AtmosphereAmerican Ballet Theatre Fall Gala, New York, USA - 18 Oct 2017

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic will prevent the usual winter/spring charity circuit from continuing as usual — so what does this mean for the future of society events and giving? WWD spoke with four women from the philanthropy world on the subject, below.

Gillian Hearst, newly named chair of the associates committee of The Society of Memorial Sloan Kettering

What does being the chair of the associates at MSK mean to you?

Being chair of the associates committee means a lot to me. I had always been aware of the amazing work that MSK did, but when my father became ill and had to seek treatment at MSK I really appreciated how much they do for each patient and family who enters the building.

Though MSK is a place you hope that you, a friend, family member or loved one won’t ever need, I’m so very glad that it exists. The doctors at MSK are constantly working toward a cure and they really do their best to make treatment the most pleasant experience that they can. My father was treated for cancer at MSK, and the innovations and research done by the team there gave him time that we didn’t think we’d have. It’s something we will be forever grateful for.

What can we expect from The Society of MSK in 2021?

In 2021, we’re raising money for the Society Campaign, which coincides with The Society’s 75th anniversary. The money raised by the 2020-21 Society Campaign will help us fill funding gaps caused by the pandemic, so key research programs can resume and doctors can continue finding new ways to fight cancer.

How are you navigating philanthropy during the pandemic?

The pandemic has created a new world for us to figure out. While many things in our world have come to a pause this year, cancer is unfortunately not one of them. People are still fighting cancer and doctors and researchers are still finding ways to treat and cure it. When times are tough, like they are now, I think philanthropy should and does come to the forefront of people’s minds because their time, efforts and donations are so needed.

What do you think the future of society events looks like?

While I miss our in-person events and I’m looking forward to their return, we’re working on virtual iterations of some of our key events — The Winter Lunch and Spring Ball. We’re looking forward to translating these events into the virtual sphere to raise crucial funds for The Society.

What are you most looking forward to in 2021?

[This] year I’m looking forward to leading the associates committee, planning and attending our virtual events, and continuing to raise funds for The Society. I’m also looking forward to celebrating The Society’s 75th anniversary and, hopefully, a return to normalcy.

Gillian Hearst

Gillian Hearst  Mike Vitelli/

Isolde Brielmaier, curator-at-large at the International Center for Photography and national advisor for Unbail-Rodamco-Westfield

What are your goals for ICP and URW this year?

For both of these organizations, I think the priority is to keep our staff and visitors safe and to think about ways in which to bring people safely together to inspire and provoke thought and reflection through art and culture.

We are also thinking about how we can support the communities in which we exist as well as support artists — whether it’s about working with teachers, young people and other organizations to supplement and enhance lesson plans and offerings through art and culture. ICP has been doing this work for decades. Or finding ways to support artists in their practices and ideas and working with them to create opportunities for diverse audiences to engage with art and ideas.

We are trying to think about the full cultural “eco-system”…so thinking about what the needs are and starting from there is key.

How are you navigating philanthropy during the pandemic?

We are very much trying to continue our support of the various programs and organizations that we have been working with over the years at URW.

I think there will be changes in funding throughout the arts and culture sector as well as the kinds of initiatives that are funded. To be continued…

What do you think the future of society events/traditional fundraising looks like?

This is a big question and I don’t think there will be a return to exactly what we had been doing for events — specifically fundraising events. This past year has challenged all of us to think more creatively and expansively about how we bring people together around a particular idea or cause. I think the virtual world is here to stay and that we will see more innovation in this space. But, at the end of the day, people long to connect with each other and to share space, so in-person events and programs will re-emerge but something tells me they may look and feel a bit different.

What are you most looking forward to in 2021?

Broadly speaking, I am looking forward to something that feels a bit like a new dawn…”a new future” and that shows us that our actions, our work, our advocacy continue to have impact.

Isolde Brielmaier

Isolde Brielmaier  Clint Spaulding/WWD

Casey Fremont, executive director of Art Production Fund

How are you navigating philanthropy during the pandemic?

We are hyper focused on our mission to present significant and impactful public art projects. As art has historically been a mode of public discourse, we believe that it is especially important during periods of transformation and should be accessible to all. While it’s an incredibly challenging time for many reasons, continuing our work with artists and engaging our supporters has been our top priority.

What are some projects planned for the year ahead?

Beginning this month with an installation by Hiba Schahbaz, we will present the third year of Art in Focus, our ongoing public program in partnership with Rockefeller Center. We are so proud to continue this initiative showcasing diverse perspectives through artists work free and on view for the public at this landmark NYC location.

What do you think the future of society events looks like?

We will party again! Our annual gala raises essential funds for APF. It’s an occasion to celebrate both the artists we collaborate with and the supporters who make the projects possible. We look forward to the event every year. People are more passionate and engaged than ever, and while we can’t gather, we hope that both existing and new supporters will safely enjoy our public programming during this unprecedented period. When the time is right, we look forward to toasting them in person along with our entire APF family.

Casey Fremont

Casey Fremont  Lexie Moreland/WWD

Shari Siadat, co-chair of American Ballet Theater’s RISE & RISE Advisory Council and president of the Siadat Family Foundation

What are some of your goals as co-chair for ABT’s RISE & RISE Advisory Council for 2021?

ABT’s continued excellence and maintenance of its world class stature depend upon the inclusion of diverse individuals and viewpoints in all that they do. ABT Rise articulates American Ballet Theater’s belief that representation and inclusion will sustain their excellence.

I am proud to be a trustee of ABT and am passionate about my role as the co-chair of ABT RISE Advisory Council. My first priority is to make everyone, from the dancers, to the staff to the back end ops all the way to board of trustees, feel that the ABT RISE & ABT RISE Advisory Council is an open-hearted, non-judgmental space for all to be seen, heard and accepted for who they are. We spent a significant amount of time in 2020 setting the foundation in creating this nurturing space. In 2021, my goal is to help continue to build a worldwide network of supporters and champions for the work that ABT is doing in the DEI space. I often repeat to the board that we are recruiting a mind-set so anyone that feels a connection to this effort and cause is welcome. Additionally my goal is to think about what diversity looks like in ballet outside of skin tone — from the costumes that are worn, to the stories that are told, to the choreographers that are commissioned and the music that is played; I want to break open the walls that have kept ballet seen as one way for so long. It’s an exciting time for American Ballet Theater and I am extremely proud of what they have accomplished in such a short amount of time.

How are you navigating philanthropy during the pandemic? What are some projects you hope to work on in the year ahead?

A cause that is front and center for me (and absolutely essential in the pandemic) is mental health. I believe that mental health should be normalized through action. I’m collaborating to build bridges that could make that happen — from prioritizing access to mental health for young people to recognizing that multigenerational immigrant households like my own may never have even considered that the act of healing is nothing to be ashamed of and it could help the generations that follow.

One project I’m passionate about is working with Global Empowerment Mission and the Siadat Family Foundation on creating a mental health program for the students and families of Moore’s Island in the Bahamas. This small island community that does not have the same resources as other neighboring islands experienced great loss and devastation from Hurricane Dorian. Because of that great need, it was important to me to provide a mental health curriculum for the 350 students at the school and create a space to process their collective trauma and resources for healing.

What do you think the future of society events looks like?

I crave a world where we replace “society” events with community events that don’t think twice about inviting people from all walks of life to enjoy arts, culture and fashion. This is a new world. The old categories are not enough to describe the beautiful diversity of life experience we share.

Shari Siadat

Shari Siadat  Lexie Moreland/WWD

More From the Eye:

When Will In-person Events Like Coachella, the Oscars Return?

Golden Heart Awards Go Virtual With Kaia Gerber, Bella Hadid, Sarah Paulson

Judy Chicago Honored by Virtual MAD Ball