Creatives Collaborate, and Everybody’s Happy

Members of Guild Hall’s Academy of the Arts agreed to act as jurors for four categories: literary arts, visual arts, performing arts, and curatorial or critical studies
Standing, left to right: Walter Price, visual artist, Andrea Grover, Guild Hall’s executive director, Tanya Gabrielian, performing artist, Judson Merrill, literary artist, Michele Cohen, chairwoman of the Museum of Arts and Design, Lucia Davis, curatorial/critical studies, and Eric Fischl, president of the Guild Hall Academy of the Arts. Seated: Martin Cohen, chairman of Guild Hall, and Lydia Hicks, visual artist. Durell Godfrey

Guild Hall’s artist-in-residence program was launched in March 2016 because Ruth Appelhof, then the executive director, and the painter Eric Fischl felt that rising property values were making it difficult for young artists to live and work on the East End. Measured by any yardstick, the program has been a success.

“What’s really interesting is that last year it was totally from scratch, so we didn’t know what to expect,” said Marianna Levine, the program’s administrator. “The artists were nominated by members of the Academy of the Arts and their friends, so they all had personal recommendations from very prominent artists and writers.” At the time, it was hoped an application process would one day be instituted.

That happened sooner than expected, in part because Andrea Grover, who took over as executive director in September, felt strongly about opening up the program to artists internationally. Despite some delays in setting up the new process and without being heavily publicized, the program received almost 200 inquiries. Applications came from the Sudan, Iran, Botswana, South Africa, and seven other countries, in addition to the United States.

Once the applications were in, members of Guild Hall’s Academy of the Arts agreed to act as jurors for four categories: literary arts, visual arts, performing arts, and curatorial or critical studies. The photographer Ralph Gibson selected two visual artists, Lydia Hicks and Walter Price. Steve Hamilton, a director, actor, and co-founder of the Bay Street Theater, chose the pianist Tanya Gabrielian; Dava Sobel, a Pulitzer Prize-nominated author, selected the writer Judson Merrill, and Paul Goldberger, a noted architectural critic, chose Lucia Davis for curatorial/critical studies.

“This year we opened it up to local residents, which we didn’t do last year,” said Ms. Levine. “That was a big decision based on the fact that some local artists wondered why they were excluded. We tried to do it informally last year, inviting as many artists as we could think of to dinners, the opening reception, to Guild House to meet the residents, and to bring the residents to artists’ studios.” Ms. Davis, who lives in Greenport, commutes back and forth, while the other artists live at Guild House, which is adjacent to the museum.

Perhaps the biggest difference this year, according to Ms. Levine, is that the residents have been collaborating with each other. “Last year everybody sort of did their own thing. We’ve had two totally different groups of artists in residence, and I’m sure it will be different next year.”

This year’s participants agreed. “The other residents are fantastic,” said Ms. Hicks. “They fuel and inspire me. We are all collaborating, and we have plans to work together in the future. Our relationships are infectious, and the community has been very welcoming and involved as well.” 

While in residence, Ms. Hicks is building a video installation piece that looks “at black folks and our relationships to water and swimming. I’d like to see if it’s possible to heal from the trauma of a stereotype by amplifying a positive reality.” Ms. Hicks noted that Georgette Grier-Key, director of the Eastville Community Historical Society in Sag Harbor, “has been incredibly helpful and welcoming to me and my research.” 

Ms. Gabrielian, who has performed at the Parrish Art Museum in its Salon Series, first heard about the residency from Ms. Grover, who was working at the Parrish at the time. “In addition to more traditional performances, I am also dedicated to using art as a means of activism, she said. “I’m working on multidisciplinary works here and collaborating with some of the other artists.”

She, too, finds the interaction exhilarating. “I am normally around musicians. Classical musicians in particular are always isolated from other artists, so this is a wonderful experiment in how we can all benefit from each other.”

Mr. Merrill agreed. “I love my fellow residents. The dynamic in the house has been great. I’ve really enjoyed these past couple of years going around to residences and meeting a bunch of different kinds of artists. Writers can be a little boring. Visual artists, especially, have a spontaneity I appreciate. If they get an idea, they do it. They’re a little less precious.”

He also relishes the access to the creative community here. “I met Neal Gabler and talked to his graduate class at Stony Brook. Then I started reading his book ‘Life: The Movie,’ and I thought about the way entertainment has taken over, which is also very interesting in thinking about the last election.” He has met Ms. Sobel as well, and has been emailing the writer A.M. Homes, whom he hopes to meet soon in person.

Ms. Davis’s all-consuming project is the Art Bus, a refurbished school bus that will serve as a traveling showcase of art and artists, holding collaborative events at stops along the Eastern Seaboard. She has overseen a series of creative workshops at local organizations while here.

“The best part of the residency has been the people,” she said. “I love my fellow artists-in-residence, and the entire Guild Hall staff, especially Andrea, has been extremely supportive and helpful. I’ve also met a lot of interesting people, from local artists like Hiroyuki Hamada and Scott Bluedorn to the ladies at LTV to the curator Marla Prather, all of whom have been unbelievably kind, gracious, and generous with their time.”

This year’s program will culminate on May 6 with a presentation in the John Drew Theater of work by the residents. The Art Bus will be parked outside Guild Hall that day, making its first public appearance. Ms. Hicks and Mr. Price, who was unavailable for an interview, will install their work in the bus. “That event will really offer an opportunity for the community to interact with the artists and see what they’re doing,” said Ms. Levine. 

Several of last year’s residents have continued to come out to the East End, she said, smiling, “which is why this program was started, to bring younger artists to the area and our creative community here.”