Bridgehampton Museum’s New Director Aims For An Inclusive Depiction of Hamlet’s History

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Nina Dec, executive director of the Bridgehampton Museum, at the Nathaniel Rogers House. PETER SUGHRUE

Nina Dec, who brings a wealth of experience in documentary and archival film work, educational programming in a museum setting, and establishing nonprofits, is the new executive director of the Bridgehampton Museum, having assumed that role in May from John Eilersten, who retired after 18 years at the helm.

As part of her new job, Ms. Dec will face the exhilarating, but daunting, task of transforming the museum’s new headquarters, the Nathaniel Rogers House, at the corner of Ocean Road and Montauk Highway, into a showcase for historical exhibits that she hopes will cover as broad a spectrum of Bridgehampton’s history as possible.

“The grand vision is to tell the story of this community in an inclusive manner — all the stories — and to use different methods to do so,” she said, “not just through writing, not just through straight exhibition, but also through programming and textured exhibitions with digital components.”

And while most people might think of Bridgehampton as a simple farming community that has evolved into a summer resort for the well-to-do, Ms. Dec said programming would focus on the hamlet’s Black community as well as newly arrived Latinos. And programming will include members of the Shinnecock Nation, who lived in the area for centuries before the white man ever set foot here.

Ms. Dec said the museum will continue to pay homage to Bridgehampton’s past as an early center for American road racing through its annual antique car road rally and is looking for ways to bring back its popular engine run exhibit when collectors from across Long Island brought all sorts of gas and steam-powered contraptions that were designed to save labor on the farm.

Ms. Dec, 57, who was born in Westport, Connecticut, but raised in Great Neck, came to Southampton in the early 1980s and attended Southampton College for a time.

She eventually received a bachelor of arts degree in art history from Wellesley College and a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University.

“I come to this position through the lens of a journalism as a storyteller,” she said, adding that her career path was decidedly not one that followed a straight trajectory.

Before she attended Columbia, Ms. Dec and her husband, Anthony Dec, hosted the “Conversation With” program on the former WLIU public radio station at Southampton College.

In 2001, the year she graduated from journalism school, there was a recession, which was soon followed by the September 11 terrorist attacks. With no jobs to be found, Ms. Dec leaned on contacts and eventually landed a job with the History Channel, where she worked on acquiring still photos and archival footage for a series of Smithsonian documentaries, including “America on the Move.”

Later, she joined iCUE, a partnership of MIT and NBC, for which she was hired to mine the archive of 70 years of recoded history on topics including civil rights, to repurpose it for use by secondary school students. “I created tons and tons of assets for that project,” she said. “I loved every minute of it.”

In between, from 2003 to 2005, she led educational programming for adults at the Parrish Art Museum under former director Trudi Kramer, scheduling film screenings and organizing the museum’s film society, booking lectures, workshops, and studio tours.

Ms. Dec, who has done some freelance writing, also spent time in Los Angeles, where she acted and helped found Cinewomen, a nonprofit aimed at helping women gain a foothold in the male-dominated world of filmmaking. Prior to the pandemic, she launched a series of podcasts of interviews with third and fourth-year medical students at Mt. Sinai Hospital, but the project was aborted when the coronavirus forced massive shutdowns.

“The idea of having this broad of an experience is what has prepared me for this job,” she said, “because I have lived a lot of professional lives, all connected to the world of journalism, all about storytelling, but from different experiences.”

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