CAST in Southold is teaming up with North Fork Contemporary to give new life to the wooden pews recently removed from the former Southold Methodist church that is now CAST’s headquarters, looking for artists who are interested in using them as works of art, architecture, landmarks, or follies.

CAST recently renovated the former sanctuary of the church for use as a more versatile performance space, removing 18 pews ranging in length from 7.5 feet to nearly 20 feet long, said North Fork Contemporary Founder and Director Sean Elwood.

North Fork Contemporary board member and architect Glynis Berry, who has been working with CAST on the renovation, suggested the pews be repurposed by artists in the community. They are currently in storage.

Proposals for works can be flights of imagination or “real world proposals for what a Pew might do,” and are being accepted through Dec. 30. Email nfc.pews@gmail.com for more details. Proposals will be posted on the North Fork Contemporary website and may also be exhibited at CAST this winter.

North Fork Contemporary, a non-profit organization founded in the spring of 2023 by a group of artists excited about the synergies happening now in the local arts community, is looking for pew proposals from a broad swath of the public, including artists, architects, craftspeople and carpenters.

“We’re just beginning programming. We’re starting small, but we’re starting by doing interesting things,” said Mr. Elwood, a Jamesport resident and former Director of Programs & Initiatives for the Creative Capital Foundation, a national organization that provides funding and professional assistance for artists.

The original pew layout.

The pews are all made of heavy oak, he said, and date from the late 19th or early 20th Century.

“We’re accepting anything that can be displayed on a wall as a proposal. As an artist, what would you do with one of these pews?” he said. “People are sending in drawings and watercolors. Some are straightforward, such as just to refurbish, reseal, and make it a pristine example of what it was. There’s a little bit of improvisation involved in finding out what the artists want.”

“Some ideas may be very fanciful, and doing things that in the real world aren’t possible, but we’ll put the proposals on our website,” he said. “A certain number of people who really want to work with the pews will be selected to receive a pew, and then they’ll be regathered back at CAST.”

The exhibition will be held in two parts. From Feb. 4 through Feb. 17, 2024, proposals will be exhibited at CAST and online, where they will be judged by Barry Bergdoll, the Meyer Schapiro Professor of Art History at Columbia University, who has curated exhibitions for a number of institutions, including the Canadian Centre for Architecture and the Museum of Modern Art.

Artists may offer their proposals for sale at prices they set, with the sales divided 40 percent to the artist, 30 percent to CAST and 30 percent to North Fork Contemporary. After the exhibition of proposals, the pews will be distributed to artists who want and are able to bring their proposal to fruition. Five weeks later, the finished projects will be shown in a second exhibition and public auction at CAST, with the proceeds distributed as with the proposal sale.

Pews are expected to be available to artists by the fourth week of February, and to be returned to CAST by April 4. The second exhibition will open on April 7, and an auction will be held April 14.

This endeavor caps nine months of work establishing North Fork Contemporary, which is designing programs for artists and art-interested audiences in partnership with venues throughout the North Fork.

Its board includes Ms. Berry and Mr. Elwood; artist, designer, educator and entrepreneur Marta Baumiller; composer, designer and filmmaker Cliff Baldwin and interior designer Barbara Sokobin Horowitz, along with several advisory councils.

They’ve so far held a studio tour, and a screening of Mattituck filmmaker Amei Wallach’s “Ilya and Emilia Kabakov: Enter Here,” about the world-renowned Mattituck-based artists. An experimental film with live jazz guitar is in the works at the Jamesport Meeting House.

This winter they’re planning a curitorial residency for two exhibitions with VSOP Projects in Greenport. The first will be a solo show running from Feb. 17 through March 3, and the second will be a group show with artists from the North Fork at the gallery’s 311 Front Street location.

“We’ll come and go and do unexpected things, things specifically to benefit artists, and presentations to wider groups,” said Mr. Elwood. “We’re looking at pop-up activities and establishing an arts trail. We’re sort of an experiment.”

The group is also planning to partner with Hauser & Wirth, a worldwide art gallery that has already offered a professional development class through North Fork Contemporary to give artists advice on how to archive their work.

“We hope to have professional development and educational programs available for artists,” said Mr. Elwood. “We want to build a stronger cultural community, and, by extension, work toward improving quality of life. We feel this is a tipping point on the North Fork, with the establishment of the North Fork Arts Center, and East End Arts growing and doing really good programming. We’re part of this community of people, and as the nature of the North Fork changes and the population changes a little bit, there are more people interested in the arts.”

“Hopefully, this collaboration with CAST is a perfect fit for us, working with artists and an organization that is doing good work on the North Fork,” he added. “We’re looking to build an audience and benefit a population that needs help.”

Beth Young
Beth Young is an award-winning local journalist who has been covering the East End since the 1990s. She began her career at the Sag Harbor Express and, after receiving her Masters from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, has reported for the Southampton Press, the East Hampton Press and the Times/Review Media Group. She founded the East End Beacon website in 2013, and a print edition in 2017. Beth was born and raised on the North Fork. In her spare time, she 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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