In Veterans Memorial Hall in Southampton, at the top of a creaking wooden staircase, Kirsten Lonnie is in her office, hard at work.
Lonnie is the Executive Director of the Southampton Cultural Center (SCC), now in its 30th year. She’s ironing out the final details of the SCC’s First Annual Gala: An Evening of Wine & Roses.
“It’s the first big gala we’ve ever had,” Tom Knight, chairman of the SCC, explains. “We want to expand our community programming, improve the equipment in our performance spaces, and really do events that will bring people out here in the off-season, when it’s hard for local businesses. We think of it as cultural tourism,” says Knight. “We try to run weekends or events that pull people in and give a boost to the economy.”
The gala kicks off an intense fundraising campaign. In combination with money received from federal and state grants, the capital raised at the gala will go towards strengthening existing infrastructure as well as growing the reach of the Cultural Center.
“Three legs of a stool,” Lonnie says. “Education, exhibition and performance.” She’s describing the driving purpose of the SCC, located at 25 Pond Lane in Southampton.
In Veterans Memorial Hall there are dedicated practice rooms where musicians can rehearse or take lessons. Drawing, fine art and dance classes for children and adults are also on offer. The basement is an open area perfect for play rehearsals. Its walls have been decorated in black and white murals that depict music notes, silhouettes of people dancing and a painter’s palette and brush.
Next door is the Levitas Center for the Arts, which opened in 2006. It’s an intimate theater with seating for 180.
“The building used to be a decrepit bowling alley before it was a performance space,” Knight says.
“Musicians love it,” Lonnie interjects. “When Perlman plays and you’re sitting in the third or fourth row—” She trails off. There are no words to describe the bliss of hearing Itzhak
Perlman perform with students from the Perlman Music Program’s Summer Music School on Shelter Island.
On the other side of the theater is a small gallery space that showcases work by local artists. You can view the green lawns of Agawam Park through the glass doors in the front.
But what about the gala?
“Cocktails, hors d’oeuvres, silent and live auction,” Knight says.
“Over 300 red roses,” Lonnie says.
The fundraising gala will take place on Sunday, May 29, at Southampton Social Club. Master of Ceremonies will be Kevin Spirtas, of Broadway and Days of Our Lives fame, who will also provide live entertainment. Biddables in the silent auction will include a shopping party at Calypso St. Barth, Red Sox tickets, professional photography sessions, golf outings and tickets to Broadway shows like Beautiful, among many other offerings.
For VIP ticket holders, there will be a reception before the event begins where they can mingle with the honorees: William Hattrick Jr., former mayor of Southampton and founder of the Southampton Cultural Center in 1985; fashion designer Carmen Marc Valvo; Aura Levitas, board member and benefactress of the SCC; and artist Giancarlo Impiglia, who has contributed an original painting to the live auction. Also being auctioned is a couture gown by Carmen Marc Valvo, a steel sculpture by Don Saco and a luxury Costa Rican getaway donated by Thomas Farrell.
“We asked ourselves, ‘Who do we honor?’ We wanted people in the arts, creative people, and people who’ve contributed to the arts,” Lonnie says. “Our hallmark is that our programs are affordable. If someone needs financial help in order to participate, we can address that based on need.”
Knight speaks passionately about furthering art and culture in Southampton. “When the Parrish museum moved out [of the village of Southampton], I went to Mark Epley and the trustees and said, ‘We can’t stay dark. We have to do something.’”
That “something” eventually became SeptemberFest, now in its sixth year. But the annual fall festival is only a small part of what Lonnie and Knight envision for Southampton and its burgeoning Arts District.
“The thing is,” Knight says, “it’s a virtuous circle. We’re working hard to raise money to improve our performance and gallery spaces so that we can do more expansive programming. That’s our investment. The village merchants and restaurant owners share the benefits of these events, which pull in more traffic.”
Promoting education, exhibition and performance of the arts is the mission of the Southampton Cultural Center. When choosing which splashy galas to attend this Memorial Day Weekend, keep in mind the importance of art in the local community.
The Southampton Cultural Center’s First Annual Gala: An Evening of Wine & Roses will take place at Southampton Social Club on Sunday, May 29, from 5–8 p.m. For tickets visit scc-arts.org.