She Brakes for Rainbows

Wide Rainbows curatorial director Lola Kramer, Bevin Butler, artist Elizabeth Jaeger, Wide Rainbows founder Ashley Gail Harris, curator Eliza Ryan, Morgan Connellee, and Wide Rainbows director Maia Ruth Lee. (Photo: Dan McMahon)

IT’S HARD FOR ME to feel at home at most “gala season” events. For starters, I can’t hold my alcohol. I also start to feel a serious disconnect between my roots—as the Jersey-born offspring of a family of public school teachers—and the way certain sectors of the art world court the one percent. Not to mention the fact that soigné events almost never take place in my neighborhood.

But Wide Rainbow’s first annual gala on May 14 was the exception to the rule. The nonprofit organization, founded three years ago by Ashley Gail Harris, is a DIY female-empowerment engine providing free after-school arts programs for girls around New York City. Carting art supplies in the back of a 1996 Ford Explorer, Wide Rainbow organizes workshops with an all-star list of volunteer female thinkers and makers, including Alisa Baremboym, Nicole Eisenman, LaToya Ruby Frazier, Camille Henrot, and DJ Venus X.

Whitney Museum curator Jane Panetta and curator Eliza Ryan. (Photo: Wendy Vogel)

The event was hosted at the dreamy postindustrial 99 Scott space in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn, tucked behind a bar called Honey’s (named for its signature ingredient, mead). Wide Rainbow’s fashionable three graces—Harris, director Maia Ruth Lee, and curatorial director Lola Kramer—were putting the final touches on the seating chart as I walked in, wearing shades of white, red, and blue.

In the garden, Honey’s mixologist Arley Marks created dazzling cocktails with mezcal, sake, spirulina, and turmeric that were a feast for the eyes, if not for the stomach. (On assignment, I steer clear of anything harder than wine.) The family-style dinner catering to all manner of palate was whipped up by the female-powered duo of Dria Atencio and former Mission Chinese chef Angela Dimayuga. If it sounds fashionable, it was—but it was also a family affair. Artist Elizabeth Jaeger took her father to the event, while Creatures of Comfort’s Jade Lai brought her baby along, with giant headphones to muffle the DJ set.

Artist Elizabeth Jaeger and her father, Charles Brown. (Photo: Wendy Vogel)

Hours after news erupted about the attacks in Gaza, I spotted artists Sara Greenberger Rafferty and Jordan Nasser deep in conversation about the situation. When asked about his connection to Wide Rainbow, Nasser replied that he babysits Lee’s son, Nima. For her part, Rafferty has led a Wide Rainbow workshop at the Lower East Side Girls’ Club. Inspired by Paul Thek’s 4-D design class at Cooper Union, Rafferty asked her students to make life-size paper dolls.

Lee joked during her remarks that many of the Wide Rainbow artists find that young students are the hardest audience to please. But the volunteer instructors discover that teaching is a great method for exploring their own processes. Poet and artist Precious Okoyomon told me that she directed a class on meditation and led a healing session at the Young Women’s Leadership School in Brooklyn. Lee said that Anicka Yi would soon be conducting a create-your-own fragrance workshop.

Artists Kendra Valle, Precious Okoyomon, and Remy Maelen. (Photo: Wendy Vogel)

Capitalizing on their DIY spirit, the Wide Rainbow team asked designer and artist Susan Cianciolo to create an edition for the gala. The value of each Star Textile Book Kit—hearkening back to Cianciolo’s make-your-own-denim-skirt days—was the monetary equivalent of one workshop. As guests filed in for dinner, Erin Leland of the Lower East Side gallery Bridget Donahue, which represents Cianciolo, chatted nearby with another of Donahue’s artists, Jessi Reaves. Reaves showed off her new white Maison Margiela Tabi boots, which she snagged after designing furniture for the house’s spring couture show in January.

Artists Tauba Auerbach and Mary Manning with Creatures of Comfort founder Jade Lai. (Photo: Wendy Vogel)

Painter and enfant terrible (not to mention fellow Jersey gal) Jamian Juliano-Villani slid in next to me as the speeches started, looking crisp even as she complained of a hangover and alluded to some Tinder war stories. Indeed, she was one of the stars of the evening. A short and heartwarming Wide Rainbow documentary featuring Juliano-Villani’s workshop at the Jacob A. Riis Settlement House was screened. In it, the artist translated her absurdist sense of humor into a group compositional exercise. To get the kids started, she asked for suggestions of things you wouldn’t see in art. “How about the inside of a toilet?” she asked, as the girls shrieked with laughter. “Some of them can draw better than me!” she said of her young charges.

The entertainment portion rounded out as Madeline Hollander’s troupe of dancers performed up and down the long aisles between tables. Hollander, who conducted several movement workshops for Wide Rainbow, explained that she structured her beautiful choreography on “palindrome” shapes of the rainbow. A short, low-key set by Dev Hynes (aka Blood Orange) ended the night, before the deadline-observant left and the beautiful ones drifted off to Honey’s.

Musician Dev Hynes, aka Blood Orange. (Photo: Dan McMahon)