Pooling Resources, Becoming Friends

The December meeting of the Hamptons Arts Network took place in the newly renovated barn at the Madoo Conservancy in Sagaponack. Members of the new alliance of South Fork cultural institutions are shown below. Tracy Mitchell, executive director, Bay Street Theater

On the theory that two heads, or many more, are better than one, 19 arts organizations on the South Fork have banded together to form the Hamptons Arts Network. The new group will pool resources, share exhibitions and events, and otherwise strategize to maximize their assets and clout in an uncertain environment for nonprofit institutions, particularly with the recent changes in federal tax law limiting the deductibility of charitable donations.

The organizations include Bay Street Theater, the Bridgehampton Chamber Music Festival, Dia: Dan Flavin Art Institute, the East Hampton Historical Society, the Eastville Community Historical Society, Guild Hall, the Hamptons International Film Festival, the Hamptons Take 2 Documentary Film Festival, LongHouse Reserve, Madoo Conservancy, the Parrish Art Museum, the Pollock-Krasner House and Study Center, the Shinnecock Nation Cultural Center and Museum, the Southampton African American Museum, the Southampton Arts Center, the Southampton Cultural Center, the Southampton Historical Museum, the Watermill Center, and the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center. They have started a website and plan to collaborate on grant applications, developing a marketing identity for the region, and more. 

In addition, according to Andrea Grover, the executive director of Guild Hall and one of three original founders of the group, they are collecting data that quantify just how much these organizations as a whole contribute to the vibrancy of the area’s tourism and overall economy.

“I like to joke that combined, we’re like a Walmart — not in terms of closing down mom-and-pop businesses, but as an economic engine,” she said recently. Ms. Grover, who also served as a curator at the Parrish Art Museum, added that the Parrish’s $6 million annual budget and Guild Hall’s $4.7 million budget are representative of just two of the members. Combined, the two institutions alone employ 50 to 60 people full time. “Then there are services we hire: the landscapers, contractors, I.T. companies, and so many more.” 

The tourism they generate contributes to the county’s  tax on all hotel and motel rooms, she said. The people who come to visit one cultural space then shop, eat, and visit the other cultural institutions as well. 

State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. said that “joining together to promote their organizations will give them more clout in dealing with the county and state,” which will be important to them as another source of funding, especially if some individual contributions dry up after losing their deductibility. He said that on the strength of the Hamptons Arts Network’s example, the East End historical societies were also now meeting and considering joint efforts to promote their organizations. “The goal must be that Long Island, and especially Eastern Long Island, gets a greater share of cultural grants from the state.”

According to Mr. Thiele, the perception in Albany and UpIsland has always been, “this is the Hamptons, they have private benefactors and patrons, why do they need our help?” While it is true that the larger organizations can rely on philanthropy for a significant portion of their funding, he said the smaller ones do not always have the resources to commit to development. “If everyone joins together, they make it easier to demonstrate the need of a larger share of the funding pie.”

The county provides all of its current cultural funding through a portion of its hotel-motel tax, but that money is not coming out here in a significant way. County Legislator Bridget Fleming said that East Hampton, Southampton, and Shelter Island provided 35 percent of 2016’s revenues of $10.5 million, with East Hampton alone responsible for 25 percent or $2.6 million. The state law that established the tax allocates only 10 percent of the tax for general cultural funding and that has to be split among the 18 districts that make up the county (although the East End does receive a larger portion of that amount than most others). The rest goes to the county’s general fund, its tourism agency, and to two UpIsland institutions: the Walt Whitman Birthplace and the Vanderbilt Mansion, Museum, and Planetarium, according to Ms. Fleming.

Both she and Mr. Thiele are determined to advocate for more funding. Ms. Fleming said that “it’s a top agenda item in our office. Some of the greatest assets on eastern Long Island are cultural institutions. They enhance the community and make us who we are.”

The idea for the network began when Ms. Grover left the Parrish to take the helm at Guild Hall. Having known Terrie Sultan, the director of the Parrish, for 15 years from their time in Houston, she suggested they find a way to do something together, which became “let’s get everyone together. At the same time, Elka Rifkin, the director at the Watermill Center, had the same idea.” This week, Ms. Sultan was appointed to the board of Discover Long Island, the official promotion agency for Long Island’s travel and tourism industry.

The three directors hosted a mixer at Baron’s Cove in December 2016. To their surprise, 30 people showed up. “It was such a revelation,” Ms. Grover said. “What we found was the first intention wasn’t how to get together on a project, but: How is your organization dealing with a particular grant? What is your organizational structure looking like? How are you working through any number of issues affecting nonprofits? It became almost like a support group. That was very comforting, a very good sign that we had hit on something.”

A little more than a year later, they have their official name, a website, a logo, and a mission statement. A subgroup has formed among the members’ educators to share ideas and best practices. Their public debut, The Hamptons Arts Weekend Festival, or THAW Fest, is planned to coincide with the first weekend of spring, beginning March 23, and will provide a sampling of what each member does best. Art and artifacts will be displayed, theater and heritage will be highlighted, films will be screened, family and educational activities will abound.

   The model for this festival came from Dia, which sponsors and runs the Dan Flavin Institute in Bridgehampton, along with several other art spaces in New York City and in Beacon, N.Y. They are part of the SoHo Arts Network, which held its first open house a couple of years ago. Attendance was in the thousands. “It’s an ‘if you build it, they will come’ principle,” Ms. Grover said. 

Late March is “the time of year when people here have cabin fever and want to get out and see other human beings,” Ms. Grover said. It’s also when hotels are not booked solid, the off-season rates still apply, and the restaurants are not packed.  

Despite how busy each director is, there is usually full attendance at the monthly meetings. “I can’t believe we’re all so committed to this,” Ms. Grover said. “Usually when you have this decentralized, nonhierarchical leadership, it gets to the point where everyone says, ‘Who’s going to do that?’ And certain people are taking on more things than others, but everyone wants to commit resources and staff time.”

That alone is an accomplishment, she said. “If nothing else happens . . . we’ve built up a certain level of trust in collaborating and sharing resources. It’s no longer so high of a jump.” Their trustees support the collaboration as well, she said. “We are a small community and we’re all dipping into the same pool of resources.” With many patrons already supporting three or more of the other institutions, they can see a wise allocation of resources to offset expenses by building an alliance. “All of the institutions were acquainted before, but now we’re friends,” Ms. Grover said.

The Eastville Community Historical Society (with Dr. Georgette Grier-Key).Photos by Durell Godfrey
The Parrish Art Museum.
LongHouse Reserve.
Bay Street Theater and the Southampton Arts Center.