live auction segment of the night’s activities. Patrons bid for trips and basketball tips and the ability to sponsor a “Rush Kid” in the Rush Philanthropic Foundation’s arts education program for a year.

“That really is the heart of the event. We like to support the organizations and to impact a young person directly,” Murray said.

Celebrities in attendance sponsored several youths. Dwyane Wade and Kansas City Chiefs running back Larry Johnson each sponsored 10 students. The Florida Film Institute, Thomas Armour Youth Ballet and, DASH (Design and Architecture Senior High School) were among the organizations that received grants for their arts education programs.

Simmons brought his star power to bear. Actors, athletes and philanthropists walked the red carpet to Peebles Bath Club on Millionaire’s Row in South Beach. Celebrities and the relatively ordinary mingled together amid a sea of balloons.

“These are just our friends. The people here tonight have been coming to the gala for years, whether it was in the Hamptons or in Palm Beach. People will turn out when they know they can relax, have fun and have a positive impact on the world,” said gala co-chair Tracy Wilson-Mourning, wife of Miami Heat center Alonzo Mourning.

“It’s looking like we’ll be back in Miami next year,” Murray said.

Photo by Khary Bruyning. Russell Simmons, left, and his brother, Danny, envisioned the Art for Life fundraiser.