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Feb 9, 2010 6:42 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Partnering to put art in public places

Feb 9, 2010 6:42 PM

In downtown East Hampton Village, you can almost hear the tumbleweeds blowing down the empty streets, as the winter doldrums combine with the economic downturn to produce a sad sight on a street where Ralph Lauren has three shops, where Hermes, Mayfair Jewelers, Brooks Brothers and Cole Haan have kept up an East End presence and where the ambiance of carefree wealth can easily be shattered by empty shops.

There were nearly 30 empty storefronts in East Hampton Village at a count this week, and although about half of them are closed only for the season, the ones that are gone for good were once East Hampton institutions: Hampton Cards & Gifts shuttered its doors for good just before Thanksgiving. East Hampton Video & Electronics on North Main Street quietly closed its doors at the end of 2009. Jewelhampton on Newtown Lane is gone, as is Cole Haan, Breezin’ Up and Brooks Brothers. Prudential Douglas Elliman has abandoned its 83 Main Street storefront in favor of a better location next door to the East Hampton Cinema, but in front of the door of its former headquarters, stacks of magazines are piling up, unread, as trash collects in the crevices between potted plants and signs advertising the latest real estate price reductions.

The mood on the street seems to mirror local labor statistics. Although the New York State Department of Labor doesn’t keep statistics for a town as small as East Hampton, in neighboring Southampton, unemployment rates were at a high for the decade at 8.2 percent in December 2009, up from 6.9 percent in December 2008 just after the financial meltdown. Volunteers for the homeless shelter Maureen’s Haven report that real estate agents, who haven’t made a sale in months, are beginning to seek shelter in the churches that sponsor their program.

Downtown, “Store For Rent” signs have popped up, while a passerby stopped recently, muttering to a reporter, ‘It’s the worst we’ve seen in a very, very long time.”

Town Board member Dominick Stanzione shares that assessment, and while he said that there’s little that municipal government can do to address economic problems, the work of food pantries, soup kitchens and non-profits can help lessen the burden. But one of his many projects, he hopes, will also help to raise the spirits of anyone who braves the cold to visit East Hampton Village.

“The inventory of empty spaces is the largest I’ve seen in a decade,” he said. “What can we do? We can optimize the experience.”

Mr. Stanzione is currently working with Guild Hall Executive Director Ruth Appelhof on a plan to put the works of local artists on display in empty storefronts, a move that he hopes will help to beautify the town, give a boost to struggling artists, and perhaps generate interest in what East Hampton’s commercial center means.

“It is the commercial crown jewel of the town,” he said of East Hampton Village. “We want to use this down time in the retail spaces to enliven them with the expressions of local artists.”

Mr. Stanzione hopes to have the project off the ground within the month, but that will entail coordination between individual shop owners, artists and with Guild Hall, which will curate the show.

Representatives from Guild Hall are not yet commenting at length on the project.

“There was a very positive discussion,” said Guild Hall spokeswoman Barbara Jo Howard recently. “We are in the preliminary stage and look forward to discussing this once all the details are put in place.”

Mr. Stanzione said that he is currently discussing the costs of hanging and lighting the art with potential benefactors. He estimates that the project will cost roughly $5,000. He also hopes to encourage artists who may not be part of any local arts organizations to consider allowing their work to be used.

“I’m really excited about it and everyone I talk to in the artist community is excited,” he said.

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What a great, positive idea. Perhaps Southampton village Board could team with the Parish.
By sunshine (47), southampton on Feb 11, 10 9:46 AM
Here is a far reaching plan, maybe the pig real estate people need to lower their rents. Maybe the recession has finally filtered down to East Hampton.
By Mets fan (1501), Southampton on Feb 11, 10 11:18 PM
2 members liked this comment
This has been working in other cities. Some stores are being turned into temporary art galleries with displays changing weekly, openings on Saturdays.
Perhaps it would be appropriate to have a live sand-painting exhibition or contest.
(See Youtube, search "sand painting").
I, for one, would be happy to donate artwork for an auction to raise money for the electric bills, etc.
By Montaukette (46), Waterland on Feb 11, 10 11:39 PM
Maybe they should rent to retailers that sell things that people can afford. And if the retailers need to make enough money, the landlord can lower the rent. Dentists and doctor offices, hardware stores, solar power installers, sailing and fishing gear. And maybe a bookstore? A lunch counter with home made food?

Au revoir Hermes, au revoir.
By davidf (325), hampton bays on Feb 16, 10 6:41 PM
1 member liked this comment