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May 21, 2019 12:57 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Let's Talk Arts: SAC's Amy Kirwin Talks About Her Mission And Shares Details Of The Summer Season Ahead

Amy Kirwin, Southampton Arts Center Artistic Director. MADISON FENDER PHOTOGRAPHY
May 21, 2019 12:57 PM

In May of 2016, Amy Kirwin joined the staff of the Southampton Arts Center (SAC) and a year ago was named artistic director of the organization. When she first came on-board, SAC was just three years old and still in the process of defining its role as a cultural institution in the very heart of Southampton Village.These days SAC, which occupies the space vacated by the Parrish Art Museum in 2012, is a veritable hive of activity all year long. Recently, with summer 2019 on the horizon, Ms. Kirwin sat down to talk about the upcoming season, the centerpiece of which will be “National Geographic Photo Ark,” an exhibition featuring photo portraits of threatened animals by photographer Joel Sartore who has documented nearly 9,000 species to date.

Q: When it comes to curating this season at SAC, what sort of factors are you considering?

In many ways, we do like to take a lead from our exhibition on view. Not completely—some events are just fun. But with the Photo Ark exhibition we have programs paired the with theme. We’ll have Thursday talks with [International Center of Photography] photographers, which is how we met Joel last year. They’re working on getting wildlife and environmental photographers for the talks. This is a first—this exhibition goes all summer. We felt this show is so important, and we really want everyone to see it.

Locally, we have a partnership with Quogue Wildlife Refuge, Evelyn Alexander Wildlife Rescue Center, SoFo, and the Cornell Cooperative Extension and in some cases will have experts doing specialized tours focusing on the species that they are most familiar with. Quogue and Evelyn Alexander will bring in ambassador animals and SoFo is allowing us to partner with them on bird watching trips where we will provide a photographer to help people take pictures.

As far as films go, as part of Sunday documentaries we’re showing the International Ocean Film Tour’s documentary shorts on July 28, “Artifishal: The Road to Extinction” on August 4, and on August 11 three documentary shorts that tie into Lion and World Elephant Day.

Q: This show does seem to lend an opportunity to do more thematic programming, but what are some of the other offerings that you’re excited about?

In addition to our [Hamptons International Film Festival] outdoor films, we just learned that the original Star Wars films are available and will show the original on July 5. We also have Saturday night concerts, which are pure entertainment. A lot of the groups have big followings at Lincoln Center and other big venues, like Burnt Sugar and the Arkestra Chamber and Mitch Frohman and the Bronx Horns.

We also have Winston Irie, a reggae band. A new thing is the quiet disco event, where people will listen to headphones and dance to the music outdoors.

Q: The silent disco dance party sounds hilarious and like a lot of fun. How did that idea come about?

After a show last summer that ended with a dance party, people said how fun it was. Many of them have aged out of the clubs but still want to dance. Once a month now, we have Saturday Night Stomp dance parties. We’ve become a place where they can come and dance, the timing is better for those of us not in our 20s anymore. It’s about listening to the desires and interests of people.

Q: The SAC property seems to offer you a lot of flexibility in designing programming. Would you agree?

We have a unique space here, both inside and out. The large gallery space allows us to do that. Because we’re not a museum but an arts center, we offer a wide variety of exhibitions and programs that don’t fall into a particular model. We also have large grounds and are able to do all our summer stage events outdoors—it’s literally a platform to do so many fun things and fun can accommodate large crowds.

We’re also keen on supporting up and coming artists and creative types and serving as an incubator for new projects. On Theater Mondays in August presenting a workshop of a new musical for kids, another musical based on a Jodi Picoult novel and an opera about the Holocaust.

Q: How would you say the type of programming offered has evolved since you came on-board three years ago?

From the time I started, we had a bit of an open-door policy for people to make suggestions and submit proposals for exhibitions or program ideas. We hear a lot of ideas and sometimes a suggestion will manifest itself. Our ears and eyes are open and interested in what people are interested in. We’re making changes and adjustments based on suggestions and comments.

A lot of our exhibitions include local artists, young artists, really everybody, and we’re providing a place for them to be able to work. As far as programming we love to partner with other organizations, and it’s an important part of what we do. There are a lot of institutions out here, and we happily serve as an outpost for those groups. We agree that certainly we are most successful when we partner with other institutions.

Q: What have you discovered about your audiences in terms of year-round residents vs. summer residents?

A lot of what we do is free. We do get a strong audience from summer crowds, but the locals are very present in the summer, especially at concerts and films and kids’ programs. It makes us happy that our regular followers don’t disappear in summer; we want to cater to everyone.

Q: Any thoughts about where you’d like to take the SAC going forward?

We’re constantly experimenting and always testing the waters, even now. When I started, we wanted to go from being a summer to fall organization to a year-round one by expanding the programming to 11 months of operation. We’ve gone from 50 to 220 programs a year and we have a model of offering certain programs on specific nights—live events on Saturday, film on Friday, talks on Thursdays—and that works well as a format.

Being newer and growing and learning, we want to make sure what we do is of interest to people. I hope that we have that flexibility to be a platform for the community and present things that people are keen to experience and bring in things they may not see anywhere else.

There’s more than enough room to offer dynamic programming that’s appealing to everyone, and enough of an audience to support all of us.

Southampton Arts Center is located at 25 Jobs Lane in Southampton Village. For details on summer programming visit southamptonartscenter.org or call 631-283-0967.

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