A New Place for Art, Artists, and Community

The committee includes, from left, Dru Raley, the Rev. Tony Larson, and Cynthia Loewen. Morgan McGivern

   Necessity breeds invention and eventually, the disparate but common threads of the East Hampton artistic community were bound to find a way to reknit themselves into a haphazard whole.
    Cynthia Loewen, an artist who found herself longing for the company of her colleagues between too infrequent events, said last week that she decided that what was missing was a place to regularly gather and share ideas and problems, that they could truly call their own.
    Despite the frequency of art shows at Ashawagh Hall, the lottery system for the building leaves many out of the loop who would otherwise like a place to exhibit or meet. The Artists Alliance of East Hampton, she said, has only one show a year for its regular members and its membership has dwindled recently. “I got tired of seeing 4,000 artists in East Hampton with nothing to do, no communications, only seeing each other at Ashawagh Hall once or twice a year.”
    Ms. Loewen saw a facility being underused, the Springs Presbyterian Church parish hall, and imagined a new purpose for it, the Community Art Project, which will have its introduction this weekend with a silent art auction during the church’s annual pork supper on Saturday night. Later in the month, on Feb. 25, Phyllis Braff will discuss the early artistic community in Springs.
    Ms. Loewen said the group she hopes will participate would include writers, dancers, actors, singers, potters, jewelers, and others, in addition to visual artists. “It’s in its infancy right now. We’re trying to get the word out to the public now and we’re grateful for help, any suggestions, any ideas.”
    According to Ms. Loewen, the Community Art Proj­ect will be based at the church, which will provide its facilities to every artist and person no matter their religious affiliation. The church’s hall has a stage, small film screen, commercial kitchen, and dance floor, which she said would provide ample space for classes, shows, lectures, demonstrations, variety shows, and art history classes. She would like to use the kitchen for English-style teas in conjunction with events. In summer, she said the project plans to offer art classes to schoolchildren on the church’s grounds overlooking a creek.
    “We, the artists, have become distant from the community and as such become less relevant to the public,” she said. “There seems to be little interaction with student artists, free public exhibitions, and/or inexpensive classes or lectures, discussions, or advice. Nearly all we do is directed to selling our work.” Her goal is to offer programs at minimal cost to the public and free exhibition space to artists.
     Rather than a formal organization, this will be a loose affiliation. “The founding committee will be the guiding body to assure each event moves forward for the mutual benefit of artist and community,” she said.
    There will be some restrictions because of the setting, such as no alcohol, nudity in art, or promoting religious or social controversies, but Ms. Loewen said that most of the programs the group has envisioned would be acceptable.
    The founding committee includes Ms. Loewen and Tony Larson, the pastor of the church, as well as Alice Peifer, Frank Sofo, and Dru Raley. They will collect fees as deemed appropriate for each event to defray costs and will give some money back to the church for the maintenance of the building, whether in admission fees or a percentage of sales from art exhibits.
     According to Ms. Loewen, everyone she has spoken to has been receptive so far, with a number of other community organizations indicating potential interest in collaborating with the new group. More programs will be announced soon.