A Conversation With Tom Dunn

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Tom Dunn is the new executive director of the Southampton Arts Center. courtesy photo

The recently appointed executive director of the Southampton Arts Center brings with him more than 15 years in various positions at Lincoln Center as well as practical experience as a producer, writer and performer in the Off-Broadway and sketch comedy worlds. According to an announcement, Mr. Dunn will oversee “all aspects of the organization, including strategic planning, expanded development capabilities, programming direction, community engagement and audience development.” Mr. Dunn, a resident of Huntington who has spent much time on the East End prior to his arrival at the SAC, explains what he hopes lies ahead during his tenure there.

So you’ve made the jump from Lincoln Center to the Southampton Arts Center. What inspired this career transition for you?

After 15 years in one place, even a place as terrific as Lincoln Center, I was eager for a new challenge. I was also eager to move into a leadership position to help steer and guide another cultural nonprofit.

What was the first show or exhibit you saw at SAC? What was your first impression of this organization?

I had seen a few shows during the recruiting process. I was familiar with The Parrish when it was here, and had been there over the years. I saw “A Radical Voice: 23 Women,” one of the exhibits here, which was fantastic. I also saw the Upright Citizens Brigade. It was great, it was well attended, a very, very fun performance. It got me even more excited about taking on this assignment.

How will you apply your expertise drawn from your years at Lincoln Center to your new position at SAC?

I am going to draw upon my two decades plus experience in the arts and the nonprofit world to do a few things. I want to expand the donor base. I plan to seek out new revenue streams, look at the business model. I want to make sure we are diversifying and expanding our audiences.

Do you see any commonalities between the Southampton Arts Center and Lincoln Center?

I do. In particular, when I was running the David Rubenstein Atrium at Lincoln Center, a dynamic, multipurpose public space and performance venue, all of the performances were either free and open to the public or were at very low cost. There are similarities there and what we are doing here at SAC in terms of low barriers to participation in terms of price to experience the arts.

The organization recently turned the corner of its five-year anniversary. What would you like to see happen in the next five years?

I think we’re poised for more growth. In the last four years, the number of programs has quadrupled and our patrons, our audience, has quadrupled as well. In 2017 we moved to year-round programming, so I think there’s room for growth there. A little further down the road, we are looking for a significant restoration and modernization of the facility here at 25 Jobs Lane.

What do you see as the role of arts programming in everyday life?

I think that one of the reasons that the SAC exists is to create in-person cultural experiences. In this frenetic world that we live in, if we can create opportunities to engage with fellow community members while experiencing a great piece of art, then we’ve done something very special.

Upcoming programs at the Southampton Arts Center include a screening of the documentary “Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story” on Friday, April 13, at 6 p.m. Tickets are $10. On Saturday, April 14, from 1 to 4 p.m., artist Francisco Alvarado-Juárez​ will lead “The Paper Bag Project,” a free, ongoing, all-ages workshop in which participants will paint and cut hundreds of brown paper bags that the artist will use in an upcoming art installation.

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