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Stepping into the Spotlight: East End Arts

Looking for a thriving, innovative arts organization on Long Island? You’ve found it in the East End Arts. By offering instruction in music, theater and the visual arts to students of all ages, gallery exhibitions, public art projects, and live productions, East End Arts (EEA) is “building and enriching” the community through “education, support, advocacy and inspiration,” according to their mission statement. Located in Riverhead, where the two forks of Long Island meet, EEA has served the eastern end of Long Island for the past 41 years. Its purpose is to be an arts outlet for the five eastern municipalities of Suffolk County: Southampton, East Hampton, Shelter Island, Southold and Riverhead. Included at the EEA complex are offices, an arts school and an art gallery.
East End Arts Gallery East End Arts Gallery. Photo:  East End Arts.
“We at East End Arts feel the arts are crucial to life in general,” said Executive Director Patricia Snyder, who has worked at EEA since 1995. “Life is better when there are the arts.” Residents appear to agree. According to Ms. Snyder, the organization has a membership of 1,200 people, a number that has doubled from not so long ago. Benefits of membership include receiving discounts at EEA school and professional workshops, access to free or discounted services with EEA’s email network, and discounted entry fees to gallery shows. Membership costs range from $35 to $70. In addition, the school enrollment numbers 500 students throughout the course of the year. The school offers year-round instruction for individuals and for groups in music, visual art and theater. In the summer, approximately 500 students — from early childhood to seniors in high school — participate in the school’s summer arts camps. “The students are incredible and they are enthusiastic,” said Jeannie Woelker, who teaches cello, violin and viola at EEA. “It’s such a gift to me to have such wonderful students and their parents.” It is the students’ tuition and fees that cover the balance of EEA’s revenues. This is different from a theater, which gets much of its income from box office receipts. “Tickets are a small portion [of the budget],” Ms. Snyder said. “We are not a performance-based organization.” A huge recent contribution to EEA was a 2011 grant from Bank of America in the amount of $200,000, through the Neighborhood Builders Program. The grant, which went out to 90 organizations nationwide, is given to groups that focus on local neighborhood priorities. Board members say this infusion of funds has already proven instrumental to EEA’s future. “It was a huge deal,” Board Member Wallace Smith said. “If that had not happened we might not have been able to be as aggressive and excited about the future of the arts council as we are.” Case in point: Ms. Snyder says the current budget of EEA is in the vicinity of $800,000. “It gave us the chance for the arts council to stabilize its leadership, to get some additional personnel to manage the organization,” Mr. Smith said. “Every non profit was having trouble, and we were as well,” Ms. Snyder said. “We really used that money to push our organization forward.” This included a new logo and a new design for the EEA website, as well as significant strategic planning. The growth of the organization was supported by the hiring of a new educational director, Shenole Latimer, a Long Island native who for years has led a jazz music education program himself. Mr. Latimer says he is in the process of franchising out the program, while in the future he will be bringing a different music educational curriculum to EEA. “I feel like I’ve done as much as I could do musically without any major record deal of my own,” Mr. Latimer said. “I can serve more people better than just being a freelance consultant.” Ms. Snyder says she approves of Mr. Latimer’s emphasis on combining the arts and business, as EEA runs several programs, such as a gallery above a restaurant in Jamesport, that seek to show how arts and business often attract one another for mutual benefit. In addition, she admires Mr. Latimer’s fluent Spanish language skills, which she says will help broaden EEA’s reach into the community. “First people need to know you exist,” said, Mr. Latimer, who added he has already fielded calls from potential Spanish-speaking students. “Then they need to find out about you, and then they’ll participate.” Of course, EEA has been branching out into the community for nearly three decades. For 27 years they have held an annual harvest gospel concert series, which features a non-denominational choir that is open to all singers. They meet for roughly four rehearsals and then perform on the North Fork, the South Fork and in Riverhead. On Memorial Day Weekend, EEA hosts a community mosaic street painting festival. Local businesses, families and individuals support the festival by sponsoring “squares” that people of all ages can draw on. The art itself is based on “I Madonnari,” a street chalk art form from the 16th century.
street art Annual Community Mosaic Street Painting Festival. Photo: East End Arts.
Not to be overlooked is the art gallery, which Ms. Snyder says includes changing exhibits every four to six weeks. They feature artists both local and national. “The artists involved are great to deal with,” said Jim Lennon, board president. “The community of people around the arts council is such a stimulating and lively group.” Also of significance are the Teeny Awards, now in their 12th year, which celebrate excellence in high school theater. Ms. Snyder says the goal of the awards is to increase attendance at high school productions and to raise awareness about the value of the product itself. “High school theater needs people to understand how important it is,” Ms. Snyder said. “It’s a skill that is not unlike sports, skills that will last a lifetime.” With membership high, finances in order and the future of the organization clearer than ever, now is a time for celebration and confidence at EEA. The final word goes to Mr. Lennon, who, as president of the board, has witnessed the growth of the organization from both his home in nearby Flanders and through his job as a commercial photographer. “The level East End Arts has come to be at [in] the community is just a perfect mix of bringing the art to everyone,” Mr. Lennon said. “And a perfect mix of a creative outlet for the artists themselves.”

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