BAM honors three art-lovers at June 10 fundraiser

Members of Antibalas, Domenica Fossati (center), perform onstage at BAM Gala 2021.
Photo by Bryan Bedder/Getty Images

Art lovers flocked to Brooklyn Academy of Music on June 10 for a fundraiser honoring actor Sir Patrick Stewart, choreographer Jawole Willa Jo Zillar, and philanthropist Shelby White.

The intimate event of approximately 150 guests, including members of BAM’s leadership board, successfully raised $1 million to help support and secure a future for BAM and the art community in Brooklyn.

The honorees, selected due to their embodiment of BAM’s “adventurous spirit and commitment to the arts,” gave their respective speeches virtually, via video.

“First of all, let me say how honored and how delighted I am to be receiving this distinction,” said actor Sir Patrick Stewart.

Although widely known for his acting in X-Men and Star Trek, Sir Patrick Stewart first appeared on BAM’s stage in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s 1971 production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and again as Macbeth in 2008.

“Brooklyn, and the Brooklyn Academy of Music has played a significant role in my life,” Stewart said.

Dancers Chanon Judson and Samantha Speis perform onstage at BAM Gala 2021.Photo by Bryan Bedder/Getty Images

Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, founder of the dance company Urban Bush Women (UBW), began her legacy at BAM in 1988 when her dance group was featured in DanceAfrica, a community celebration centered on the dance forms of the African Diaspora. Since then, she has returned to BAM numerous times with UBW to present works that highlighted women and the African Diaspora experience.

“I keep thinking about my memories of BAM and my early times at BAM, and…being thrilled by the…activity on the stage,” Jo Zoller said. “The range of artists that are available in this community, in this nation…in the world, are part of the BAM family. I am happy to be a part of that family. Thank you for this honor.”

Shelby White, a Brooklyn native and founding trustee of the Leon Levy Foundation, was honored for her work and advocacy of the “preservation, understanding, and expansion of knowledge in the arts and humanities, ancient world, nature and gardens, neuroscience, human rights and Jewish culture.”

“It is a great pleasure to accept this award on behalf of the Leon Levy Foundation,” White said. “BAM is one of the most important cultural institutions in Brooklyn. And as a foundation that has decided we want to support all of the cultural institutions of our city, this was extremely gratifying when we were able to work with BAM and support it.”

While the event honored these individuals for their contributions to the art community, the gala was also filled with high-energy performances.

In this screengrab released on June 10, Jawole Willa Jo Zollar speaks during 2021 BAM Gala at Howard Gilman Opera House.Photo by Jaime McCarthy/BAM/Getty Images for BAM

The Grammy-nominated and Brooklyn-based Afrobeat band Antibalas headlined the gathering, marking the first live, in-person performance in the opera house in more than a year.

Other performances from the night included one from co-artistic directors at UBW Chanon Judson and Samantha Spies, as well as a surprise rendition of Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day” by host Helga Davis, accompanied by Taylor Levine on the guitar.

Throughout the evening, spirits remained high, with an impromptu dance party unfolding in the back of the opera house where guests and ushers danced with one another.

As BAM continues to find ways to bring artists and audiences together in the aftermath of the pandemic, this gala marked the first of many more in-person events in the future.