A recent Saturday night saw the gala launch of a new arts nonprofit, with a successful concert and exhibition held at Tel Aviv University’s Smolarz Auditorium.The new organization, ORLY, aims to provide various artistic and creative therapy options to populations with Down syndrome or on the autistic spectrum, with special emphasis on enabling these artists to promote and sell their artwork commercially.ORLY IS the brainchild of Anne Hacaspi, a real-estate agent and businesswoman based in Tel Aviv, and Zeev Segal, an Israeli businessman based in Miami.It was created after a fateful conversation at the beginning of the summer.“I wanted to create this organization 12 years ago, and I wanted my sister to be a part of this, but I did not succeed,” Hacaspi relates, referring to her older sister, who died suddenly four years ago from a viral infection. The organization is named after her.“My sister Orly, who had Down syndrome, died at 59... and it was very sad,” she recalls. “She was a very happy person. She was a dancer. She had a very full life and felt totally normal.... Sometimes I think that maybe we are the not normal ones.”After living at home for much of her life, Orly eventually moved to a group home in Ashkelon along with others with Down syndrome, and “they had a wonderful life there,” Hacaspi says. Her sister’s experiences in Ashkelon would provide Hacaspi the genesis of her dream of bringing more artistic and therapeutic possibilities to similar groups. In June, after years of searching for a way to fund her idea, Hacaspi spoke with Segal about the concept.
“We had already met five years ago through business, but after we had this conversation, he called me two hours later and we decided to create this organization,” she says.Segal, for his part, downplays his role in providing the initial funding, and notes that he is also involved as a teacher and promoter.“I am an artist. I have a simple method of teaching art – I teach and learn – and I brought the economic aspect,” he explains. “The fact that I am donating is on the side.... I want to help and to do stuff. It doesn’t take much to just give money.”Part of ORLY’s goal is to bring artistic works created by artists with autism or Down syndrome to the attention of the wider public.“We want to help them promote themselves, to give them a stage for their art, in the commercial sense,” Hacaspi says. “Why should their art be in places that no one will ever see?” She notes that the organization has already been in contact with several galleries in Manhattan and Florida, as well as in Israel.In addition to organizing exhibitions, the organization’s main thrust is provide a host of artistic and therapeutic opportunities, such as visual art and sculpture classes, singing workshops, and dance and animal therapy. “We are trying to make their lives simpler and better,” Segal says.He notes that while all the therapies that ORLY will be utilizing already exist, “we want to bring them to all the corners of the world” and provide funding so that they are available to more people in need.“We are trying to create something from nothing,” he adds, using the Hebrew phrase yesh mi ein, a phrase associated in Jewish theology with a class of biblical miracles.THE OPENING gala, which nearly filled the 1,200- seat auditorium at Tel Aviv University, was titled “From La Scala to the Champs-Élysées.” It featured Israeli opera singers Judy Behar and Gabi Sadeh along with an eight-piece chamber orchestra and three ballet dancers. They performed a mixture of classic opera pieces and French chanson along with a few American songs associated with Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra.The concert, heavily attended by the French-speaking public, featured top production values in all areas. Both Behar and Sadeh have extensive international experience with the material and strong, expressive voices, which were put to good use against the lush ensemble led by pianist and arranger Eitan Smeisser of the Israeli Opera.Sadeh, a student of Luciano Pavarotti, shone in his renditions of popular tenor pieces, especially his vibrant performance of the famous “Largo al factotum” from Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, while Behar, for much of the show resplendent in a flowing white gown, was especially strong in her passionate interpretations of songs made famous by the French legend Edith Piaf.The in-between song dialogue was conducted in English due to the fact that the entire show was recorded for possible broadcast on public television in the US. Perhaps because English was not the main language of either of the principals, these dialogues came out at times a bit stiff and forced.The entire show, which featured opening speeches by several notable figures, including the writer-photographer Lihi Lapid, was created especially for the ORLY opening within a space of about two months, and came about, according to Hacaspi, in a natural way, as she was already friends with the singers and a fan of their music.Sadeh has already become involved in other aspects of ORLY’s work and is teaching voice and breathing workshops organized by the non-profit.
The lobby of the Smolarz Auditorium was turned into an art exhibition for the evening, a display that included works by autistic artists and their teachers, several of which were sold during the event.FOR NOW, the nascent non-profit doesn’t have proper office space or a developed website, although the latter is being constructed as this article goes to press. According to Hacaspi, ORLY plans to officially incorporate in the US and maintain a branch in Israel.In conversation, she overflows with possibilities for the non-profit, including an annual catalogue of artistic works for sale and bringing the concert to the international stage with guest performers.Since the show, she has been inundated with “endless telephone conversations” with various organizations and individuals, she notes, and emphasizes that for ORLY, it is just the beginning.For more information on ORLY: email@example.com or www.orlygiving.org