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Hope Anew for Brooks-Park Arts Center

Thu, 09/07/2023 - 11:05


For art historians and preservation-minded residents and friends looking to save at least a portion of the James Brooks and Charlotte Park house and studios in Springs, there is a ray of hope.

A panel discussion of the Abstract Expressionist husband and wife at the Parrish Art Museum held recently helped illuminate their importance as pace-setting American artists. A discussion of a preservation plan for the house and Brooks’s separate studio at the 11-acre site is anticipated to take place today during a town board meeting.

East Hampton Town bought the Brooks-Park property in 2013 with money from the community preservation fund. The structures there were in poor condition; they have only gotten worse since then. Despite a clamor to save them, Town Hall remained largely unmoved — until now. The draft management plan to be presented this afternoon calls for an ambitious restoration, as well as a native plant garden and tree-identification trail. The two studios would be shored up in some fashion, to allow for guided tours of these unique spaces; other painters were said to have sought to copy Mr. Brooks’s concept for gathering natural light by which to paint.

More than all that, though, the plan envisions the site as a kind of educational center, both about nature and the art community that sprang up in Springs in the 1940s and ‘50s and continues to this day. Brooks and Park had a critical “foundational role in the advancement of post-World War II art . . . placing them within the center of its apotheosis alongside friends, fellow artists, and neighbors like Jackson Pollock, Lee Krasner, and Elaine and Willem de Kooning,” according to the draft management plan. Despite the area’s massive cultural significance, Springs does not have a single, central facility other than the Pollock-Krasner House and Study Center and the more contemporaneously-focused Arts Center at Duck Creek, where an overview appraisal is possible. It is overdue.

A list of possible programs at a Brooks-Park arts center includes scholarly and inventive programs, classes, symposiums, and public events focusing on the artists, art of their era, nature and environment, along with “workshops in painting, drawing, journaling; guided hikes, birdwatching, mushroom foraging, animal tracking, plant identification, bioremediation and trail maintenance.” To manage all that, a public-private partnership is planned. An already existing nonprofit Brooks-Park Arts and Nature Center could be among the organizations considered for that role.

As we have said before, there will have to be some give-and-take between the town and the preservationists. Mr. Brooks’s innovative studio might have to be evoked in a new structure, for example.

There are plenty of hurdles to pass before anything there could open to the public. Asbestos is one; according to a 2022 detailed assessment commissioned by the town, the carcinogen lurks in the wallboard Brooks chose for his studio. A preliminary estimate of the cost of getting an arts center there up and running was more than $3.8 million. We think the final price would be significantly higher. It still seems worth it.

The plan is a good one and should be a baseline for a new look at what is possible at the site.

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