East End Groups and Leaders on Looking Back, Moving Ahead, Saying Thanks

Parrish Art Museum, Photo: Barbara Lassen
Parrish Art Museum, Photo: Barbara Lassen

Restaurants and wineries. Arts institutions and home improvement companies. Local government and nonprofit groups. Every single individual, business and organization on the East End has been touched and affected by COVID-19 in some way, and everyone has had to adapt throughout what has been a summer like no other in the Hamptons and on the North Fork. East End leaders, businesses owners and community members look back on this unprecedented season and year, reflect on how their lives have changed and what they see for the future, and give thanks to those who have worked so hard, and keep working, in order to make a difference.

I think it was Monday, March 16 when our executive director, Tracy Mitchell, asked us to really “think out of the box” in regards to programming for the foreseeable feature during COVID-19. There was already an online initiative in the works called “Sip and Sing,” which the wonderful Valerie diLorenzo kicked off for Bay Street. I was coming up in education on what would have been Vacation Camp, so I did a theater camp online instead for eight weeks for elementary students! Lots of glitches along the way and lost internet connects on Zoom, but all in all, it was a lovely success! Soon other artists approached me and Bay Street about programming. This was a gift for us, because we really wanted to keep artists going during this crisis. Wade Dooley, Marcia Milgrom Dodge, Divaria Opera and Anita Boyer have all done online programming with Bay Street this past spring and summer. We just completed a live camp series that lasted eight weeks thanks to a community collaboration with the Sag Harbor Whaling Museum, outside on their grounds. Again, rain and the occasional Zoom bugs were a challenge, but thanks to the trust, and collaboration with our parents, students and participants, we pulled it off safely with masks and social distancing. Fall programming bodes well as many of the community and online collaborators that we worked with have expressed interest in continuing in classes with us both online but mostly in-person if we can.
—Allen O’Reilly, Director of Education, Bay Street Theater

From the onset, our concern was the health and safety of the community and our staff, so we took immediate actions suggested by regional/state/national entities and closed the building in mid-March. At the same time, we launched robust online programs including livestream talks by curators and artists on Fridays, and live art classes. In tandem with that, the education, curatorial and programs departments created online resources like home art classes and virtual tours. We realized that in the digital space, we could still be a valuable cultural resource to our community and our audiences near and far.

The Parrish plans its special exhibition schedule far in advance, and we were all excited about the incredible exhibitions slated for 2020 which unfortunately we could not realize in our galleries. One, Telling Stories, was transformed into a rich online experience with video interviews with the artists, images, essays, and artist statements. The other two exhibitions, one featuring the artist Tomashi Jackson and the second James Brooks, will premier in 2021. For the reopening of our galleries we are featuring regional artists and works drawn from our Permanent Collection. The exhibitions have garnered a lot of media attention.

We faced the many challenges familiar to everyone by now. Our staff was incredibly nimble and creative and pivoted to producing online public programs and engagement through virtual exhibitions. We had to make difficult decisions around staffing and expenses because our revenues took a significant hit due to the inability to be open, host our gala, or fundraise for exhibitions that are being rescheduled. The federal subsidy programs helped tremendously, and we were able to retain most staff, but we are operating at a limited capacity with most people working remotely. Due to regulations we can only allow 50% of our staff in the offices at any one time.

I’m happy to say we are moving ahead with nearly everything the Parrish has offered pre-COVID—with modifications of course. On July 17 we resumed our Friday Night public programs outdoors, with limited capacity given the COVID guidelines. In July and August, we offered modified Summer Art Camps for children that went really well, and live adult classes. In accordance with Phase 4 guidelines, we reopened our galleries four days a week on August 7, with the new exhibitions mentioned above in three front galleries, plus the exhibition What We See, How We See in the back seven galleries. Online re-registration for timed tickets is required, and gallery capacity is limited. I’m really happy to say that nearly all of the time slots are selling out or coming close to it. Our annual Landscape Pleasures benefit event is scheduled for the weekend of September 12, with self-guided garden tours and virtual presentations by leading garden designers. Friday Night programs will continue in the fall and beyond. We already have a full roster that includes talks with artists, films, and our popular classical music concerts Salon Series.

But the most significant initiative—a huge milestone for the museum and the community—is Field of Dreams, our inaugural outdoor sculpture exhibition that is free and open to the public every day, no registration or reservations needed. This offers the community—particularly those who might still be apprehensive about indoor activities—the opportunity to experience great art in a serene, safe, beautiful environment. Field of Dreams extends the Museum’s galleries outdoors and activates the meadows with work that engages and responds to the Parrish’s architecture and landscape. This first exhibition includes stunning work by 10 world-renowned sculptors, and we invite everyone to come and enjoy this unique experience.
—Chris Siefert, Interim Director, Parrish Art Museum

The pandemic pushed All For The East End (AFTEE) into high gear. As we received more and more information about the stress and demand on the food pantries, and all the organizations mobilizing to feed families, we worked overtime to raise funds. The generosity was overwhelming and we have been able to provide nearly 50 grants. But the challenge continues due to the uncertainty of the future. We expect the pressure for food and services to escalate again as we move into the fall and winter.  Service jobs will disappear, outdoor dining may diminish, schools are an experiment…So for AFTEE we are rededicating time and energy to fundraising efforts to make sure the East End non-profits have resources when they need them. We must collaborate, work together with others in our community to maximize the impact. There are so many unknowns and that puts everyone on edge, but the amazing volunteers of AFTEE are ready and willing to continue to be there for the East End.
—Claudia Pilato, Board President, AFTEE

As with any crisis, it will bring out the best and worst in people. Riverhead has a large senior and veteran population, and a huge concern was making sure that our residents were able to follow the CDC recommendations, remaining home, while making sure their basic needs like food and shopping were met. We started the Riverhead Senior Assistance for Essentials program, also known as Riverhead SAFE—we introduced that on March 23, and my office put out the request for local businesses and supermarkets to help make sure that we were able to care for our most vulnerable citizens. Vulnerable in the sense of mobility and being able to go out and get what they need, but also that they were more vulnerable than most people to COVID-19. It also afforded those struggling businesses an opportunity to increase their sales, and it was very, very successful. We had many local pharmacies and restaurants and hardware stores, Gala Fresh Market in Riverhead, immediately jump into action. They dedicated a number of their employees to help our program, taking orders and credit card payments over the phone, preparing the orders for town employees to deliver them. We made contactless deliveries, but somebody knocked at the door, put down your packages and said, Hello, I hope you’re okay. My office is extremely thankful for their assistance and dedication….I have a great workforce, and I’m very proud of the work that they’ve done—we’re Riverhead strong.
—Yvette Aguiar, Riverhead Town Supervisor

Certainly, thanks to our healthcare workers, who were tending to the sick—and still are—and who put themselves and their families at personal risk to heal others. Added to that group, all the essential workers, from the cashier at the grocery store to the ambulance volunteers and EMTs who would have to go into a situation and not knowing what the risks were. Basically, everybody who continued to do their job because they had to. Those who kept everything functioning. Now we’re in a better place, and they all certainly deserve a societal debt of gratitude.
—Jay Schneiderman, Southampton Town Supervisor

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