Pharrell Williams may have 11 Grammys under his belt yet he still humbly considers himself “a work in progress.” Williams gave 200 Broward County students the experience of a lifetime when he popped into NSU Art Museum Fort Lauderdale on Dec. 3 to tour the Happy! exhibition and spread the message that art is the key to setting everyone free.
Sporting a “Human Made” hoodie from his Adidas collaboration with Japanese designer Nigo, Williams soaked in the exhibition Happy! with artistsSam Borkson and Arturo Sandoval III, of the internationally renowned artist collaborative FriendsWithYou.
Curated NSU Art Museum Fort Lauderdale’s Director and Chief Curator,Bonnie Clearwater, Happy! which runs through July 5, 2020, explores the pursuit of happiness through contemporary art. The exhibition features vibrant works by more than 30 artists including FriendsWithYou, Takashi Murakami, Andy Warhol, Yoko Ono and many others.
It was a sea of smiles, screams and smart phones in the air at Horvitz Auditorium as students from Sunrise Middle School in Fort Lauderdale and St. Gregory Catholic School in Plantation met face-to-face with Williams, Borkson and Sandoval III for an inspiring speech and Q&A about kindness through art.
“Today is Tuesday and some people will not have a good day and other people will have an amazing day,” said Williams who shared these words on Giving Tuesday, an international day of charitable giving that marks the beginning of the holiday season. “But you’re in control and you have the ability to grab Tuesday by the horns and ride it into the sunset. LeBron James was once your age. Michelle Obama was once your age. Steve Jobs was once your age too. Picasso was once your age. But you can do what they did and do better.”
He then boldly asked the crowd: “Will you guys grow up and do great things?”
“Art is an epiphany that one has and art is what sets us free,” Williams explained. “That’s what gives you the ability to change the trajectory of your life.”
Borkson also reminded the students in the room of their immense power.
“We’re all in the same place at the same time for a reason,” Borkson said. “This mission goes beyond what we ever thought the art could be. It’s a combined effort of fine art, music and culture to really change the world for humanity. That’s kind of what our art and FriendsWithYou, is about. And it’s a big reason why we work with Pharrell in aid of this world and you guys are such an important part of it. Every single one of you is so important to the mission of human change and us changing our world. This is an imminent time for humanity and you guys are the activists. We’re here as advocates of goodness and expressing this oneness.”
When Denia Perloff, PTSA president of Sunrise Middle, alerted students they’d be spending the morning with Williams, she admits the students couldn’t contain their excitement. “Art encourages kids to be who they are and the kids are truly inspired by art,” Perloff said.
And when the challenge arose of how the students could be transported there on such quick notice, Lori Franke, president of the auxiliary group, Beaux Arts, stepped in to help with the museum’s program, Museum On The Move, which buses Broward county students to experience exhibitions at NSU Art Museum Fort Lauderdale.
“Events like today are truly so exciting and life-changing for the students,” Franke said. “We’re very proud to be part of this.”
Sandoval III felt grateful to share this one moment in time with Broward students at NSU Art Museum Fort Lauderdale. “There’s a need for art in the world that makes you feel happiness and connectedness,” Sandoval III said. “There’s something very human about being here together.”
Eager to submerge himself in projects that move him, Williams is never afraid to dig deeper when it comes to art.
“A lot of work is just static meaning when you see it, it doesn’t really do anything but look good,” Williams said. “I’m interested in the work that sticks with you so that the minute you look at it, it does something to you. I try to make sure that when people hear my songs, they feel something. It’s not always happiness. It’s not humanly possible to be happy every day. Happiness is something you have to work at, like a skill set. But when you find yourselves down, look out for someone else. Do something nice for them and before you know it, you’ll be back in the spirit of happiness.”