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American Express, Pharrell, and Friends Raise a Toast to Arts Education at the Yellow Ball

The creative world's biggest stars touch down in Brooklyn for a night of art, music, and philanthropy.


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American Express rolled out the yellow carpet for Platinum Card Members September 10th at the Brooklyn Museum. Co-hosted with Amex Creative Director Pharrell, the Yellow Ball, as the event was called, was a gala evening dedicated to raising awareness for the importance of arts education, with proceeds going to Young Audiences Arts for Learning, the nation’s largest network of arts-in-education programs.

In addition to his official duties at Amex, Pharrell should be named chief marketing officer for the color yellow. Through his multitudinous creative outlets—songs, clothing, bicycles, and even his latest hairstyle—he has done more to change yellow’s brand associations to universally positive values like creativity, curiosity, and generosity.

He has long championed the hue as an emblem for his philanthropic work promoting arts education. That initiative reached its apogee at the black-tie gala. “Everything that I do is about giving back to what was given to me,” said Pharrell, who credited teachers at his Virginia public school for identifying and nurturing his musical talent. “Everything that you’re wearing, the phone that you have in your hand, the building itself, the paintings, the sculptures… literally, everything that is not organic was once somebody’s epiphany.” That, he says, is why the institutions that foster artistic creativity “need to be protected at all costs.”

Sitting with him among treasures from antiquity, including a giant alabaster bas-relief of an Assyrian King, I couldn’t take issue with his claim that art is perhaps the most lasting product of human civilization. “Creativity is the fulcrum of it all,” he says. “The Sun is yellow and it’s where all things on this planet come from. Yellow is the source of creativity, and we have to protect that.”

The event, which took place in the third-floor atrium, drew a coterie of Pharrell’s illustrious friends and collaborators. Artist Daniel Arsham—a passionate supporter of arts education in his own right—presented a pop-up exhibition of his latest sculptural work, most of it monochromatic white. Arsham, who is colorblind, nonetheless worked in a few touches of yellow to honor the evening’s theme, notably in the white-and-yellow lab coats worn by the event staff. The color also made an appearance on the plate, in the form of a perfect lemon-butter sauce spooned over hot-smoked salmon in the delectable three-course meal served by Global Dining Collection Chef Dominique Crenn, of San Francisco’s Atelier Crenn.

Illusionist David Blaine roamed the room during cocktails and dinner, performing tricks for the crowd—including Alicia Keys, in counter-programming blue, and her husband, producer Swizz Beats—that ranged from the baffling to the nauseating. It’s a tribute to Crenn’s skill as a chef that diners didn’t lose their appetites even after Blaine regurgitated a live frog into his champagne glass, then downed his coupe, frog and all.

After dinner, the well-heeled crowd danced and rapped along to sets by DJ Stretch Armstrong and hip-hop artist A$AP Ferg (in a black-and-yellow tracksuit and yellow Prada bucket hat). Then came the showstopper, a rousing performance by Missy Elliott and her energetic crew of masked backup dancers. As I took leave from the revelry, I made a detour into the museum’s gloriously empty galleries. The music’s thrumming bass was resonating through the building, and even that Assyrian king seemed to be dancing.


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