The Southampton Cultural Center, founded in 1985, offers many ways for both children and adults to experience the arts and performance, including music lessons, drawing and painting classes, acting classes, art exhibits, gallery talks and theater. There are salsa classes, summer camps, a summer strings festival for young musicians. And of course, the much-loved summertime Concerts in the Park at Agawam Park in Southampton.
Hamptons.com spoke with Executive Director Kirsten Lonnie about this vital part of the arts in the Southampton area.
How long have you been with the Cultural Center, and how have you seen it grow and change during your tenure?
I was a founding member of the Cultural Center in 1985 and served as a board member until I became Executive Director in 2004. We have always had a robust educational program for all ages but our capacity for exhibitions and performances was limited before we opened the doors to the Levitas Center for the Arts. Up until then, the part of the cultural center that was used for exhibitions, live performances and other activities, like the weekly rehearsals of the Peconic Youth Orchestra, took place in a former bowling alley. That meant a rectangular room with a low ceiling and no stage. If we had an exhibition up there was no room for anyone else and vice versa. The Levitas Center for the Arts, which opened in 2006, provided us with a multi-functional space with a gallery separated from the auditorium by a temporary wall. The auditorium features a deep stage and seating for 160. Since then we host exhibitions including the Southampton Artist Association’s member show year-round and present live performances every week while still using the space for rehearsals, workshops and other activities. Our budget has quadrupled since then.
The Cultural Center offers a diverse array of live performance, classes and lessons for arts lovers of all ages. Are there some events or programs you’d especially like to highlight for our readers?
That is a tough question! All of our programs feel like my children. I have been around most of them since their inception, helped usher them along and strive to keep them strong and going. That said, I am definitely partial to classes, workshops and productions that involve children and young adults. It is incredibly rewarding to watch those participants grow, develop their skills and see them take those with them as they enter adult life and pursue successful professions. The arts are so important and mostly overlooked in today’s school system.
In that context I would like to mention that we recently brought comedy classes to Southampton Elementary School and the Southampton Youth Bureau. These classes teach children public speaking, confidence and how to deal with adversity.
On the events side – who doesn’t love the Concerts in the Park Series that the SCC has been offering every July and August since 1986 (except in 2020 due to COVID restrictions)! Our theater productions are popular and the Rising Stars Piano Series has a loyal and enthusiastic audience.
A jewel of the Cultural Center is the Levitas Center for the Arts, a wonderful venue for concerts and theatrical productions. Can you share some background on how that came to be?
Yes, the former bowling alley certainly turned into a jewel when it was transformed into the Levitas Center for the Arts! We received a bequest from the late Willard Levitas and his wife Aura that allowed us to renovate and expand in such a big way. We opened the doors to the Levitas Center in 2006 and have since continued to work on upgrading the facility adding raised seating and recently state-of-the art audio and video upgrades including a projection system. In the Fall , I am excited to say, we will be opening a fully professional recording studio that will be used for instruction both in front and behind the camera. Our next goal is to upgrade our theater lighting system to LED lighting.
Can you tell us about the Hampton Youth Performing Arts (HYPA) program? I understand you’re creating a show to debut sometime in the fall?
We launched the Hampton Youth Performing Arts (HYPA) program earlier this year. It is for youth ages 11 – 17 who are interested in and/or working on a performing arts form and related activities such as comedy, acting, writing, music, dance, singing, photography, fashion, design, graphics and video production. This Spring the group worked on a project “From Story To Script To Stage” which will culminate in a full fledged performance in the Fall. The program is free and has the support of local school counselors and law enforcement who are involved with our schools. The students meet regularly under the guidance of mentors.
Your sixth annual gala is coming up on Saturday, October 16 from 4 to 7 pm. Can you tell us about it, its importance to your mission, and how people can get tickets?
We are currently gearing up for our sixth annual gala on October 1st from 6 to 9 pm which we will hold at the SCC to show off the venue, offer entertainment that highlights what we do, all combined with sumptuous food and beverages including a full dinner for the first time. Our performers will include AG Dance and Unity Studios, both of which offer dance workshops at the SCC; SCC board members Konstantin Soukhovetski (pianist) and Sarah Moulton Faux (soprano); and main act Danny Bacher.
We will offer stage side tables, gallery tables and general admission and young professional/student tickets which can be purchased at https://www.scc-arts.org/an-evening-of-wine-roses-2/.