Hauser & Wirth’s Los Angeles location has named The House of AWT Project (Artists Working Together) as its 2023 Charitable Partner of the Year.
As part of the initiative, Hauser & Wirth will give The House of AWT Project a $10,000 grant that will aid in the organization’s goal of achieving nonprofit status and its mission of supporting and empowering at-risk Black and Brown LGBTQIA+ youth and young adults. Once it receives nonprofit status, The House of AWT Project will be able to fundraise for other initiatives, including digitizing the 14-year archive of its Ovahness Ball, which is the longest running House/Ballroom Ball on the West Coast to date.
Around a year ago, Hauser & Wirth began conversations with Sean/Milan™, the house’s founder, about staging the first Ovahness Ball since the pandemic at the gallery as part of a new initiative it was developing called the Performance Project, which aims to bring various kinds of performance to the gallery. That led to the staging of “It’s All About the AAWWWTTTT!!!,” a five-category ball at Hauser & Wirth in February during Frieze Los Angeles. The memorable evening led the gallery to consider how it could further support the organization.
Hauser & Wirth Los Angeles has a history of linking up with local organizations, including the California State University, Los Angeles, with whom the gallery has partnered since its opening in 2016. These partnerships are a way “to create programming that is in direct dialogue with the communities we call home in cities around the world,” Stacen Berg, a partner at the gallery and executive director of the LA location, said. “Community support and engagement are core values since our founding and are, in our mind, essential to being good citizens.”
Russell Salmon, the gallery’s director of public programs & events, had first met Sean/Milan™ via a casual Zoom call in 2020 during lockdown. The goal during that meeting was to strategize how the house could achieve nonprofit status and “get the word out to LA and beyond about the amazing work they were doing,” Salmon told ARTnews by email.
He continued, “One of the most poignant things about meeting The Iconic Sean/Milan™ Garcon in that pandemic zoom call was the generosity he exuded when talking about the black and brown LGBTQIA+ youth he is so influential for and committed to. He wasn’t asking for much—a space in which something could happen and supporters of the project. I knew during that call that I would try my hardest to return the generosity he so selflessly exuded.”
Sean/Milan™ grew up in Los Angeles, off Crenshaw and West Adams Boulevards, in the late 1970s and early ’80s—“art was something your teacher gave you to do when she had to grade papers,” he said in an interview. He first began voguing in 1992, and in 2006 he launched the Ovahness Ball after his friend Tyrone Carter, who was working for the nonprofit REACH LA; the organization wanted to create an outreach event that would spread awareness of the rise in HIV among men of color at the time.
“I was an up-and-coming Legend at the time and my name was a neutral draw for the entire West Coast House/ Ballroom community,” Sean/Milan™ said. “I agreed to host, theme, and promote the event, as well as officially introduce REACH LA to the House/ Ballroom community. The rest is History.”
Since its founding in 2006, Gina Lamb, now a media studies professor at Pitzer College, has been “the official Ovahness Ball video archivist,” Sean/Milan™ said. “She has collected years of footage from my run as the creator and curator/producer of the Ovahness Ball. She has always stressed the importance of creating a central hub for such a historical series of events. She also felt it important to credit me for my often-overlooked contributions to my communities as a whole.”
In reflecting on the future of The House of AWT Project, now with this grant from Hauser & Wirth, Sean/Milan™ said, “If anyone would have told me that I would eventually figure out a way to inspire and teach other kids like me to use their artistic talents to sustain a healthy and sustainable life, it would’ve been far beyond anything I could have ever dreamed.”
Added Salmon, “As Sean/Milan™ would say, ‘It’s all about the AWT darling,’ and I can’t wait to see exactly that: Artists Working Together.”
Watch an excerpt of the “It’s All About the AAWWWTTTT!!!” ball below.