“I t’s more important than ever for women to own their own power, to have a sense of what their identity means to the collective whole,” says Oprah Winfrey. “To be able to stand in the truth of yourself and to use everything that you have been trained to do, that you were born to do, to create the highest expression of yourself as a human being.”
The highly influential media executive, actor, talk show host and philanthropist is talking ahead of the first ever all-women artist benefit auction held at a major auction house, of which she is an honorary co-chair alongside fellow philanthropist and art patron Agnes Gund. The By Women, For Tomorrow’s Women auction on 1 March will feature work by more than 25 female artists including Cecily Brown, Cindy Sherman and Carrie Mae Weems.
The auction has been set up to raise funds for Miss Porter’s School in Connecticut, one of the nation’s leading, all-girls independent highs schools. “I sent my niece there,” Winfrey says. “It felt like the kind of place I wished I could have gone to school, and I loved it so much that I continued to create scholarships for other girls who came from underprivileged backgrounds.”
This commitment to helping disadvantaged women has remained an integral part of Winfrey’s career – in 2007, she set up the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in Meyerton, South Africa, which is dedicated to providing education for children living in nine provinces across the country. By supporting women through this vital stage in their lives, she believes the gender inequality fostered over centuries can be swung into balance.
Gund studied at Miss Porter’s School and was deeply influenced by teacher Sarah MacLennan. “She was a wonderful art history teacher who was really engaging and formative in shaping my love of art,” she says. “She would send postcards from all over the world and I remember one of Titian’s The Rape of Europa from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and others from the Frick Collection, the Morgan Library and Museum, and the Phillips Collection. “Years later I served on the board of the Frick and am now on the Morgan board.”
This supportive environment is part and parcel of life at Miss Porter’s. “As a leading all-girls prep school, social and racial diversity is imperative in raising the next generation of female leaders. Having an all-women artist benefit auction was a natural extension.”
Winfrey and Gund hope that art can be used to help young people follow in their footsteps.
“We are thrilled to partner with Sotheby’s, as well as Agnes Gund, class of ’56, and Oprah Winfrey, who join us in the belief that single-sex education for girls creates future leaders, who understand the challenges of today and who will be the problem-solvers of tomorrow,” says Dr Katherine Windsor, the head of Miss Porter’s School.