Russell Simmons believes a creative mind is a terrible thing to waste. It's the reason that the hip-hop mogul and his brother Danny Simmons launched the Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation 14 years ago. Once a pupil of the arts, Simmons can attest to the positive influence of such programs on the development of any child or teenager so he's on a mission to raise funds for his cause—even in this anemic economy when few have any to give. ESSENCE.com caught up with Simmons to discuss his upcoming Arts for Life Miami Beach gala, the proven value of creative programs and why he's trying to follow President Obama's lead.
ESSENCE.COM: How do you continue to remain so proactive in the artistic community with fundraisers such as the 2009 Art For Life Miami Beach gala through your Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation while creative school programming is suffering so many cut backs?
SIMMONS: We are working twice as hard. Last year we did the same and achieved our numbers. Unfortunately, we haven't done as well as I'd hoped, but we are still doing a lot better than other organizations. We are thankful for those who have donated, but the economy is taking its toll.
ESSENCE.COM: Some have argued that funding such creative programs has no proven value. Do you agree?
SIMMONS: I can't stress enough how important creative programs are in a student's development. Without these programs schools are like prisons with no creative outlets. It's a proven fact that artistic communities have always flourished. So our children need these programs not just as a form of expression but to thrive in academia.
ESSENCE.COM: Many believe that someone of your stature wouldn't have a problem raising money with the rich buddies you have. Is that not the case?
SIMMONS: No it isn't. The economy is sinking and because of that so many are fearful of how they spend their money. In this time of need especially for those who are struggling and don't have the basic things that we all take for granted, you hope that charitable donations might increase for those who can afford to je;[, but many people have stopped giving. I'm certain my rich friends are sick of hearing from me but I won't give up.
ESSENCE.COM: We admire your passion. Last year your benefit was such a huge success. Have you developed a new strategy?
SIMMONS: Yes, we're taking President Obama's lead with his strategy for his campaign fundraising by welcoming grassroots-fundraising. Anyone can contribute to the charity. Even if it's one dollar, anyone and everyone can donate. Imagine if 100,000 people donated one dollar we'd easily have a six-figure-donation. That's what we're aiming to do is really encourage the community to pitch in because every little bit counts.
To make a donation to Russell and Danny Simmons's Art for Life, visit rushphilanthropic.org and check out globalgrind.com.