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Jul 20, 2010 4:20 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Arts district forming in Southampton Village

Jul 20, 2010 4:20 PM

Southampton Village has long enjoyed an artsy downtown scene, with galleries, museums and other cultural staples arranged in a pedestrian-friendly manner. Now, a little connecting of the dots is leading to the formation of a formally titled “Arts District,” the aim of which is to tie all of the cultural institutions together and synchronize events.

Local officials and planners envision it as a boon for off-season foot traffic and the local economy.

“It’s all about integrating and enhancing what already exists. Southampton is already blessed with significant cultural assets beyond what’s normally found in most other village and town centers,” reasoned Stanton Eckstut, principal of Ehrenkrantz, Eckstut & Kuhn Architects of Manhattan, which prepared the village’s master plan a few years ago. “If everybody would coordinate themselves, one and one would add up to five,” he said.

One of the key objectives of the village-adopted vision plan is to “make art a defining characteristic.” Part of the idea stemmed from Village Planning Commission discussions during the development of the master plan. As part of that goal, Mr. Eckstut drew a circle around the map of the downtown, highlighted the Parrish Art Museum on Jobs Lane, the Southampton Historical Museums and Research Center on Meeting House Lane, the First Presbyterian Church of Southampton on South Main Street, the Southampton Cultural Center on Pond Lane, the Rogers Memorial Library on Coopers Farm Road, the cinema on Hill Street, Agawam Park and a potential arts usage for the Doesher property, a roughly acre-and-a-half parcel adjacent to Agawam Park that is jointly owned by the village and the Town of Southampton, and labeled it a proposed Arts District.

Village officials have embraced the idea as a way of improving commercial occupancy rates and increasing the tax base, as well as a highlight of the local cultural flavor.

“I think it’s a great thing,” commented Mayor Mark Epley. “It’s laid out well.”

The now definite departure of the Parrish Art Museum in 2012, however, will be a big blow to the district’s formation. Mr. Epley, who has previously called the museum’s uprooting and move to Water Mill the worst thing that has happened to the village, called the Parrish’s role in the local arts scene over the past century “extremely” integral, enticing artists to pack up their easels and paintbrushes and move to the area.

“I think it’s going to have a major impact. It’s going to leave a hole for a long time,” he acknowledged.

The museum’s new building is slated to rise on former farmland on Montauk Highway in Water Mill. And the village’s search for a new occupant at the historic Jobs Lane site is still in its infancy, Mr. Epley noted.

“We’re just now getting up to speed,” he said, adding that once the Planning Commission has completed its discussion of the business district’s zoning and architectural guidelines, its next topic to tackle will be who will occupy the current museum. That occupant will likely become a high-profile piece of the newly forming district.

Meanwhile, the Doesher property, which includes a two-story house, cannot be used as an artist-in-residence program, whereby a visiting artist would live in the house and paint local scenes—an idea once floated by village officials—since the historic plot was purchased with Community Preservation Funds by the town and the village, Mr. Epley said, but its future may still include an artistic use, such as a plein air painting spot open to the public.

Thomas Knight, a member of the Planning Commission and chairman of the Cultural Center, has played a key role in the design of the district, along with Cultural Center Executive Director Kirsten Lonnie.

“There are arts districts in little villages along the Hudson River and all over the U.S.,” observed Mr. Knight. “There’s no legal definition of what an arts district is in New York, but we though it might not be a bad idea to have an arts district.”

The nascent district does not have rigidly-defined boundaries, but—like a canvas of artwork still in progress—can adapt to include different institutions, such as Peconic Public Broadcasting, 88.3FM, whose studios moved to Hill Street this year from the Shinnecock Hills campus of Stony Brook Southampton, noted Kathryn Simos of Simos Productions.

Ms. Simos, an events coordinator for 20 years and a painter herself, is directing what could be perceived as the district’s coming-out party: Arts Harvest Southampton, a cultural extravaganza chock-full of painting, theater, music and culinary arts planned for September 17 through October 10. The Southampton Chamber of Commerce, the African American Museum of the East End and the Hamptons International Film Festival will be among the participating organizations in this event.

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I'm sick of "the arts." There are art shows everywhere. I walked into a deli one day and they were having an art show. Enough already. How about a nice park somewhere with trees and bushes and bike paths and jogging routes instead of endless art shows where much of the "art" looks like something my 11 year old could do if given a school assignment? One thing I learned living out here is that anyone can call themselves an artist.
By btdt (449), water mill on Jul 29, 10 6:23 PM