By Christine Sampson
The Sag Harbor Partnership on Wednesday revealed the identity of the previously anonymous “angel” donor whose $1 million pledge kicked off the fundraising for the new Sag Harbor Cinema Arts Center, and the name is a familiar one around these parts: Eric Fischl.
The internationally acclaimed painter and sculptor said in an interview this week the donation came from money he received from the sale of Fair Oaks, the 26-acre subdivision behind his North Haven property, to the Town of Southampton through the Community Preservation Fund earlier this year.
“My vision is to try to preserve things so that it slows down development and has less impact on the environment,” Mr. Fischl said. “I was fortunate enough to buy the property behind the house and sell it, and with that money I’ve continued the idea of preservation. I’ve been strategizing ways of using the money to its utmost effect. The cinema is one of those things.”
Sag Harbor Partnership president Nick Gazzolo said in a statement Mr. Fischl’s donation is particularly meaningful because “an artist is leading the way.”
“Eric’s generous pledge has been absolutely critical to this campaign,” Mr. Gazzolo said. “His was the first, and is still the biggest donation. He’s given us the time and space we needed to bring others on board. Great cultural destinations, museums, theaters and film centers don’t happen by accident. They happen when leaders say we are a better community if we can create a space for culture.”
News of Mr. Fischl’s involvement came this week as the cinema’s fundraising total approached $3.5 million. The Sag Harbor Partnership has a self-imposed July 1 deadline to raise $6 million en route to raising $8 million to buy the property from cinema owner Gerald Mallow. It will need to raise at least $5 million more for construction and renovations.
Mr. Fischl said he thinks the campaign is right on track.
“I’ve got every confidence it’s going to happen,” he said. “I think it’s fantastic.”
He said he was inspired to make the donation by Sag Harbor’s history as a creative place that “has always been a maker of things valuable to an economy greater than its small borders.” Art, he said, should be one of those things, and he sees a role for the Sag Harbor Cinema Arts Center in that vision.
“I love Sag Harbor,” he said. “I’m committed to being here. I think that Sag Harbor has some very deep, very rich roots. There’s something about the fabric of the community and the spirit of the people that I responded to and felt comfortable in.”
Susan Lacy, the Emmy Award-winning filmmaker and producer who heads the Sag Harbor Cinema Arts Center Advisory Board, called Mr. Fischl’s gift “extraordinary in its generosity and its vision for the future.”
“The importance of saving the cinema is paramount to the history of Sag Harbor and its Main Street, but it goes beyond that to establishing the roots of a new and important cultural center for the entire East End,” Ms. Lacy said in a statement.
Mr. Fischl is the husband of artist April Gornik, who happens to be the Sag Harbor Partnership’s vice president, but he said he needed no convincing from his wife when it came to the decision to donate.
“I really wasn’t somebody to get involved in the nuts and bolts in the cinema, raising the money, going to meetings — the stuff that April has been doing 18 hours a day for the last few months,” he said, “but I shared the vision she has, which is that the cinema needs to be brought back.”