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INTERVIEW: Amy Kirwin On Southampton Arts Center's "TAKEOVER! Artists In Residence"

Nicole Barylski

Franco Cuttica's Driftwood horses. (Courtesy Photo)

For the second year in a row, Southampton Arts Center (SAC) has invited a talented group of artists to call SAC home for a few months.

We caught up with TAKEOVER! Artists in Residence founder and SAC Artistic Director, Amy Kirwin about the program, this year's artists, and more.

Why did Southampton Arts Center want to launch its 2020 exhibitions with TAKEOVER! Artists in Residence?

AK: We did that last year too. It seems like these winter months are a really good time to kind of experiment. Because it tends to be a little quieter, it's also a good time for the artists to do something different with their time. So, I think for them, they're more available this time of year to commit to a project like this, which helps because there does need to be a certain level of commitment and working in the galleries. As far as people's time, this time of year is generally a little more flexible. That helps with this concept. And just it being a time when people are looking for something to do, they're bored and they're getting stir crazy from being inside from the cold. Last year, it proved to offer something really fun for people to get out and do. It was a no-brainer that we would continue doing it and to do it in this particular exhibition slot.

Jodi Bentivegna's Two of Swords. (Courtesy Photo)

This was a project that you conceived and now curate. Could you speak a bit about its inception and why it was a project you wanted to champion and how it's evolved?

AK: Working in this type of job, in the visual arts, you do get this opportunity to visit artists' studios or their homes, and it's really, really special. I had just been to Mickey Paraskevas' home/studio because we were going to be potentially doing an exhibition with him, which we did, and his home and his studio are both really just kind of wild and full of all these interesting things. I was reminded of how rare and special it is to have that opportunity to peek behind that curtain. We were brainstorming with our programs committee of our board about what exhibition to do in this particular slot, something else had fallen through and it was a bit of a last minute scramble, which happens sometimes, which can be fortuitous. And it just popped into my head - how about having pop up studios for artists where they literally transform a portion of the gallery into their own studio as much like their actual studio as possible? So that the public has this opportunity to do what I get to do, which is to see behind that curtain, which they don't all get the opportunity to do. But, they also get this one stop shopping capacity where they can see nine/ten artists in one day working. The thing that's a little bit different is that, which makes it even more special, is that when you're visiting an artist in their studio, they're not usually working, they're showing you their space. But in this case, you're actually seeing how their space might look - because they make it as true to their actual studio as possible because they are in fact working there. But, they're also working so you can watch them work, you can engage with them about their creative process, about their inspiration, anything like that. So, this kind of pea of an idea had so much potential and it was just sort of that when we had this call about what to do last year, everybody agreed, well, this could be really interesting. Let's give it a shot. Why not? It's an experimental time of year. Let's try it. And it just became so much more than I could have ever expected as far as how valuable it was for the artists and for us, how fun and interesting it was for our guests. People came back over and over because they wanted to watch the progress. I didn't think about that. It was just truly, truly unique and enjoyable for everyone.

It was really a no-brainer that we would do it again and with different artists. We have ten artists, plus we're also working with Southampton High School students and some Ross students, who are working with one of our artists, who's already teaching there. The Southampton students are going to have their own little studio space here and they'll be working here. The Ross students will get to work with the artist that's teaching them currently, but also coming here and working with the other artists. So, we've expanded the scope of it a little bit to include the students. The students are great because they get the opportunity not only to work with some very established artists and some that are new on the scene, and learn from them. It also gives them the opportunity to work on their communication skills. In some cases, they might be very shy and it might help them come out of their shell. It's a great lesson for them both in art, but also in communication and interpersonal skills. We have four girls from Southampton High School who are taking part in this experiment.

Esly Escobar's Duck Sauce. (Courtesy Photo)

For me, it was a matter of finding new artists this year. I had some in mind that I wasn't able to use last year because of only having room for so many. Some reached out to me, some came recommended. The key was to find artists at varying levels of their career, in different styles and mediums. I think this year we do have another really great lineup of artists who are quite different from each other. The curating portion, it's not typical for this. It's curated by me in that I chose the artists and I also kind of work with them in some cases, not all of them, in helping fine tune their selections of what they're going to install of their completed works, how they might lay out their space. It's really more of a kind of guidance and an extra set of eyes. I'm not choosing their work that they're bringing here. It's meant to be their space.

Who will be showcased in this year's exhibition?

AK: We have a few artists that have been working for quite some time, Dinah Maxwell Smith, Melinda Hackett and Kerry Sharkey-Miller, and also Michael Butler, they've been working at their craft for a longer period of time, in varying levels in their careers. Dinah, she's been around for a long time. Melinda, she was one of the first artists I was exposed to when I first moved out here and I was working at the Parrish Art Museum. She was in an exhibition at that time and I fell in love with her work the minute I saw it. Kerry had her own gallery at one point. She's an incredible photographer, and she does really interesting work in print work with the photography on tin and aluminum. So, there's those artists that have been working longer.

Then there's the artists who are kind not in the middle of their career, but they've been having success for some time now and they're kind of getting into that part of their career where they're really starting to get more notice. Franco Cuttica is one of them. People know him for his driftwood horses. He does amazing work with these fire paintings where he uses a very controlled flame to sort of enhance large scale paintings, which are just unbelievable. Erica-Lynn Huberty works in needlepoint and it's really beautiful work with vintage fabric. She's more like a textile artist. Miles Partington does really whimsical work in sculpture, and also painting work.

Then we have Jodi Bentivegna, who is sort of young and fresh and just kind of starting out. This is the first time she's ever had anything on view. It's very exciting for her. She was recommended to me by Scott Bluedorn, who does a similar sketching painting style.

Kerry Sharkey-Miller's First Snow. (Courtesy Photo)

Isadora Capraro, who is actually the sister-in-law of Franco Cuttica, does beautiful large scale paintings. She's sort of new on the scene here, but also not because she's fairly accomplished. Esly Escobar, he's got this really very cool aesthetic that, to me, is like reminiscent of Basquiat. Really, really interesting work. There's a nice melange of artists and work and personalities and different vibes.

In addition to the exhibition, there's also a ton of programming that will coincide with TAKEOVER! What will this year entail?

AK: This year all of the artists will be doing workshops. Last year, not all of them did. But they're all going to be doing workshops, whether for children or adults or both. Michael Butler is doing a couple of Friday nights, Sip & Paints, which will be really fun. They're all going to be teaching workshops, which is really exciting, and those are Saturdays and Sundays at 3 p.m. We have our weekly TAKEOVER! Hangouts on Thursdays, every Thursday from 6 to 8 p.m., which is really fun because people can come in after work and have a glass of wine, hang out with the artist, play ping pong, listen to music. It's just sort of a weekly social club that allows the artists and the community to get together and celebrate their work and their process. We're also working with community partners for the Hangouts to sort of allow the partners to help promote them and expand their reach to talk about what they do. Whether it's OLA, or Peconic Land Trust, or East End Food Institute. The Watermill Center is going to partner with us on one of the Hangouts, bring in one of their Artist in Residence who will do some sort of performance art. That just adds an extra level of intrigue to each Hangout. I'm going to be doing a talk with the TAKEOVER! OG team, the original 2019 TAKEOVER! artists will come do a panel discussion, we're going to show this documentary that was on WNET's All Arts Network. Then we're going to have a panel discussion with the original TAKEOVER! artists, and talk about their experiences. A couple of gallery tours.

Dinah Maxwell Smith's Northport. (Courtesy photo)

And the Opening Reception, of course.

AK: The opening reception is Saturday, February 1, from 6 to 8 p.m., and then a dance party afterwards from 8 to 10 p.m. All free. It's open to anybody to come.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

AK: Having done it last year and being able to show the success of it, we thankfully have had support in the presentation of it with a couple of sponsors. Ingrid Arneberg, who happens to have an apartment across the street, she saw it all happening and that was exciting. And then the Long Island Community Foundation gave us a grant to help support it. It's really exciting that this year we actually had sponsorship to help with the cost of the show.

TAKEOVER 2020! will open on Saturday, February 1 and remain on view through Sunday, April 12.

Southampton Arts Center is located at 25 Jobs Lane in Southampton. For more information, call 631-283-0967 or visit southamptonartscenter.org.

Nicole is the Editor-in-Chief of Hamptons.com where she focuses on lifestyle, nightlife, and mixology. She grew up in the Hamptons and currently resides in Water Mill. www.hamptons.com NicoleBarylski NicoleBarylski

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