An interview with art collector and philanthropist Diane Allen


Art collector, philanthropist, tastemaker, entrepreneur – these are just some of the labels you could use to describe Diane Allen.
Diane Allen, however, is much more three dimensional than any single descriptor; The Art Collector asked Diane Allen a few questions about her life-long collecting, passion for the arts and philanthropy projects.

What triggered your passion for the arts?
My parents painted when I was very young and I wasn’t the best student, so out of this dynamic I chose art for every elective course, and this was where I could shine.

What was the first art work you bought?
I purchased art even from my humble beginnings as a San Francisco art school drop out. When I found my passion for the jewelry business I soon discovered I had talent as a designer and a “good eye” for both gems and art. I attended a UCLA extension class in buying contemporary art, and purchased my first painting in Venice at the Venice art walk in the early 80’s. It is a beautiful nude watercolor and I have it in my bedroom to this day, it’s still really good.

Can you tell us a little bit about your art collection?
My collection includes a very wide range of styles, but mostly features contemporary and emerging artists. I own an Ed Ruscha sculpture, and two Genevieve Gaignard pieces, one self portrait photograph and one of her princess sculptures. I have an Andy Warhol print – a favorite of mine, called “After the Party” which I purchased at an LA auction shortly after Andy passed away from aids. It was my first big purchase at $2500! I also own a light box piece by John Gerrard, the “Shakur” neon by Tavares Strachan, a Mathew Brandt Michelle Obama portrait done in beads, an Awol, and Baldesarri among others.

Can you tell us about some of the emerging artists you support?
I relate to emerging artists as I was a struggling artist myself. So, giving an opportunity to help them pay their rent by making a purchase, keeps them both working and feels so gratifying. Of course I have to see they have “something” but either way it’s an act of love and encouragement. I also have a handful of talented artists that I am currently mentoring – (PULSE, Amanda Flowers, Zachary Crane, and more.)

Art work by Zachary Crane

Can you tell us about your involvement in Desert X?
I met Susan Davis, the creative director of Desert X, through a close friend who had just become one of the first founding members. I found both her, and the vision for Desert X, so compelling and exciting. I soon after joined the board and hosted a fund raiser at my home in 2017. I have now worked through two biannual Desert X programs; each was extraordinary and well attended. The concept of free public art of the magnitude and scale that Neville Wakefield curates together with Susan and the board is so original, moving and beautiful in this gorgeous desert setting. As a board member I am involved in fund raising and promotion of course, but just being involved in such a large scale project from the beginning has been very exciting.

What, to you, is the importance of a contemporary art exhibition such as Desert X – both nationally and internationally?
Nationally and internationally Desert X is so highly regarded for its originality and wide range of art and public exposure. The sheer fun and joy of finding and sharing each piece of art in its desert setting is exhilarating, I liken it to a giant treasure hunt!

Can you tell us about a couple of your favourite projects/exhibitions from the 2019 edition?
2019 was extraordinary with well over 300,000 visitors to Palm Springs, Coachella Valley, and the Salton Sea. John Gerrard’s “Western Flag” was a favorite of mine as well as the visitors, a huge Instagram success. Sterling Ruby’s “Spector” and “Ghost Palm” by Kathleen Ryan, “Dive In” by Superflex – all had either great beauty, huge presence or scale, and all were amazing to see.

What are your thoughts on the intersection of art and jewelry/design? Where do you draw the line between the two?
Jewelry and art intersected for me at a very young age.
My grandmother was a Hollywood silent film star and her jewelry was dazzling. Having seen her collection of emeralds just did it for me! During my first semester in art school, a psychic told me I would find a three dimensional art form. Shortly thereafter I discovered my passion for jewelry, and had an “Aha!” moment when I realized I was soon working in my three dimensional art form. Both art and fine jewelry are the loves of my life.

Can you tell us about your initiative, Diane Allen Presents, and some of the experiences you curate?
After I was widowed I found myself inspired by the art world again. I began serious collecting and found I was educating myself. I had redefined my life purpose when I decided to close my fine jewelry store “23rd Street Jewelers” after 38 years. Diane Allen Presents was born from the idea that I could maintain a platform in both fine jewelry, philanthropy, and the art world.


Can you tell us about some of the philanthropic organisations you are involved in?
I am the co-chair of the Phase One board, and our focus is raising funds for Phase One clinical trials. We have funded many clinical trials with Children’s Hospital, City of Hope, and UCLA among others, to help find a cure in the search to treat and eradicate all cancer.

As the co-chair of Phase One, I also am the chair person for my annual event “Art Versus Cancer”. This event was designed as a way to bring more people to Phase One and is an art-centric event. Our event date for this year is November 13th, and will be held again at Various Small Fires on Highland. VIA is a non profit supporting the arts, and as a board member we select those artists with projects that require funding. It is exciting to meet artists working on a grand scale, and conceptual artists from Tavares Strachan to Doug Aitken.

Which of your philanthropic endeavors are you most proud of?
I am most proud of Phase One, I personally funded a pancreatic cancer Phase One clinical trial with Dr. Richard Tuli at Cedar Sinai. This is a rare instance where our Phase One clinical trial is moving to phase two, which means the results were more than noteworthy.

Where did you find the connect between entrepreneurship and philanthropy?
From empathy comes the desire to help and the desire to help led me to philanthropy in several forms. Not only do I support the arts and cancer research, but this is just the beginning. I also opened six harm reduction recovery centers in Denver Colorado based on a desire to help addicted individuals just before our national crisis. This desire to open my outpatient clinics was the direct result of a friendship with one of my household employees, who shared the intimate details of losing both parents to heroin overdose. I find this among other entrepreneurial endeavors has been the most gratifying. 

What do you think will be the most important issues in the philanthropic sector in the next 15 years?
Gun control and protecting our environment. While I’m not involved heavily in either issue, I am deeply disturbed by both scenarios and I intend on putting some energy behind both of these issues.


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