The Nobelity Blog is a running series of reports on the film and education work of The Nobelity Project (, including reports from our partner project Mahiga Hope High School in Kenya, and numerous other school projects from our Kenya Schools Fund. The blog also includes reports on our films, including the recent SXSW Audience Award winner, Building Hope, and on our advocacy for specific issues related to a more sustainable and just world for children everywhere.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Texas Artists Step Up for the Nobelity Project

The past few months at The Nobelity Project have been nonstop travel, shooting, editing and fundraising. We’ve made great progress on our new film, One Peace at a Time, and have been looking for an opportunity to share that progress with the nonprofit’s many partners and supporters.

On Sunday, January 27th, the Nobelity Artists and Filmmakers Dinner, was an incredible evening at the Four Seasons Austin with 30 of our favorite Texas artists from the worlds of film, books and television and 250 of our closest friends and supporters. The evening was a turning-point fundraiser for the new film, and also for the Nobelity in Schools program, which continues to expand to classrooms across Texas and America.

Our artists/hosts for the dinner included Willie Nelson, Owen Wilson and Andrew Wilson, Harry Anderson, Mike Judge and many more. There was a gauntlet of cameras and reporters outside the event, and People Magazine got a scoop when the Dixie Chick’s Martie Maguire revealed that she and her husband Gareth are expecting their third child! That news ended up being the wire-service scoop of the evening.

Lance Armstrong had promised to drop by for the cocktail hour, but stayed for dinner and the show. Lance shared some words with Nobel Physics laureate Steve Weinberg, our guest of honor and one of the true geniuses of Nobelity. Recent Pulitzer Prize recipient Lawrence Wright led a continent of fine Texas writers.

One of the best things about the evening was that there was someone you wanted to talk to everywhere you look. I was welcoming Owen Wilson and his brother Andrew, when Owen looked across the room and said, “That’s Jimmie Dale Gilmore!” We couldn’t get through the crowd so one of my many missions became introducing Jimmie Dale to Owen. I was running around all night long between Christy’s and my table, the stage, the silent auction and the press area, so my apologies to those of you I didn’t speak to.

The cocktail hour was sponsored by Patron Tequila, Tito’s Vodka, Shiner Beer and Becker Vineyards. Global shipping causes a billion tons of CO2 emissions to the atmosphere, a global warming source greater than all the cars in the United States. Local consumption is an important way that all of us can live more lightly on the planet. In Texas, we are lucky to have Becker Vineyards making great wine from Texas grapes. And let’s face it, the Nobelity Project couldn’t be doing this class a fundraiser without the donations from these great local companies, or without the incredible support we got from the Four Seasons Austin. Thanks to all of you.

The evening began with my introducing the artists who were hosting each table, with the exception of my skipping my fellow actors from Friday Night Lights, Brad Leland and Ed Clements. Sorry about that guys.

Since most of the crowd had seen Nobelity, lively conversation ensued about the film and the issues we’re dealing with. And a steady stream of people started sneaking by Willie’s table to say hi. Lance is great Texas hero, but nothing tops the number of people who have some deep, personal connection to Willie. He may not know them, but they know him – whether it’s something nice he did for their grandmother in the fifties, or a message of peace he passed to their children this past Christmas, everyone has a connection to Willie.

I’ve been getting emails for the past week from people telling me how great a table host Sara Hickman was, or how cool it was to talk to Jaston Williams from Greater Tuna or Ricardo Chavira from Desperate Housewives.

I also invited 13-year-old Julian Kunik to the stage for a presentation from his incredible “Julian’s List” campaign to raise funds for the Mahiga Primary School in Kenya. Much more on Julian’s list (and a on the current political and economic crisis in Kenya in my next entry – click here).

We also had the American premier of a new short film from the Nobelity Project. Among the many solutions I’m profiling in the new film is a wonderful international competition called the AMD/Open Architecture Challenge. The Challenge is a global design competition with over 500 participating design teams around the world. In December, I traveled around the world with Dan Shine (VP of the 50x15 Initiative) and Cameron Sinclair (co-founder of Architecture for Humanity) to document the communities that will benefit from these designs.

The three projects are a community center and radio station in a Nairobi Slum, a telemedicine center in a remote area of Western Nepal, and an organic chocolate factory for 22 communities of Kichwa Indians in the Amazon rainforest of Ecuador. The short film I made on the challenge premiered at the dinner in Austin, not long after the World premier at another dinner screening at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

We had a great response at both screenings. AMD has already put up a quarter million bucks to build the winning design of the Challenge, and we are hoping the film will generate sufficient funding to build all three projects. You can watch this new film, “The Challenge” by clicking here.

After the film, 94-year-old Blues piano legend Pinetop Perkins kicked off the show. Introducing Pinetop, I reminded everyone that he’d been playing the blues since 1927, and of course that he’d just been nominated for TWO Grammy awards. Pinetop was simply amazing.

My good friend, Harry Anderson was next. I met Harry thirty years ago at Armadillo World Headquarters and we’ve been pals ever since, including during his starring roles on Cheers, NightCourt and Dave’s World. “I was very big in the 80’s,” is how Harry puts it. Harry magic act included borrowing a hundred dollar bill from Willie, tearing it up and burning it and producing it from an envelope he’d passed to a woman in the audience at the beginning of the act. Willie loves a good laugh and got one and his hundred bucks back!

Bob Schneider was next up, starting his set with a beautiful solo version of World Exploded Into Love, his song that plays so powerfully in Nobelity. Thanks, Bob.

Finally, we had a show-stopping final set from Joe Ely, who was joined on his final songs by his fellow Lubbock musicians Butch Hancock and Jimmie Dale Gilmore. The three of them brought the crowd to their feet, both for the great music, and also for the generosity of these three great Texas Musicians’ support of the Nobelity Project. Just before introducing Joe, I announced to the crowd that Joe, Jimmie and Butch had agreed to be auctioned off for a home concert by their original/now -legendary band, The Flatlanders.

John Paul DeJoria started the bidding off at ten grand – which about knocked me over – and the next thing I knew we had a four-way battle for The Flatlanders. Coming up with the dough to fund the Nobelity in Schools program and to make this new film has been quite a task, and when the bidding topped twenty grand, I was almost in tears. When all was said and done, I closed out the Flatlanders home concert at an incredible $31,000!

A deep and heartfelt thanks goes to Mark Shurley and his wife Cathy for this generous contribution, and to the Flatlanders for stepping up with your time and great music.

The Silent Auction was also a great boost. Kathy Harrison bought a couple of beautiful guitars, an acoustic Ibanez signed by Willie and a blonde maple Fender Strat signed by all the artists. There were donations from the Four Seasons Las Colinas and Houston, Hyatt Lost Pines, Doonbeg Resort in Ireland, Nike Golf and many others. Some of the hottest bidding was for framed photos from Nobelity and One Peace at a Time, and for Katie Pipkin’s digital paintings. We have a few more of the beautiful Nobelity Dinner photo books available for $50 each. Let us know if you want one.

If you were outbid on the photos or Katie’s artwork, and would still like a to buy one, let us know. You can check out Katie’s artwork by clicking on her painting below.

My last success of the evening was that I finally got to introduce Owen Wilson to Jimmie Dale Gilmore. Owen’s mom Laura Wilson had taken photos of Jimmie for Texas Monthly several years ago, and Owen was obviously a big fan. The two had a nice, long talk, and when Owen left, Jimmie said, “What a great guy! Who is that?”

Thanks everyone. With your help, we’re going to do our very best to show a better way ahead for all. I am off soon for Ethiopia to document the work of the Glimmer of Hope Foundation and to India for the grand opening of The Miracle Foundation’s new Sooch Village orphanage.

One Peace at a Time,

Turk Pipkin
February 10, 2008


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About Me

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People know me from different things I've done, and often seem to remember me from whatever I was doing when our paths first crossed. If you first saw me on television with Harry Anderson or doing stand-up comedy, you may be disappointed in my current level of funny. On the other hand, if you first saw me as that idiot narcoleptic guy in The Sopranos, I could really use a nap, so I'm still playing that part well. The last few years have been occupied by making three feature docs, Nobelity, One Peace at a Time, and Building Hope. All three were produced by our education and action nonprofit, The Nobelity Project ( I've also written ten books of fiction and nonfiction, most recently the NY Times bestseller, The Tao of Willie, co-authored with the very awesome Willie Nelson.