By Michelle Trauring
When Maria Fumai-Dietrich joined the Parrish Art Museum staff, she took one look at the business membership roster and was immediately impressed — and, simultaneously, inspired.
The members represented industries across the board, from hospitality, retail and graphic design to architecture, law and real estate. And, in there, she saw unbound potential.
Over the next three years, as the Water Mill museum’s membership and individual giving manager, Fumai-Dietrich breathed new life into the once-defunct Parrish Business Council, a volunteer-based board of entrepreneurs who organize professional development events for like-minded, Hamptons business owners, united by their support of both the museum and the arts at large.
“The idea of lifting up that existing business member population and creating a real community among them, and for them, was the impetus,” she said of revamping the council. “What brought all these people together, what made them a unique community, was the fact that they saw themselves as entrepreneurs and they saw themselves as art lovers.”
For cultural institutions across the East End, and the globe, tiered membership levels are nothing new, Fumai-Dietrich pointed out. Even locally, Guild Hall in East Hampton offers incentives for business membership holders, and the Southampton Arts Center (SAC) launched its Business Circle in 2019 “because we are committed to maintaining a leadership role as a catalyst in our local economy,” according to SAC’s Executive Director Tom Dunn.
“A vibrant, year-round business community on the East End is of critical importance to us all,” he said. “This mutually beneficial membership platform provides benefits to local business and much needed support to help underwrite SAC’s impactful programs. We’re in this together, more so than ever.”
That sense of camaraderie fanned the Parrish Business Council relaunch, after it fizzled out when the museum relocated from Southampton in 2012. Prior to the move, the council had a decades-long history, credited with spearheading events like the Spring Fling, which transformed into one of the museum’s most highly anticipated annual fundraisers.
On a chilly winter night in 2018, Fumai-Dietrich knew more ideas like that one lived within the museum’s membership base, as she watched entrepreneurs mingle during a wine and cheese night in one of the galleries.
“When they came to the museum in one place at one time and we could see who they were and how they were communicating with one another, we realized that all these folks with different professional backgrounds, different businesses were at the museum for a shared passion,” she said. “It was all very organic from there.”
Before she knew it, business leaders stepped forward to not only volunteer, but draw acquaintances to the council — bringing the total number of members to 13, among them restaurateur Keith Davis of The Golden Pear Café, founder Aleksandra Kardwell of the Hamptons Employment Agency, attorney Robin Long, interior designer Laura Maresca Sanatore of LMS Design, co-owner Liz Brodar of White Fences Inn, and health coach Jan Rose of Healthy in the Hamptons.
“While their day jobs look nothing alike in a lot of ways, they come together and they share resources and ideas,” Fumai-Dietrich said. “The council, I’m just so grateful for them because they really are the heart and soul of the business membership program. I am blown away by how this group of people has been supportive of one another in their professional and personal pursuits.”
While some of the council members have seen more abstract growth in their businesses, through networking and referrals, three members created an entirely new company — and it all started with Eugenia Au Kim.
At age 80, and against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, the interior designer realized her company, Interiors OTH, needed a change. She had just completed designing a bariatric physician’s office and, in the midst of the project, collaborated with fellow council member Diana Pepi Stott, the graphic designer behind Pepi Design Group, on the branding and logo design to match the interior.
Recognizing that rebranding often means navigating change, the two women also brought Emil Everett of New Amsterdam and Erik Fredrickson of Erik Fredrickson Executive Coaching into the fold, both coaches, council members and consultants on effective leadership.
“In this environment we’re in today, there’s such flux and dynamism in what’s going on, there’s uncertainty, and collaboration is such an important thing,” Fredrickson said. “We need to use each other to expand our voices and to support each other, and help the community around us. It’s a much more sustainable model to open yourself to that.”
Feeling a natural synergy with Pepi Stott, Au Kim proposed a partnership and, together with the graphic designer’s husband, architect Ric Stott, they founded AIG Collaborative, which merges each of their skill sets into a one-stop shop for boutique medical practices that focus on patient wellbeing and comfort — at least to start.
“The three of us get along very, very well — and we fight well together. It’s a marriage!” Au Kim said with a laugh. “I think there should be a responsibility for us, as a community, to be supportive of the museum. To me, what’s going to keep the world alive is arts, music and dance. It awakens the five senses in us. The shit going on in the world kills our five senses. That’s why I feel so strongly about the Parrish and that they, in turn, are letting us have a business council there, too. It’s a win, win, win.”
The Parrish is actively seeking more members to serve on the business council — which is rounded out by founder Nadine Homann of NH Design Studios, financial advisor Lisa Saladino of The Hackett Group, Merrill Lynch, and founder Diane Tucci of Main Street Agency. In the months ahead, Fumai-Dietrich expects the council to host more professional development events, which will all remain virtual as the pandemic rages on.
“I hope so much for the economic landscape on the East End to not only weather the storm that is COVID-19, but to find ways to thrive,” she said. “I feel that the arts are that great connector. It is a way to communicate and to get people to collaborate, and I do feel like the arts will show us the way, in a lot of ways. As we enter into the coming months and we see the numbers increase in the second wave, if we can hold onto the arts and that value of community, I think we’ll be okay.”
To learn more about the Parrish Art Museum’s Business Council, visit parrishart.org/business-membership/.