Southampton Center Welcomes Director Michele Thompson

The Southampton Center, which opened at 25 Jobs Lane in Southampton Village in 2013 following the Parrish Art Museum’s move to Water Mill, will welcome its first director, Michele Thompson, on February 1.

Thompson has extensive experience in the arts, having served as director of the 92nd Street Y in Tribeca, where she developed a cross-disciplinary arts program, as well as director of the Trisha Brown Dance Company. Thompson has also worked at Carnegie Hall, the American Ballet Theatre and Vanderbilt University, her alma mater.

Dan’s Papers spoke with Thompson about her career, her love of the East End and her plans for the Center.

How did you initially hear about the Southampton Center?
I’ve been out in Southampton on and off over the years, and I was very well acquainted with the Parrish Art Museum and that it was moving [to a new location]. I was curious about what was going into the space. When I found out the Center was looking for a director, I said, “Oh my goodness, I have to try for this,” so I reached out to the board and search committee.

What are your initial plans for the Southampton Center?
The programming ideas are very much in flux, as I don’t officially start until February 1. However, I think the sky’s the limit; they did a bit of a [soft] launch last summer with some wonderful partnerships, such as the Goat on a Boat Puppet Theatre and the Hamptons International Film Festival. I hope that we can build on those partnerships and take full advantage of the arts resources on the East End. I’m also hoping that I’ll be able to call on some connections I have developed from the city and begin to develop a fully fleshed-out program. It’s a great space for visual art. I can see dance working so well in the space. I can think of any number of ways to use [the facilities] for educational programs, social programs and more. So I’m hoping we will be able to start from the ground up and create.

You have a background in the arts; why work in arts administration?
My undergraduate degree is in theater and English, and I also have a background in music, so I’ve always been involved in the arts, mostly on the performing arts side. I was trying to think of what I was going to “be,” and I realized there was a master’s degree in Institutional Advancement at Vanderbilt University. It was actually in the division of higher education, but I did all my research in arts and culture. Then I got hired in fundraising, and I’d been working in community and semi-professional theater. I always intended to become an arts administrator.

What’s your relationship with the Hamptons?
I wanted to live in New York for as long as I can remember. I always intended to move here [after finishing school]. I’ve really enjoyed my time here, particularly on the East End, and I’ve developed some great relationships. My dog and I are looking forward to moving to the Hamptons [on a full-time basis]. When I’m in the Hamptons, I like to stay outside as long as I can. I’m very excited by
our lawn.

What’s your general goal as director for the Southampton Center?
I think that the next two years are the time to lay the groundwork for the Southampton Center as a cultural heart of Southampton Village. Everything we’re going to be doing is working toward that end. I feel very strongly that the program needs to be organic to the community.

The Southampton Center will host a reception to welcome Thompson on Saturday, February 1, from 5 to 7 p.m. The Southampton Center is located at 25 Jobs Lane, Southampton. For more information, call 631-283-0967 or go to southamptoncenter.org.

BACK TO Featured Stories