While the town board agrees the use of the former Peconic school as an artists’ haven is a good idea, they have questions.
At last week’s town board work session, Councilman Bob Ghosio said he’d met with the parks and recs department and discussed the idea further, bringing questions over details back to the board.
The concept was pitched by East End Arts to the town board last month, with an eye toward using the facility to display artwork and potentially hold classes.
For example, Ghosio said while the parks and recreation department was not necessarily against classes being offered, the feeling was that those classes should be offered through the town’s department, not East End Arts.
Some concerns were also raised by artists who said the space should be open to all Southold Town artists, not just those affiliated with East End Arts, Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell said, adding that based on the “grumblings” he’d heard, some the proposal as pitched was unfair to local artists.
“The community and the parks and recreation department will have to work with East End Arts to bring this to fruition,” he said.
Another issue of concern was liability, Ghosio said. Pat Snyder, executive director of East End Arts, said EEA carries a certificate of insurance for every space utilized that covers liability, but not theft.
The issue of Southold Town, as a third party, needs to be discussed, Ghosio said.
Jeff Standish, director of public works, said he’d love to see life in the building. “I’m all or this. I think the school needs to be noticed. It’s a beautiful building and we need to bring people here.”
He added that work should begin in the hallway, not the stage area, where there is a great deal of woodwork.
What’s most important, he said, is working out a long-term plan for the facility and with East End Arts, and while the idea of focusing on the 375th anniversary was a good one, it wasn’t critical.
Last month, Snyder, executive director of Riverhead’s East End Arts, came before the town board at a work session to discuss the proposal for gallery exhibitions and workshops at the Peconic Lane Community Center on Peconic Lane.
The aim, she said, is to provide additional gallery space on the North Fork, which is bursting with artistic talent.
“There’s never enough hanging space,” she said.
The auditorium, she said, is suitable for artists’ talks and a reception area.
In order to proceed, hanging systems would need to be installed in the building and hallways, Snyder said; the walls are concrete and “not receptive to nails”.
East End Arts, she said, nurtures approximately 475 artists annually and has gallery space in Riverhead’s historic Corwin building, which is owned by the town.
Gallery space is also located at 30 West Main Street in Riverhead and on the second floor of the Jamesport Manor Inn.
Satellite galleries, she said, help provide opportunities to exhibit art around town and also, to launch training programs for artists, as well as others who learn how to curate a show, providing employment, as well.
East End Arts, a 501c3 organization, rents the Riverhead spaces and has a long-term lease, she told Russell.
The supervisor asked if would be possible to create first priority opportunity for Southold artists; Snyder said that could be done.
He asked if artists other than those who belong to East End Arts could exhibit at the facility.
“We have to maintain the quality of the art. You’d want whatever is up on the wall to be a reflection of you and East End Arts,” Snyder said, adding that artists featured would be EEA members.
That issue remains under discussion, Russell said.
Snyder said a second opportunity exists in the form of potential programming at the site. “The spaces are beautiful. We’re not taking over the building but we could offer programs on a semi-regular basis.”
Such programs, she said, could include Artists Helping Artists, a program where photographers might come in and shoot the work of artists working in other mediums.
Others might include the JumpstART program, which currently takes place in Riverhead; the program teaches all disciplines the business end of the arts, including marketing, fundraising, public speaking, and writing.
Curatorial training, professional development for arts educators, and workshops for children could also be offered, as could New Horizons, a nationwide program for individuals over 50 to form a band, despite their level of musicianship.
The arts offer human enrichment, Russell said.
Councilwoman Jill Doherty said a good idea would be to get local schools involved; young Mattituck artists recently received nationwide recognition for their art.
Southold’s special projects coordinator Phillip Beltz, who has been working with Snyder on the proposal and has asked that some environmental component be included, said when the town worked on the recreation chapter of the comprehensive plan, “people came out in the dead of winter” to support an increased focus on the arts in Southold.
Councilman Bill Ruland said young and old could come together through art and said preservation of the arts, whether visual or music, “is very important. Something many people won’t understand until they get older. And if they haven’t been properly educated, they won’t.”
Future discussions will be held, Russell said.