Kimora Lee Simmons has an extensive resume that includes work as a model, entrepreneur, TV host, author, and producer, but perhaps her most important work has been with philanthropy. The organization closest to her heart? The Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation (RPAF)—created in 1995 by Simmons' ex-husband Russell Simmons and his brothers Danny Simmons and Joseph “Rev Run” Simmons—for which the multihyphenate serves on the board of directors.
In anticipation of RPAF’s 2015 Art for Life event in Bridgehampton this Saturday (July 18), we sat down with Simmons to learn more about her history with the organization, the fashion scholarship she established, and her philosophy on giving back.
How did you become involved with the Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation? KIMORA LEE SIMMONS: RPAF has been a tradition in my family for 20 years now. I’m proud to be a board member and can remember the very first events, which were held in the backyard of our house in the Hamptons. Over the years, I’ve donated, emcee’d the event, welcomed dear friends, and [have] seen the organization grow immensely. It’s heartening to have seen it develop from infancy to the powerhouse of charitable giving that it is today.
What are you most looking forward to at this year’s Art for Life Benefit? KLS: I’m always excited to honor those who have made contributions via their work and careers to benefiting children and their access to art education. I [am] unfortunately unable to attend this year’s gala, but I look forward to returning very soon. The entertainment is always second to none, and it’s great to connect with friends and family who have been supporting RPAF for 20 years.
Why did you choose to establish the Kimora Lee Simmons Scholarship Fund, which will be presented to recipients at the benefit? KLS: Growing up in St. Louis, the fashion world always seemed a million miles away. I wanted to bring access to the industry to students who have demonstrated a commitment to their passion for design, merchandising, PR—just some of the many disciplines that make the industry such a vibrant and exciting community.
Could you describe what you look for in a recipient of this scholarship? KLS: I look for passion, drive, and a commitment to service. These are, in many cases, students who would never be able to attend a design or fashion school. They just need a little help getting closer to their dream and they’ll take it from there. I have to know that recipients have the discipline to back up their passion. It takes both traits to make it in the industry.
RPAF is celebrating their 20th anniversary at the benefit. What do you hope the next 20 years will bring? KLS: I’m so proud of the work that’s been done by RPAF over the last 20 years, and I know that the next 20 years will broaden our impact in communities and schools nationwide. We’ll continue to beat the drum of how important arts education is, not only to kids, but [also] to entire communities who are impacted by the positive effect that arts have on society.
What inspires you to work closely with so many charities and philanthropic organizations? KLS: My husband Tim and I believe it’s important to develop and instill a tradition of giving. I’m someone who has benefited personally and professionally from people giving me a shot and a chance. That’s a core value that lives in me and that I’ve instilled in my family. The new currency is truly, “Whose life have you changed? Who have you helped move forward, grow, and progress?” Asking yourself that helps reframe your sense of purpose.