The past few years have been hard on the arts in East Hampton Town, but the town board and some dedicated artists are hoping to turn that around this spring.
When East Hampton’s finances went into free fall about six years ago, one of the first things slashed was funding for arts organizations.
That didn’t sit well in a community that has long prided itself on its artistic community.
Last year, Councilwoman Sylvia Overby began courting artists to help form an East Hampton Arts Council, and this month the group is holding its first meet-and-greet with artists, at Ashawagh Hall in Springs on March 26.
Performance artist Kate Mueth and painter/filmmaker Jane Martin are co-chairing the committee.
“Sylvia Overby has been incredibly attentive and committed, and such a wonderful and open entity to help guide use,” said Ms. Mueth of the launch of the Arts Council. “We all know what happened to the town finances, but we care about what happens to the arts. The town used to be a very good funder. Arts are such a vital part of commerce where we live. Even commerce aside, for the spirit of a society it’s imperative to have arts functioning at the highest level possible.”
Ms. Martin said the Arts Council is looking for state and private grants to help get off the ground.
“We’re definitely looking at funding exhibition space, performance space, lectures, workshops, educational programs and youth programs, and trying to integrate the various artistic communities as well as different populations out here,” she said.
She said the Arts Council is searching for a building to serve as its headquarters.
Ms. Martin has been involved with the effort to preserve the studios of artists James Brooks and Charlotte Parks, a couple who were part of the group of abstract expressionist painters who worked in Springs in the middle of the last century. The town purchased their property last year, and had initially planned to tear down their studios, but stopped when the arts community suggested they should be preserved. She said the Arts Council is looking into their property or perhaps another property in Springs for an arts center.
“That probably will be a rather time-consuming process,” she said. “We’re working on various fronts, but now we’re looking to hear what the most pressing concerns are for the arts communities out there. One of them would be affordable working space, but that’s a difficult one to solve in the immediate future.”
The meet-and-greet at Ashawagh Hall will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. and is open to artists of all disciplines Wine and hors ‘doeuvres will be served and participants will be asked to fill out a brief survey while they’re there.
“We’re really looking for artists of all disciplines,” said Ms. Martin. “Because of the nature of things out here, there are a lot of people involved in the visual arts, but we’re looking to expand to performing arts, literary arts, filmmakers, anything that involves the arts as a way to support the community.”
Ms. Mueth said she has great hopes for the future of the Arts Council.
“It’s a very hopeful time, a very rich time to be planting these seeds and building something like this,” she said. “It’s hard to build something from the ground up, but in the arts you’re always trying to create ideas out of the ether that will impact and benefit the entire community. We’re really lucky with the town board right now. They’re arts lovers and supporters. They listen.”
“Art needs to be a verb,” she said.