YoungArts Backyard Ball Benefit Honors Andrew Rannells, Rita Moreno

Andrew Rannells
Andrew Rannells
 World Red Eye

Aside from Art Basel Miami Beach, Miami usually doesn’t see the level of talented traffic that the National YoungArts Foundation was able to wrangle for its Backyard Ball on Saturday, Jan. 11. Some 800 art-loving attendees got a bit of whiplash in checking out names like honorees Rita Moreno, Zaha Hadid and Andrew Rannells, fresh from his recurring role on Girls, as well as Frank Gehry and Rosie Perez, an artistic advisor and master teacher, respectively, for YoungArts, a national nonprofit that connects emerging artists with mentors and provides scholarships and national recognition. Several attendees were alums of the nonprofit, having benefited from its nudges in initial steps to stardom.

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The over-the-top tented bash, awash in pink and purple light, that raised more than $1.5 million for the next generation of entertainers, writers and visual artists was the culmination of the 33rd annual YoungArts Week, a cultural marathon of workshops and good old-fashioned competition to select this year’s winners. To give an idea of what it takes to get to the big reveal, a first round of 687 artists across America are chosen from 11,000 applications, of which 171 are then flown to Miami for the next hurdle, from which 60 win the chance to be U.S. Presidential Scholars in the Arts, the highest honor for high school seniors. 20 take home the prize. Past winners showed off their stuff at the gala’s performance directed by Bill T. Jones.

“It was worth going just to catch Bill and the kids in a ring doing a pre-show exercise to shake off their nerves. Talk about a really special moment,” said local arts patron Adrienne bon Haes.

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Apparently it worked, because they tapped, strummed and hummed their hearts out to an audience fueled on Bacardi, thanks to chairs Elizabeth and Facundo Bacardi, that also included those deeply connected to YoungArts from co-founder Lin Arison and her granddaughter, Sarah, to president and CEO Paul T. Lehr to Judith Hill, a 2002 alumni winner in the Popular Voice category, to master teachers and art-world heavy hitters Paola Antonelli and James Rosenquist.

Afterward, the party spilled out onto YoungArts’ headquarters and campus’ plaza between its stained-glass buildings that once housed Bacardi and have become iconic structures in a city that likes its mojitos strong.

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