NYFA Inducts Sanford Biggers, Karl Kellner, and Min Jin Lee into its Hall of Fame

NYFA Inducts Sanford Biggers, Karl Kellner, and Min Jin Lee into its Hall of Fame

NYSCA/NYFA Artist Fellows and Patron of the Arts celebrated at April 11 Hall of Fame Benefit in Manhattan.

The New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA) inducted three arts luminaries into its Hall of Fame during its annual benefit on April 11 at Capitale. The evening’s honorees were Sanford Biggers, a visual artist whose work speaks to current social, political, and economic happenings while examining the contexts that bore them; Karl Kellner, patron of the arts, Senior Partner, New York Office Managing Partner, McKinsey & Company, Inc., and a former NYFA Board Member; and Min Jin Lee, novelist of the best-selling books Free Food for Millionaires and Pachinko (Grand Central Publishing, 2007 and 2017). The gala was Co-Chaired by Marc Jason and J. Wesley McDade, both members of NYFA’s Board of Trustees. The silent auction was Co-Chaired by Marjorie W. Martay, a NYFA Board Member, and Marjorie Croes Silverman, a NYFA Leadership Council Member.

Guests included Tom Finkelpearl, Commissioner, New York City Department of Cultural Affairs; Anne del Castillo, Acting Commissioner, New York City Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment; artists Derrick Adams, Samira Abbassy, Debi Cornwall, Phyllis GalemboEkwa Msangi, Rajesh Parameswaran, Dread Scott (also a NYFA Board Member), Michael Stamm, and Nina Yankowitz; Thomas Bouillonnec, President & CEO, Graff Diamonds; Liz Christensen, Curator, Deutsche Bank;  Cameron Esposito, Comedian; Stephanie Gabriel, Director, Marianne Boesky Gallery; Suzanne Gluck, Literary Agent, William Morris Endeavor Entertainment; Lorin Gu, Founding Partner, Recharge Capital and NYFA Board Member; Colm Kelleher, CEO, Morgan Stanley; Huriyyah Muhammad, Founder, Black TV & Film Collective; Sang Lee, CEO, Volta Talent Strategies; Howard Pyle, SVP, Customer Experience Design, MetLife and NYFA Board Member; Lucy Sexton, Executive Director, New Yorkers for Arts and Culture; Justin Tobin, Founder & President, DDG and NYFA Board Member; Tiana Webb Evans, Founder, ESP Group and NYFA Board Member; and Shelley V. Worrell, Founder, caribBEING. Artist and NYFA Board Member Carmelita Tropicana served as the event emcee.


Nearly 300 guests gathered to celebrate the 2019 Hall of Fame inductees over cocktails, dinner, and a silent auction of art, experiences, and more. All tickets came with a signed, limited-edition print by Biggers that was created exclusively for the event. Each year, the glamorous gala recognizes the sustained achievements of artists who received early career support from NYFA, and the vision and commitment of enlightened patrons of the arts. Biggers and Lee are past recipients of the NYSCA/NYFA Artist Fellowship, which is an individual unrestricted grant made to artists who are living and working in New York State.

NYFA Board Chair Judith K. Brodsky described NYFA’s support of working artists and why the arts are especially meaningful. “Artists pave the way for dialogue and understanding among diverse viewpoints and voices, something that we desperately need in today’s world,” said Brodsky.

Karl Kellner was the first honoree of the night to be inducted into NYFA’s Hall of Fame. In his acceptance remarks he described his personal interest in the arts, how it led him to NYFA, and how he’s helped to support NYFA through his work at McKinsey & Company, Inc. Here, he describes the value that the arts bring to society, and why they’re worth fighting for: “Artists play a critical role in the world-at-large. For me, art is one of the most energizing, the most incredibly inspiring parts of the fabric of life. It needs supporters, it needs benefactors, it requires appreciators and even aficionados. So I think art is something that we all need to invest in and the return that you get is something that’s unique and personal, and very, very special.”  

Fellow honoree Sanford Biggers spoke about how he came to be an artist and described the varied influences and materials that he incorporates into his multidisciplinary work. He recounted when he received a NYSCA/NYFA Artist Fellowship, saying: “When I got the NYFA award in 2005, I was not showing with a gallery. I was extremely excited for multiple reasons: number one, I got a check, which was a good thing. But beyond that,” Biggers added, “I was acknowledged as the artist that I was becoming and I was in this interdisciplinary field. It was a validation that I didn’t have to put myself into ‘sculpture’ or ‘painting’ but I could sort of traverse between many different forms including performance and video. And I think that that acknowledgement at that point was extremely important to me, and it was an affirmation.”

Min Jin Lee discussed her process and interests, and reflected on the hardships of being a professional artist, especially as a woman of color. She also described the impact of receiving a NYSCA/NYFA Artist Fellowship: “I needed to have this kind of support that somehow what I did mattered. And that was so important to have NYFA recognize that my little question was worth supporting, and I think that when the average person in this country thinks that art matters, that’s a huge step. Because it is so often seen as less important than food, and housing, and jobs, and healthcare, and all those things are really important for me, too. But I chose this path because I think that literature can create the level of empathy that many things cannot. I believe that, I believe that with everything that I do.”


Following the award ceremony, multidisciplinary artist and choreographer Angel Kaba spoke about her experience as a mentee in NYFA’s Immigrant Artist Mentoring Program. Born in Belgium to parents from the Congo and Martinique, she moved to New York five years ago to chase her dream of being an artist. She recounted how she made $250 a month and lived with eight roommates during her first three years in the city. Kaba, who began to question her artistry, found positive change by participating in NYFA’s Immigrant Artist Mentoring Program: “It was about the support system. That they really cared about us, they really gave us the opportunity to be ourselves, to express, to connect, to learn to share stories and experiences with amazing talented artists of different nationalities. At the end of the program, I learned more about myself than anything else,” she said. Kaba now teaches across the United States and is a member of Alvin Ailey’s extension faculty.

The evening concluded with dessert and remarks from NYFA Executive Director Michael L. Royce. “I think everyone in this room knows that without artists many stories would not be known. Stories allow us to share who we are, what we’ve experienced, and what we imagine. They are a special communication from one individual to another, and as I was thinking about this event I realized that all of us together are making up the story of NYFA,” said Royce.

Past NYFA Awardees include Ida Applebroog, Paul Beatty, James Casebere, Christopher d’Amboise, Anna Deavere Smith, Phil Gilbert, Zhou Long, Christian Marclay, Terry McMillan, Mira Nair, Lynn Nottage, Eric Overmyer, Suzan-Lori Parks, Wendy Perron, Dwight Rhoden, Faith Ringgold, Carolee Schneemann, and Andres Serrano.

There are still items available for purchase in NYFA’s online Benefit Auction, which features artworks, event tickets, and one-of-a-kind experiences. Click here to view and buy now to help support the arts.

Legends Limousine, a family-owned car service based in Park Slope, Brooklyn, is NYFA’s transportation partner for the 2019 NYFA Hall of Fame Benefit.

Sign up for NYFA’s bi-weekly newsletter, NYFA News, to receive announcements about future NYFA events and programs.

Images: Michael L. Royce, Tom Finkelpearl, Karl Kellner, Min Jin Lee, Judith K. Brodsky, and Sanford Biggers; Dread Scott, Sanford Biggers, and Derrick Adams; Angel Kaba and Lorraine Bell; All Images Credit: Jay Brady Photography

Amy Aronoff
Posted on:
Post author