By Vee Benard
The Old Whalers’ Church on Union Street in Sag Harbor is known both for its striking facade and for its community programming. As part of its effort to turn a new corner after recent financial hardship while also capturing the hearts and minds of Sag Harborites, the Old Whalers’ Church begins its new summer series, a “Celebration of the Arts.”
In recent years, the church has offered various arts events, taking advantage of its unique facilities, ideal location, and superior acoustics. The “Celebration of the Arts” series continues in this tradition, offering programming designed to raise money for the Community House of the Old Whalers’ Church, a newly created fund that seeks to keep the church open and operational for the numerous community organizations that depend on it.
The church currently houses many community groups, including the Sag Harbor Food Pantry, an Alcoholics Anonymous group, the Sag Harbor Youth Center, the Conservative Synagogue of the Hamptons, a Girl Scout troop, an English as a Second Language program, the Spanish Language congregation “Comunidad Cristiana Internacional,” to name just a few. While some of these programs contribute financially to the church, not all of them have the means to do so.
“These groups serve several hundred people per week,” said Susan Blair, an active member of the church community, who explained that it is difficult for the congregation alone to fiscally support the church’s operating costs.
“Though the congregation seems to be growing, especially with the introduction of our new pastor, Rev. Mark Phillips, it is still small,” she explained, “the Community House Fund is a separate entity from the church itself, but all money raised in the Celebration of the Arts series is going directly towards the cost of supporting the space.”
In partnership with “Celebration of the Arts,” which began earlier this month with a performance by jazz pianist and vocalist Judy Carmichael, John Canemaker, acclaimed animator, historian, lecturer, author, filmmaker and executive director of New York University’s Animation Department will be presenting six of his animated films at the church this Saturday.
Canemaker, a graduate of Marymount Manhattan College and New York University, where he received his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees, respectively, was one of the main figures in the development of New York University’s Animation program, where he began his teaching career in 1981, and was eventually named head of the department in 1988. An Academy Award winning director, Canemaker has written over 100 articles on animation over the course of his career and is one of the most respected animation historians in the field.
“[This Saturday’s event] is an exploration,” said Jim Stewart, spokesperson for the event, “an exploration of animation as an art form and its impact on the future of filmmaking.”
Canemaker, a Bridgehampton homeowner, was approached earlier this year to participate in the series and, according to Stewart, was “very enthusiastic about being able to be a part of this.” The selection of films, which range from six-and-a-half to 28 minutes in length and which will include Canemaker’s autobiographical, Academy Award winning “The Moon and the Son: An Imagined Conversation,” will showcase Canemaker’s distinctive style, one that pays tribute to the animation greats of the past while still keeping in-step with the new innovations of the animation world.
“One of the main tenets of John’s work,” explains Stewart, “is that it is all hand-drawn. John feels that this is the best animation, in the sense that it is a whole aspect of an art form … there is an awareness and acknowledgement as you look at hand-drawn animated film; it is just more alive, it’s really beautiful. It is a work of art.”
Canemaker will provide commentary as he goes through the screenings of each film, and at the end of all six films there will be a question-and-answer session with members of the audience.
Stewart explained that one of the largest hurdles within the animation world is overcoming the common misconception that animation is intended for children.
“This is not the case,” he clarified. “Especially as of late we see worlds colliding within the worlds of animation and live action—we are starting to see really creative things happen. Animation is the art form of the 21st century.”
John Canemaker will appear this Saturday, July 3, at 7 p.m. at the Old Whalers’ Church, 44 Union Street, Sag Harbor. Tickets are $35. They can be purchased online at www.oldwhalerschurch.org or at the door. For more information call 725-0894.