By Annette Hinkle
Michele Thompson is the first director of the Southampton Center, a multi-disciplinary arts center located in the former Parrish Art Museum space in Southampton Village. Thompson comes to the East End from the 92nd Street Y where she is currently the director of adult education and the arts at 92Y and former director of 92Y Tribeca.
You officially begin your new position on February 1. This will be a big move for you. How much time have you spent on the East End?
I’ve spent summers near Little Fresh Pond. I love the community and the people around the neighborhood and I found a rental there, so I’ll be able to grow my roots where they are already planted.
I have a dog and I love the outdoors and I like to surf. It’s good timing for me, and because I already have such good friends out there year round I’m comfortable and excited about doing it. I’ll keep my strong cultural ties in the city as I’ll be looking for partnership opportunities, but I’m excited to move out there.
How familiar are you with the facility at 25 Jobs Lane?
I used to spend time at the building when it was the Parrish and watched carefully as they made their move to the new building. I’ve been curiously watching what was going to happen with the building and I was happy to find out this is the direction the mayor [Mark Epley] and other leaders decided to take it.
What made you interested in taking on the role of director for the Southampton Center?
Last year, they posted a listing for someone to oversee the soft opening last summer. I was so interested, but it wasn’t the right time and I wanted something more extensive than that. I wanted the leadership role and something permanent. So I sent a letter of inquiry, but they had made their plans for summer.
As soon as the director’s role was made available, I absolutely jumped on it. It’s such an amazing opportunity. There are so many cultural resources and great partners on the East End and the space itself offers so many possibilities for a vibrant and warm facility.
Last spring, plans for an ambitious renovation of the facility were presented to the public, but a good deal of money would need to be raised in order to implement that vision. What is your first priority as director — programming or fundraising?
Programming is job one, fundraising is job one. It will be both and all. I’m the first full time employee. I’m comfortable with fundraising, my professional background is in it, but before we embark on a major building campaign I think it’s important to figure out what kind of programming is going to be right for this space. The board and the mayor have wisely decided to go heavy on the programming in anticipation of renovating.
The first priority is to get a strong program in place for summer. Last summer, they laid a great groundwork by working with Goat on a Boat [Puppet Theater] and other partners. The board and I are looking for programming to start in summer and hopefully go year round. We’re talking about ramping up from Memorial Day and I think it will build from there.
Renovating will be a long term goal. Renovation plans are on the books and I’m sure they will be tweaked over time as we flesh out the programming and figure out what will be most beneficial for the community. We’re all excited to spiff it up and really make the necessary changes to create a cultural hub.
What sort of possibilities do you see with the Southampton Center?
I think there are endless opportunities to use the space and the outdoor lawn for public programs. They did some last summer and it did very well. I get excited about children’s programs and did a series of concerts at 92Y Tribeca where we brought in a lot of bands who are made up of young to middle age adults. These are gifted musicians who love making music and play high quality music for kids and adults. I could see kids concerts in the off season when you have to be inside anyway. I also think the building is great for dance installations. There are endless opportunities. I can’t wait to get into the space.
Keeping a cultural institution active year round can be a challenge on the East End. How do you think you’ll approach that challenge?
It’s going to be an interesting challenge. When I think about programming out there, I do think it has to be somewhat directed by the community and has to be organic to the community. In order to create something in the off season that is vibrant and interesting, you have to be responsive to the year round community. I think kids programming is a direction we’ll want to go. I’ve also done some interesting talks programs in the past — such as intimate conversations with an artist, author or scholar. I’ve spent time in the dance world, in opera, music and a bit with the visual arts. I have a breadth of knowledge and experience which I’ll be able to apply to a pretty wide audience — summer or winter.
I need to get out there and get my feet on the ground. I’m really excited.
It must be thrilling to be involved in developing a facility like this from day one.
I’m delighted to be in on the ground level. It’s going to be fun.
On Saturday, February 1 at 5 p.m. the Southampton Center, located at 25 Jobs Lane in Southampton Village, will hold a welcome reception for Michele Thompson and the Southampton community.