By Dawn Watson
Celebrating its upcoming 85th season, East Hampton’s Guild Hall hosted its annual Lifetime Achievement Awards Dinner on Tuesday, March 8, at the Rainbow Room in Manhattan.
Hosted by artist and Sag Harbor resident Eric Fischl, the evening’s honorees included artist Mary Heilmann, writer A.M. Homes, actress Sarah Jessica Parker, and philanthropists Charlotte Moss and Barry Friedberg. The Hamptons-based heavy hitters were introduced and handed their gold medal medallions by presenters Rosanne Cash, Howard Milstein, Adam Weinberg and Mr. Fischl, who is also the Academy President at Guild Hall.
The recipients were certainly big draws to the event, as they always are, but this year’s program contained a most memorable twist. During the end of her acceptance speech for Performing Arts, which was presented by Mr. Fischl, Ms. Parker gave out a final award, presenting a large, sparkling glass-cut pyramid-shaped gem to Guild Hall’s Executive Director Ruth Appelhof, who will be retiring from her post later this year after 16 years at the helm of the mainstay cultural institution.
Ms. Parker, a self-professed “enthusiastic patron and audience member” talked about her love of Guild Hall—from the theatrical productions and New York City Ballet performances (the actress sits on the board) to the concerts and the museum offerings.
“Yes, I do buy the art they put out on the lawn,” she laughed.
The actress added that she even “gets sentimental about the billboard” out in front of the building when the end of the season draws near, calling it a “call to arms to see more next year.”
Ms. Parker then introduced Ms. Appelhof what she called “an amuse bouche,” a few words that she and playwright Jon Robin Baitz, a past Lifetime Achievement honoree, had written for the occasion.
“She not only knows that a big part of art is access for everyone, she’s also an incredibly kind and warm person. She’s an easy person to love; not just to respect and admire, which we all do,” she said. “It’s an honor to honor her.”
Ms. Appelhof was surprised at the addition to the program but accepted her award in stride. After asking the staff and the board members to stand and be acknowledged, she thanked her peers and gave a brief thanks.
“It’s been a great trip,” she said simply.
Another surprise that wasn’t on the program included an announcement by Mr. Weinberg, the Alice Pratt Brown Director of the Whitney Museum, that the Empire State Building, which was visible through the south-facing windows of the Rainbow Room, had been turned pink in honor of Ms. Heilmann. In return, the Visual Arts honoree, who has lived in Bridgehampton for the past 20 years, joked that she had always hoped to be center stage.
“When I was a kid, I was a diver and wanted to be in the Olympics because I always wanted people to look at me,” she said as she clutched her Lifetime Achievement gold medal. “So this is working out.”
In presenting the Literary Arts award to her “soul sister” and good friend, Ms. Cash said that she’d “love to mine the landscape of the mind” of Ms. Homes, whom she called “a surgeon of the psyche” who “writes about boys with Barbie fetishes, the Reagans, chubby teenage girls …” and twice referred to as a “literary terrorist,” crediting Edward Albee for that particular title.
“I’m too young for a Lifetime Achievement award; though my joints and knees would beg to differ,” Ms. Homes said upon receiving her gold medallion. Calling herself “a relative newcomer with only 30 years in the Hamptons,” she thanked Guild Hall and the numerous East End writers and artists who had become her extended family.
“I’m grateful to have this wonderful place, and all of you as my community,” she said.
Mr. Millstein, an old friend to both Ms. Moss and Mr. Friedberg, as well as a longtime business partner to his former Merrill Lynch boss reported on his friends’ “wisdom, grace humility and generosity of spirit.” He then awarded the couple the Special Award for Leadership and Philanthropic Endeavors.
Ms. Moss, a world-renowned interior designer, and her investment banker husband, Mr. Friedberg, said that they were deeply touched by the acknowledgement of their work and also committed to Guild Hall’s mission.
“We respect the work of Guild Hall and the unique role that it plays in the community,” said Mr. Friedberg.
“It’s so important to have this cultural base in the Hamptons,” added Ms. Moss.