Granted, the Art of Elysium’s 12th annual charity benefit on Saturday night at a massive new venue in Koreatown was called “Heaven,” but as anyone trying to book an Uber there can attest, the atypically rainy weather outside was hell on earth. “Everyone’s coming in a little wet,” said photographer (and Variety contributor) Michael Muller, who was honored as the organization’s 2019 visionary and also designed the “Blade Runner underwater”-themed decor. “I was a little panicked leaving the house, but it actually stopped drizzling and I just ran in the door,” said actress and artist Beau Dunn, who received the Spirit of Elysium Award. “I was like: ‘The heavens closed for one second!'”
But the rain couldn’t keep away an assortment of celebrity guests to rival the glamour of the Golden Globe Awards itself, which included actors (Mel Gibson, Josh Brolin, and event co-chair Joaquin Phoenix), actresses (Jennifer Garner, Lily Collins, and event co-chair Rooney Mara) and musicians (Babyface, Usher, and Courtney Love).
“The reason people come out year after year is because they do the work,” said AOE founder Jennifer Howell, noting that many of the guests volunteer for the charity that initially used art therapy to help heal hospitalized children, but has now evolved to encompass veterans, the elderly, and the incarcerated. “We’re an artist’s charity and as much razzle and dazzle as there is in Hollywood, I believe people come here because they have a dream to be an artist in a way that can help the world, whether it’s being in a movie that the world can see, if it’s directing, if it’s writing, Whatever that medium, I believe that artists truly want to use their own creative vessel to help. And anyone who comes in and volunteers comes back to the reason they became an artist in the first place — the connection they get through volunteering lets them believe in what we do.”
Speaking of making a connection, canoodling couple Phoenix and Mara couldn’t seem to keep their hands off each other. Love was obviously in the air: Brolin arrived with his arm around wife Kathryn Boyd and Gibson walked the black carpet hand in hand with girlfriend Rosalind Ross. Single and evidently ready to mingle Josh Duhamel interrupted a conversation Garner was having to flirtatiously flatter her Martha Stewart-inspired Instagram hobby: “I love your cooking show,” he cooed.
Meanwhile, professional chef Shirley Chun served up a family-style feast that included a collection of cold Chinese appetizers (tuna crudo, emperor’s cabbage, kumquat, and snap peas) followed by a second course that included California mapo tofu, wok-fried sugar snaps, and broccolini with black pepper sauce. The crowd also ate up a superchic fashion show from Peter Dundas and eclectic musical performances by the likes of Linda Perry, Chuck D, and the New York duo Phantogram.
Also making it a date night were longtime volunteers Topher Grace and his wife Ashley, which is only fitting considering that the couple first met at the Art of Elysium’s “Heaven” benefit six years ago. “Jen Howell sat us next to each other,” recalled Ashley. “The story is a little confusing, but Topher says he asked Jen to sit me next to him at a table.” Added Topher: “I actually saw her at an earlier event and begged Jen. I’ve been coming for over 10 years. What’s amazing is to have watched over time how it has expanded — they’re not just working with kids now. They’re working with vets and the homeless and people in prison.”
But Grace, who costars in the Globe-nominated movie “BlacKkKlansman,” had to reserve some energy for Sunday night’s ceremony: “I’ve got to save my voice because we have to walk that mile-long red carpet tomorrow.”