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Hamptons Life

Apr 3, 2018 11:08 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Tom Dunn Joins Southampton Arts Center As Executive Director

Tom Dunn, the new executive director of the Southampton Arts Center.  BRENDAN J. O'REILLY
Apr 3, 2018 11:20 AM

Following a months-long search process, the board of the Southampton Arts Center has hired an executive director for the nonprofit: Tom Dunn, formerly of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.

Mr. Dunn has worked on both the administration side of the arts, and as a creator himself—he’s been a writer, director and producer, including co-writing and directing the successful off-Broadway play “Who Killed Woody Allen?”

“I’m both thrilled and honored to be taking on this assignment,” Mr. Dunn said Monday afternoon, sitting in the Southampton Arts Center foyer on his first day. “I’m taking two decades-plus experience as a cultural nonprofit administrator, operations person, and content creator as well, earlier in my career, to this.”

One of his primary responsibilities in his new post will be fundraising to underwrite programs and the future restoration and modernization of the facility and grounds, located at 25 Jobs Lane in Southampton Village.

“Expanding the donor base is one of my top priorities in helping to build on the success of the first five years of this organization,” he said.

He said he will also be thinking about the business model of the Southampton Arts Center, such as opportunities for earned income that grow revenue and improve the visitor experience at the same time. For instance, maximizing the rentals of the facility while not taking anything away from the arts, and adding a food and beverage element.

“A dark theater is a theater that’s not generating revenue—and so we want this place to be hopping with both curated experiences and with rental opportunities as well, for sure,” he said.

And he seeks to improve community engagement, thinking of who the audience is, how to grow it and how to diversify it, he said.

Amy Kirwin, the director of programs, will continue to be the artistic head of the organization, Mr. Dunn confirmed. “I’m going to help support her in the realization of the work that she is bringing in here,” he said.

Southampton Arts Center, a multidisciplinary arts and culture nonprofit, was founded to reinvigorate 25 Jobs Lane, a village-owned property, after the Parrish Art Museum, the long-standing tenant, vacated to a new facility the museum built in Water Mill in late 2012.

Mr. Dunn noted that Southampton Arts Center’s programs and attendance have quadrupled since its early days, and said he would like to build on that.

His past employer, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, is one of 11 resident world-class independent, autonomous organizations at Manhattan’s Lincoln Center, as well as the custodians of the campus, Mr. Dunn explained. It is the presenter of signature programs like Lincoln Center Out of Doors, Midsummer Night Swing—“one of the more joyous things to do in New York in the summer”—and American Songbook.

Mr. Dunn got his foot in the door in 2001. “It was back in my starving artist days, when I was still working in comedy and the off-Broadway world,” he recalled. “I had the good fortune to work as an assistant to the president of Lincoln Center at a very exciting time. It was the 50th anniversary. We were on the cusp of an over-billion-dollar renovation project.”

That president was Reynold Levy, whom Mr. Dunn called a “good friend and mentor, and one of the preeminent fundraisers in the country.”

Mr. Dunn was promoted in 2008 to be the founding director of Lincoln Center’s David Rubenstein Atrium, a performance venue and public space. He explained that he came aboard during the design process—the architects were Tod Williams and Billie Tsien, who are now designing the Barack Obama Presidential Center in Chicago—and then was responsible for the day-to-day management.

“That was a fantastic experience,” he said. “The atrium does about 110 free performances or educational activities a year. I got to take bits and pieces of what was happening across the Lincoln Center campus and present it to the public, free of charge, which was quite an honor—it was great.”

Then, from 2012 to last year, he was the senior director of concert hall operations, overseeing a budget of more than $20 million.

“We were coming out of a redevelopment of the campus, and it was one of my responsibilities to think about the overall experience of coming to Lincoln Center,” he said. That included “front of house” operations, food and beverage, the visitor center, guest services, accessibility and the parking garage.

Mr. Dunn said he had been looking for other opportunities for some time when last year he was offered consulting work in Saudi Arabia, a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to go to the other side of the world.” The project was the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture in Dhahran.

“That’s a center that’s been in development for many years,” Mr. Dunn said. “The assignment of my associates and I was to help them get to the finish line and readying the facility to open to the public.”

This January, after that short-term job was completed, he was visiting the Parrish Art Museum and had a realization: He wondered why he was searching for new opportunities only in New York City, when he could be searching on the East End. That led him to the Southampton Arts Center. He said he has family ties to the East End, as his wife’s family lived in Hampton Bays. In fact, he and his wife, Blake Dunn, were married on the East End, and he had post-wedding drinks at the Southampton Publick House.

Mr. Dunn is Levittown-born, and he and his wife now live in Huntington with their three children, Jack, 14, Finley, 13, and Grayson, 10.

He said he has no immediate plans to relocate. However, he will be immersing himself in the East End community, including attending the next meeting of the Hamptons Arts Network and getting on the agenda of a future Southampton Village Board meeting to introduce himself.

“We are thrilled to have Tom on board at Southampton Arts Center,” said Simone Levinson, a Southampton Arts Center Board of Directors co-chair, in a statement. “Tom’s deep knowledge, extensive experience and passion for the arts position him perfectly to lead Southampton Arts Center’s next phase of growth.”

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