The East End Arts Council Ages Gracefully

For the past 40 years, the East End Arts Council (EEAC) in Riverhead has been a pillar of culture and art education in Long Island’s East End townships. Its commitment to enrich the community in the arts has been a resounding success.

EEAC was established as a non-profit organization in 1972, through the Woodrow Wilson Humanities Fund. “In that time, the Riverhead/East End area was identified as an area that needed culture,” said Pat Snyder, EEAC Executive Director. “A few women, headed by Allene Carey, took on that challenge.” The Council opened an art gallery and worked with local schools to develop programs and concerts, making the arts accessible to the community.

“We’ve just celebrated our 40th anniversary, and the gallery has been there since its inception,” said Gallery Director Jane Kirkwood. The gallery features a juried art exhibition every five weeks, and has recently brought in some big name jurors, including Peter J. Marcelle, April Gornik and Bruce Helander.  “We’re very proud of the art that’s being shown, and we’re attracting a higher caliber of artist,” said Kirkwood.

In 1995, the Council purchased the Eastern Suffolk School of Music, housed in the building next door. “They had folded due to financial difficulty, and East End Arts decided to pick up the school and see if they could run it,” Snyder said. The Council expanded its curriculum to include programs in theater and visual arts, quickly growing from 45 music students to more than 1,200 members and 500 year-round students who participate in classes and summer camps today.

Five years ago, EEAC opened their Corwin Carriage House Art Studio, after receiving a grant from Suffolk County to renovate the dilapidated building at the rear of the property. This new facility, which houses a digital recording studio, darkroom, printing press and an apartment, has played a major roll in their expansion. “We could offer so much more to the adult population, primarily the Artist-in-Residence Program,” Snyder said. This program brings both established and emerging artists to the area to teach the community through lectures, workshops and exhibitions.

What began with concerts and an art gallery has grown to encompass all forms of artistic expression. “We’re here to develop the arts and the artists,” said Education Director Steve Watson. The programs collaborate with all of the East End schools to give students the opportunity to work together to create art and music. “It’s been a really powerful experience,” Watson said. “The new programs, combined with the tried and true, have really helped us expand our reach to the rest of the region.”

That expansion has led to classes at Brecknock Hall, in Greenport, and the creation of  programs like the Teeny Awards, a Tony Award-style event for theater students, and the Music Masters Fellowship. This year, the Music Masters Fellowship has collaborated with The Perlman Music Program, giving middle school students the opportunity to rehearse with world-renown violin virtuoso Itzhak Pearlman.

East End Arts’ reach extends beyond schools, however, as they work to actively engaging the community with events like the Riverhead Mosaic Street Painting Festival and the Winterfest Jazz on the Vine winter concert series, which seek to bring revenue and attention to the East End during its off-season.

“We are a vital part of downtown Riverhead,” said Board President Annika Shapiro. Their commitment to revitalization earned East End Arts the prestigious Bank of America Neighborhood Builder’s Award in 2011 for their dedication to Riverhead’s rejuvenation.

Now, the council is broadening its outreach. “We have a gallery at Jamesport Manor Inn, and we want to have other off-campus gallery sites to promote local artists,” Shapiro said. “We’ve been here for 40 years, and we’re looking forward to another 40 years at least.”

East End Arts Council, 141 East Main Street, Riverhead. www.eastendarts.org

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