With a beautiful art gallery and stunning jewel box theater, Guild Hall has been a mainstay of East Hampton since 1931. But it hasn’t achieved its ubiquity and success by resting on its laurels. Executive Director Andrea Grover knew in March that the storied institution would have to adapt to keep things going. As Grover and her staff quickly worked to make sure Guild Hall didn’t disappear during the quarantine, they discovered “inventiveness out of necessity.”
“We’re actually having a little bit of fun, if I can admit it,” Grover says, “being innovative and figuring out solutions as a group very quickly. We are working on a very dynamic summer season, because the details surrounding the pandemic and best practices for reopening are shapeshifting every day and so we’re looking at hybrid approaches to our summer program.” In the ensuing months since COVID-19 hit, Guild Hall has offered virtual programming. “We’ve learned how to operate in the virtual world very quickly,” Grover says. “That is our single platform right now. As we approach a reopening date, we’re going to be prepared to put things online or offline or a hybrid of both. For instance, if we’re mandated to have smaller audiences but still want to reach a broader population we’d do a live performance that is also live broadcast. Our summer exhibition will be both online and offline. And if we were to do a presentation or performance we could do [several] shows to accommodate people for their safety and comfort. We’ve talked to a lot of professionals who are doing benefit and performance events online and we’re talking about in the future investing in broadcast quality recording of our highest profile performances.”
Guild Hall has so far offered virtual staged readings like their star-studded Portrait of Tennessee, starring Mercedes Ruehl and Harris Yulin, Q&As with artists such as Elaine de Kooning House artist-in-residence Eric Haze and will continue to present interesting new programs. So far, the reaction has been incredibly positive. “It’s been kind of unbelievable,” Grover marvels. “We started taking attendance online and the participation for a 10-day period was 16,000 people participating. For us, we have 60,000 people come through Guild Hall a year on average, so it’s a pretty encouraging number! With the online program our seating capacity is unlimited.” Grover says that members of the Guild Hall staff have really had the chance to blossom during this time, with everyone contributing ideas for virtual programming.
The summer lineup has, unsurprisingly, been revamped over the last eight weeks. A major exhibition featuring the works of Robert Longo has been postponed until 2021, but Longo helped Guild Hall prepare a different show, All for the Hall, an exhibition featuring donated works to be hung in the gallery and available for purchase online to help Guild Hall running. “That was a real gift for us,” Grover says. She is also hoping to utilize the outdoor space around Guild Hall for smaller live performances. “Instead of having this roster of really glittery names, we are going to focus on the glittery names that are right here in the community and help to restart the creative economy here,” she says.
While the future is uncertain, history shows us that the arts always find a way to stay alive and Grover wants Guild Hall to continue to be an artistic epicenter for the East End: “The arts are there to say that we’ll always have the music of Bach and the plays of Shakespeare and these touchstones that remind us that people who lived hundreds of years ago have shared the same emotional depths that we do today.”
For more on Guild Hall’s virtual programs, visit guildhall.org.