A New Leader for East End Arts

Shawn Hirst
Shawn Hirst

A new captain is at the helm of East End Arts, which for more than 40 years has been a driving force behind arts education and community development in Riverhead and on the forks.

The change in leadership, after longtime Executive Director Patricia Snyder stepped down at the beginning of September, brings a social worker with a long history of engaging youth and developing non-profits to the Riverhead headquarters of East End Arts.

Shawn HIrst, 37, got her start in non-profit leadership as the Executive Director of Patchogue-Medford Youth and Community Services, where she worked for about a decade. She most recently served for about two years as the Chief Development Officer and the Acting Chief Program Officer for The Suffolk Y JCC in Commack.

“I was at a pivotal moment, where I wanted something different and was looking for a more mission-focused organization, that was about enriching a community,” said Ms. Hirst, a Lake Ronkonkoma resident and mother of two who is enjoying her new reverse commute, as she finished moving into her new office on the East End Arts campus in downtown Riverhead in early September.

“Arts affects people all through their life cycle,” she added. “As a social worker, I love helping to enrich lives and give fulfillment to people.”

Ms. Hirst received her Bachelor’s degree in Social Work from Syracuse University and her Master’s degree in Social Work from Adelphi University.

She said she felt she made the most impact at the tiny Patchogue-Medford Youth and Community Services, working to build up the organization during a time when the Patchogue-Medford area was in the midst of a major revival, expanding services and building a solid funding base for the organization.

“It was a terrific leap in my career,” she said.

But after about a decade, she was looking for a greater challenge, leaping from the small non-profit to the Suffolk Y JCC, an $8 million organization with a staff of hundreds. It wasn’t the right size, she felt after being there for a while, for her to make an impact.

But East End Arts, with an annual budget of about $900,000, she feels, might just be the right fit.

“East End Arts is a very strong, award-winning non profit, but any organization has areas where it can expand,” she said. “I’d like to look for new opportunities and resources and continue on the path set here.”

Ms. Hirst, who shadowed Ms. Snyder for the month of August before officially taking over as Executive Director on Sept. 4, has been busying herself learning about East End Arts’ numerous programs, including a burgeoning music school and a recording studio available to the public, fine arts classes, an in-house art gallery and a growing roster of satellite galleries hosting shows in conjunction with East End Arts.

The organization also hosts numerous community events, designed to help both with Riverhead’s economic revitalization and to foster partnerships between local industries and artists, including Long Island Winterfest, a series of winter concerts at North Fork wineries; JumpSTART, a crash course in fundraising and economic development for artists; and the Memorial Day Weekend Community Mosaic festival, where Main Street in Riverhead is shut down to traffic while artists complete chalk drawings along the street.

“Riverhead has had a revitalization in the works for quite a while,” said Ms. Hirst. “I want to focus on the growth of programs and diversifying our funding base.”

East End Arts unveiled a new membership system earlier this year, giving members a choice of what tier of membership they’d like to hold based on what they’d like to get out of their membership.

The organization is now holding regular “Artist Lounge” social networking sessions for visual artists, and a new, similar “Musician’s Lounge” program is in the works.

“We’re here to make sure our membership is getting the services that are right for them,” said Ms. Hirst. “Member feedback is important to us, so we can design programs that appeal to everybody. Our mission is to inspire and educate, and that’s what we do.”

Ms. Snyder, who was East End Arts’ Executive Director for 23 years, is staying on as an advisor for the next year, helping to launch a new satellite gallery space in the Peconic Crossing artist housing building that is about to open on East Main Street in Riverhead, and helping with the renovation of a barn on East End Arts’ campus that will be used as a seasonal ceramics studio.

“There’s been a lot of demand, with people asking about ceramics classes,” said Ms. Hirst. “We listen to what people are saying, and we do our best to deliver.”

East End Arts is anticipating opening the ceramics studio in the summer of 2019.

As to how Ms. Hirst envisions East End Arts when she finishes her tenure here?

“I’d like to see an organization that is thriving and well-known across the Long Island region, to the boroughs,” she said. “That would be my ultimate goal, but it will take a lot of work.”

Beth Young

Beth Young has been covering the East End since the 1990s. In her spare time, she runs around the block, tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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