This week, The Sag Harbor Express sat down with Donna Karan to discuss her Urban Zen Foundation and upcoming event Haiti in the Hamptons on Friday, August 16 and Saturday August 17, which honors the women artisans of the “Discover Haiti” exhibition.
By Ellen Frankman
What inspired you to create the Urban Zen Foundation?
Urban Zen has always been a part of me. After a lifetime of dressing people, I wanted to “address” them as well. The foundation was born of my need to take action in the areas I cared about most: healthcare/well-being, preserving culture and empowering children through education. I wanted to create a place and a space to bring like-minded people together to create mind/body/spirit solutions. The Urban Zen foundation is where all my “c” words come together: creativity, community, connecting, compassion.
When did your philanthropic work first bring you to Haiti? What about that?visit prompted you to further your involvement there?
The 2010 earthquake brought me to Haiti, and then I fell in love with its vibrant people and culture. I started seeing the possibilities and knew I had to do something. My involvement just grew from there, and we aligned forces with the Clinton Global Initiative’s efforts for the renewal of Haiti. Haiti is where Urban Zen’s three initiatives come together: here are people in need of healthcare, who have an amazing culture that needs preserving, and a future that can only be realized by empowering the children to go forward as conscious community of leaders.
What is the Haitian Artisan Project? What are your goals for it?
Working alongside the Clinton Global Initiative, we created The Haitian Artisan Project as a way to help develop, market and present the work of Haitian artists to the western world. The ultimate goal is to help create and support self-sustaining artisan communities within Haiti using their natural resources – stone, metal, wood, horn, tobacco leaves — so that they can become their own agents of change.
In what ways does the work extend beyond typical fundraising, and how does that impact the lives of Haitians?
This isn’t about a handout. This is about teaching real skills and marketability. We want to nurture the pride and purpose of Haiti’s creative side so it can flourish in a business sense, and join the global community. Urban Zen was created to inspire change and raise awareness. The Haitian Artisan project does both from the inside out — inspiring the change within Haiti, and raising awareness of Haiti’s artisan products in the western world.
How is your work inspired by the places you go and the people you meet?
Creatively, I’ve never been able to separate the professional from the personal. If something inspires me, it will show up in my work. Not literally – but in spirit, maybe by texture, palette, details – and sometimes directly, as when Haitian artist Phlilipe Dodard inspired prints for Donna Karan Collection. I went to India last year and brought back these amazing handcrafted scarves that I’m turning into clothes. I love the East and so many eastern elements have found their way into my work. Same for my African travels. When you travel with your eyes and spirit open to discovery, your experiences become part of who you are and how you express yourself.
Karan’s Urban Zen in Sag Harbor will host an opening reception for “Discover Haiti” on Friday, August 16 from 5 to 7 p.m. with a trunk show on Saturday, August 17 from noon to 5 p.m. The event will honor the women artisans of Haiti, including Caroline Sada, Pascale Theard, Paula Coles and Shelley Clay.