By Helen Olsson By Helen Olsson | October 17, 2022 | People Lifestyle
Quarterback Russell Wilson and Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Ciara have taken Denver by storm, and they’re making a philanthropic impact along the way. In late September, the duo paired up with Scottish fine art photographer David Yarrow at Relévant Galleries in Denver’s Cherry Creek for a fundraiser to benefit the Wilsons’ charity, Why Not You.
The event raised over $125,000 for the foundation, which Wilson and Ciara founded in 2014 when he was playing for the Seattle Seahawks. At the tony invite-only event, 120 folks gathered to sip wine, nibble passed appetizers, and buy works from Yarrow’s stunning large-format collection featuring Denver’s newest power couple.
In 2021, Yarrow shot a series with Wilson and Ciara at one of his favorite Western backdrops, the Pioneer Bar in Virginia City, Montana. The dramatic photos feature the couple playing roles in a series of vignettes with western archetypes. At the event, Wilson, Ciara, and Yarrow sat in front of a large-format print titled “Smooth Criminals,” with Ciara in a cowboy hat at the wheel of a convertible and Wilson acting as a menacing gunslinger outside the First Down Saloon.
Other photos in the series include “Persons of Interest,” which features the couple dressed in black tie playing pool and posed with a diverse cast of characters at the Pioneer bar. “Django” was shot in the middle of a downpour with a frontier-style saloon going up in flames as a backdrop. Wilson and Ciara emerge from the conflagration, badass in black hats and cowboy getups. The image is intended to riff on Tarantino’s badass western “Django Unchained.”
During the event, Yarrow shared some personal insights into the Wilson x Ciara series. “Since I took that picture [“Persons of Interest”], two of the people in it have passed away. It reminds me of the limited amount of time we are here and how blessed we are to be on this most extraordinary planet,” said Yarrow. He also gave props to Colorado’s gallery scene: [Relévant ] is a gallery you should be very proud of in Colorado. They do a magnificent job.”
What were your thoughts when you were presented with the concept for the “Django” shoot (the costumes, the burning buildings…)?
Ciara: We were excited because both Russell and I are huge fans of David. It was a dream to work together and then to know it would impact our mission with the Why Not You Foundation. To be part of this iconic imagery was really special. We were just elated.
Russell, do you want to piggyback on that?
Russel Wilson: I brought home a David Yarrow book, and we were looking at it page-by-page, and I said, “I need to know this man who has the courage to shoot face-to-face with a grizzly bear.” So I pinged David, and within an instant, we had this wild connection for life and people—and we started talking about, How can we make a difference? I said we can do these really amazing photos, but let’s do this for good.
How much pressure was there to find that perfect take?
Ciara: When you have a certain window of time to shoot, that's where I think the pressure comes in. You're trying to execute the photos, change the setups, change the wardrobe, change the hair. We had one day to get in there and knock it out—not even a full 24 hours! That’s the pressure, but it's so fun working with the love of my life.
Pressure can take you to that point to do something creative. Let’s talk about creativity, in your mind's eye.
Russell Wilson: We all have different gifts and He's given me the gift of really big hands…that I can move and throw. Sierra has the voice of song and dance and making people move and smile. And David, his eye is incredible. And he has the patience to be able to get that shot. You can look at your gifts as pressure or you can look at them as an opportunity to give.
Tell us more about the foundation:
Russell Wilson: The idea of these photos was unity. It’s really trying to make a difference in the world and in our communities. In Seattle, we used to go to Children’s Hospital, and every time we walked into a room, we'd pray for a glimpse of hope. We opened up a school in Seattle called Why Not You Academy. It’s been amazing. And we want to be able to make a difference here in Colorado, too. We love it here and we’re so excited.
Since moving to Denver, the Why Not You Foundation has already begun to make an impact locally. This past July, the Why Not You Foundation partnered with Centura Health, which contributed $500,000 to support local and regional nonprofits. At the time of the announcement, College Track, a Colorado-based nonprofit that helps Denver-area students facing systemic barriers to earning a bachelor’s degree, was awarded the partnership’s first grant, to the tune of $100,000.