The arts—visual, performing, culinary, literary—have been a part of the Town of Southampton since way before there was a town. But it took a resolution adopted by the Town Board on April 25 to make it official.
The Southampton Arts and Culture Committee is the vision of artist and activist Hope Sandrow, the committee’s first chairperson, who worked closely with Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman to bring the idea to fruition.
“The arts have an important legacy going back 10,000 years on the East End; it’s really been created by the artists, as much as the farmers and fishermen,” said Ms. Sandrow, a Shinnecock Hills resident. “My idea was shaped by attending a wide range of arts and cultural events during the past 40 years.” Locally, she has been involved in numerous arts and community projects, including being a Watermill Center community fellow, and an inaugural solo artist for the “Platform” series when the new Parrish Art Museum opened in Water Mill.
She has also worked extensively to preserve the Shinnecock Canal and has worked with the Shinnecock Nation as well. “Over a period of five years, I worked with the Community Preservation Fund to gain town support as I convinced my family to sell Ada’s Attic in Hampton Bays, now known as the Prosper King House,” she said.
But it began to dawn on Ms. Sandrow that “there was no coordination, no dialogue going on between the different nonprofits.” What would it be like to have, for example, a collaborative calendar, listing all the different benefits, galas, talks, workshops and events, under the umbrella of Southampton Town?
“I really wanted all of those people to sit at the table and talk. What are the goals, what are the needs, how can we bring the kids from the public schools into our programs?” Ms. Sandrow said.
So she brought together an artistic dream team. “I started with 37 names, but I could only have eight,” she said with a smile. Besides Ms. Sandrow, other committee members are television producer Geoffrey Drummond, the founder and director of the Food Lab at Stony Brook Southampton; famed visual artist April Gornik of North Haven; arts patron Dorothy Lichtenstein, president of the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation; actress/director Minerva Perez, who is also executive director of the Organización Latino-Americana of Eastern Long Island; Elka Rifkin, educator and director of the Watermill Center; poet Brenda Simmons, founder of the Southampton African American Museum; Terrie Sultan, art historian and Parrish Art Museum director; and visual artist Shane Weeks, who is a member of the Shinnecock Nation.
“It is critical to put the arts on the same level of importance as land preservation,” Ms. Sandrow said. She would like a town archive “of all the arts and artists that have ever been here.” She is also quick to point out that the committee is “all voluntary, with zero financial impact on the town. Who can be on it had to be dictated by the town’s terms. But we want everyone to be involved, of all ages and backgrounds.”
Town arts committees are not a new thing. In Brattleboro, Vermont, the town “recognizes that the arts is a substantial contributor to Brattleboro’s identity. The integration of the arts within the fabric of town government enhances the vitality of the town and the quality of life for its citizens,” according to the town’s website. A little closer to home, the East Hampton Arts Council works in conjunction with the Town of East Hampton.
“We have partnered with the high school in arts contests, created workshops for senior citizens, created an artists networking night and continue to work on artist space issues and other opportunities and functions for artists,” said the council’s co-chair, Kate Mueth. “And we moved the needle on saving Boys Harbor because we advocated for it. While it didn’t become what we were hoping, we did manage to save the building.”
“The arts have been a central part of our community for a long time,” Mr. Scheiderman said. “This area is a haven for artistic creativity. But the arts hasn’t actually had a voice in town government.” He agreed with Ms. Sandrow that advocating for the arts is an important point. “The arts have a big part in our economic community as well,” he said.
Mr. Schneiderman continued, “People want to live in communities that have artistic venues, and happenings, that are culturally alive. And we have that. We also want to be able to advocate on behalf of the artists and art venues for tourist dollars. I want to make sure the Town of Southampton is well-represented.”
Future discussion will include art in public spaces, and, as Ms. Sandrow emphasized, “a cohesive calendar on the town’s website” where local nonprofits can post their events.
“I want it to be fun and creative,” Ms. Sandrow said of the committee’s outreach. After a lifetime creating global initiatives with her artwork, Ms. Sandrow is keeping her sights local for now. “As artists, we created global change, but I don’t think that’s possible anymore. But we can affect local change. As people in the arts we can affect change with our work, and how we work together. I can impact my community. And I’m calling on all of my colleagues to create a positive change in our environment,” she said. “And everyone is going to feel like they are a part of this town.”
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