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Benenson Capital partner and philanthropist Lawrence Benenson
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Party Pictures


Photos by Billy Farrell
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The Republicans want to eliminate Social Security, Medicare and every other government program designed to help the poor, but they still like a little private philanthropy. Thus, the Donor of the Day feature in the Greater New York section of Rupert Murdoch’s revamped Wall Street Journal, which profiles individual philanthropists and their worthy causes. Those spotlighted have ranged from Susan Sarandon and Tommy Hilfiger to Bill & Melinda Gates, David H. Koch and Henry Kravis.

And though the art world itself tends to be Democratic, it is of course awash in private philanthropy of exactly this sort. One Donor of the Day was art collector Shelley Rubin, whose new Blade of Grass foundation was launched with a $30,000 grant to Manon Sloame’s No Longer Empty organization. No Longer Empty specializes in bringing art to neglected spaces, and recently organized a much-commented-upon art show in the Freedman Mansion on the Grand Concourse in the Bronx.

At any rate, the feature has been such a success that the WSJ threw a special party for a group of the donors at the Whitney Museum of American Art last night, Wednesday, May 16, 2012, with dinner and a performance by folk-country-alternative singer-songwriter Brandi Carlile. The first of what is to be an annual Donor of the Day Celebration honored artist Jeff Koons along with jeweler Harry Winston -- the late Winston donated the Hope Diamond to the Smithsonian -- and designer Oscar de la Renta, a patron of schools and orphanages in his native Dominican Republic, and a sponsor of the Children’s Defense Fund.  

In his remarks, WSJ chief revenue officer Michael Rooney propagandized a little about free-enterprise “generosity and philanthropy,” claiming that the paper’s 3,000,000 readers give $6 billion a year to worthy causes.

But the real revelation of the evening came from Koons himself, who has become an advocate for protecting children ever since the mid-1990s, when his own son was abducted -- that’s the word he used -- by his former wife Cicciolina and taken to Italy. Since then Koons has become a board director of the International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children (ICMEC), founding as well his own Koons Family International Law and Policy Institute to spread the word about missing and abused children worldwide.

According to ICMEC CEO Ernie Allen, who spoke at length about the issue, 8,000,000 kids will be reported missing this year. The Koons Family Institute, he said, has done much to raise awareness of the issue, helping to train police in 121 countries and supporting legislation on the issue in 43 countries. The organization has involved 20 countries in a global missing children network. It has also prompted 35 companies -- credit card processors and the like -- to form a voluntary monitoring system to fight the digital spread of child pornography, and is also working to raise consciousness of the missing-children issue among doctors and pharmaceutical companies.

“I wasn’t able to solve my own situation,” Koons said in his brief remarks, referring to the fact that despite court rulings in his favor, his son remains with his mother in Italy. “But we are building a global movement to protect children everywhere.”

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