Art is Front and Center for Students in Bridgehampton

Students in the YARP program display their work.
Students in the YARP program display their work.
Students in the YARP program display their work.

By Dawn Watson

For the children who are enrolled in the Bridgehampton Child Care & Recreational Center after school program, art is more than ancillary. It’s an integral part of their lives.

If it weren’t for the Center and its participation in the Watermill Center’s Young Artist Residency Project, the young students—many of who come from immigrant or underprivileged backgrounds—might not have realized how important a strong cultural influence can be in their lives. Fortunately for them, because of YARP, they get the chance to experience the wonders of creativity at least once a week when school is in session. As part of the project, now in its third year, the kids get to spend an hour or so every Monday after the school day at the avant-garde brainchild of Robert Wilson—a 20,000-square-foot flexible working space that includes a 6,000-volume research library, 8,000 pieces of artwork and artifacts, plus galleries, rehearsal and staging spaces, and 8.5 acres of artist-designed and landscaped grounds.

Surrounded by art, the children are able to experience it in numerous ways—viewing the collection, which includes a many of the world’s most prominent artists; learning from the artists in residence; working together in the creation of their own work; and even just interacting with the landscape of impressive grounds. So far this school year, they’ve participated in a circus arts workshop with members of the experimental Cirkus Cirkör troupe, made a video story, cast parts of their bodies in clay, and produced an impressive number of drawings and collages.

Their time at the world-famous Laboratory for Performance, described by Mr. Wilson as a place that regularly convenes the brightest minds from all disciplines to do “what no one else is doing,” makes quite an impression, according to Bridgehampton Child Care’s After School Director Shanae Pritchard, who says that the days when they visit the Watermill Center are among the kids’ favorites.

“Every Monday, they are always so excited. They always look forward to going there,” she says, adding that the YARP project also reinforces their feelings of positive self-esteem. “It’s all about opening their eyes and allowing them to feel achievement and accomplishment. They have real pride in what they’re doing.”

The young artists agree.

“The things we do at the Watermill Center are doing projects, movements and we get to meet new artists,” says Kevin Martinez. “I like to do projects at the Watermill Center.”

“I like that we make pictures and other artists work on them too, and I like that the Watermill Center has a lot of different rooms,” adds Jasmin Del Giorno.

The ultimate purpose of YARP is to create an immersive experience for the youngsters. But there’s more to it than that. Under the direction of Andrea Cote, the Watermill Center’s Director of Education and Teaching Artist of YARP, the children, ages 8 to 11, get to explore and create their own collaborative bodies of work, with a little help from East End-based artists and Watermill Center’s artists-in-residence.

That work, based on the tradition of the Surrealist game “Exquisite Corpse” allows the children to join talents to craft artworks and then mail them to the professional artists, who are asked to contribute to the drawings in any they wish and then mail back the altered works to the students for completion. The final products—which include contributions by Roisin Bateman, Nixon Beltran, Scott Bluedorn, Jose Carlos Casado, Darlene Charneco, Jayoung Chun, Tamar Ettun, Mark Hansen, Helen Harrison (who says she “can’t wait to see what they’ve done with their pieces!”) Amy Khoshbin, Susan Lazarus Reimen, Stephen Laub, Lutha Leahy-Miller, Natacha Mankowski, Roy Nicholson, Alvaro Restrepo, Dan Rizzie, Scott Sandell, Hope Sandrow, Brent Timbol, Claire Watson, Shane Weeks and Deb Verhoff—will be exhibited at a “Team Spirit” group show at Sara Nightingale Gallery in Water Mill from Tuesday, February 23, through Friday, February 26, with the entire group convening for an official opening reception on Tuesday, February 23, from 6 to 7:30 p.m. During the reception, a “The Enchanted Forest” video piece that the children created, conceived and produced—with the help of Ms. Khoshbin, who is an artist in residence—will also be shown.

“We’ve found that this is an excellent way of bringing not just the kids but also the surrounding community into the center,” says Ms. Cote. “And in doing so, we try to carry the spirit of the Watermill Center to the project.”

Host gallery owner Ms. Nightingale says that exhibiting the young artists’ work is not just in keeping with her gallery’s mission—dialogue, risk and experimentation—it’s also personally fulfilling.

“It’s usually some of the best quality and most unique art that I show,” she says. “Andrea is a great collaborator and really fun to work with. And the kids are always so inspiring.”

The Young Artist Residency Project’s “Team Spirit” exhibit, featuring the artwork of children from the Bridgehampton Child Care & Recreational Center and numerous local artists, in collaboration with the Watermill Center, will be held at Sara Nightingale Gallery in Water Mill from Tuesday, February 23, through Friday, February 26. An opening reception will be held on Tuesday, February 23, from 6 to 7:30 p.m.