The Henry Street Settlement Gala Gets the Downtown Treatment from Daniel Arsham

Flanked by a crew of students in grey lab coats and screen-sized, space-y James Franco, the artist made sure this year's Henry Street Settlement benefit was a ways away from the Plaza.

Harley Viera-Newton
Harley Viera-Newton
Tiffany Sage/

Every year – at least, for the most recent chunk of its 124-year history – the Henry Street Settlement throws its annual fundraiser uptown in the tony Plaza Hotel. But seeing as the group provides socials services, art programs, and healthcare to those in need on the Lower East Side, this year, its organizers decided to keep things local, throwing its first ever downtown, cinema-themed bash on Monday night at the beloved Metrograph theater.

“At the Plaza, it was a very different kind of event,” said the artist Daniel Arsham, whose work was at the center of the evening’s festivities. Along with a more downtown crowd, including Adam Selman, Madeline Poole, and Harley Viera-Newton, the new venue also meant new amenities – chiefly the theater’s screens, where Arsham would be displaying his films. But first, it was time to mingle with his new friends: high school students from Henry Street’s programs, who were outfitted in grey lab coats from his studio, toting Polaroid cameras and photographing guests holding Arsham’s sculptures, like a crystallized mold of an analog camera.

That same camera soon showed up super-sized in the theater in the hands of one James Franco, decked out in a space suit in one of the films from Arsham’s sci-fi series, “Future Relics.” The artist screened three more, too, marking the the first time the shorts had been shown in order, and included scenes of Broad City actor Arturo Castro sucking on a lollipop and talking the apocalypse in a NASA space station in the year 2055, and Juliette Lewis getting teary in a desolate dystopia at the foot of one of Arsham’s windswept figurative sculptures.

It was an impressive display, and especially for someone who, as Arsham admitted to the producer and Tribeca Film Festival cofounder Jane Rosenthal after the screening, had never had formal film training. He did, however, study visual art at Cooper Union – another New York institution, he happily pointed out, that like Henry Street, provides art education for free. So he was more than happy to return the favor, inviting students into his 10,000-square foot studio in Long Island City, marking many of their first times in that kind of space.

“I don’t think that they knew that that was really a career,” Arsham said of being a professional artist. “So it was certainly interesting for me, and I think it was really a great experience for them to see the potential outcome of the things they’re engaged with at Henry Street, specifically the students on the art side.”

Clearly, things have come full circle, as one of the night’s cochairs, Sarah Arison, could attest. She’s president of the Arison Arts Foundations, which also has a history of finding and supporting emerging artists in high school – some of whom were present in the night’s crowd. To wit: “We found Daniel Arsham when he was 17,” Arison said.