By Douglas Feiden
Question: What happens when one mayor, two theaters, two banks, three vineyards, five galleries, 28 restaurants and food purveyors, 50-plus local artists and scores of activists, merchants, residents, volunteers and nonprofits join forces?
Answer: A public-spirited movement is born, a novel and in some ways unprecedented collaboration takes shape, and an expansive new definition of words like “community” and “solidarity” is drafted in the streets, shops, studios and salons of Sag Harbor.
The impetus for all this good-fellowship is a fundraiser planned for the Long Wharf on Sunday, July 10, to support the John Steinbeck Waterfront Park, which the village has been trying to develop as a landscaped emerald Eden on a long-derelict, no-man’s land just west of the Lance Cpl. Jordan Haerter Veterans Memorial Bridge.
Organized by the Sag Harbor Partnership, “The Big Tent: Party for the Park!” is a community-wide fundraiser that’s striving to be as inclusive and democratic as possible by posting one of the lowest ticket prices ever seen for a summertime benefit on the East End, $50 in advance or $60 at the door for the 5-to-8 p.m. event.
Cheaper ducats still are available for kids under 16, who will pay $10 or $15 at the door.
“The park is for the people,” said April Gornik, the artist-activist who is event chair and a member of the nonprofit’s board. “Our fondest hope is for this to be an incredible, giant, community-uniting experience for everybody that will be both a party for the people and a party for the park.”
To make the $50 price point possible — and facilitate what Ms. Gornik brands a village-defining, “let-everybody-in event” — planners have been working closely with the Bay Street Theater, which hosts its own “Gala on Long Wharf,” its 25th annual summer fundraiser, with tickets priced at a more typical $1,250 a head, on Saturday, July 9, the night before.
Bay Street has already contracted for its signature, long-narrow tent, as well as rentals for items like tables, tablecloths, chairs and restroom trailers, and the partnership is piggy-backing on those rentals by paying for an extra day, allowing it to reap significant savings.
“The beauty of this party is that everybody loves a park on the waterfront, everybody wants one, and they’re willing to go to extraordinary measures in terms of helping out,” said Susan Mead, president of the nonprofit, which creates public-private partnerships and has helped fund the Sag Harbor Volunteer Ambulance Corps, Eastville Community Historical Society and John Jermain Memorial Library.
Indeed, the benefit has quickly become a rallying cry for the park, which would become a new gateway to the village and an open, verdant oasis on the last major undeveloped waterfront parcel in Sag Harbor, transforming a triangular-shaped area that for decades has marred the shoreline and blocked access to the beach.
“This is a great example of one of our organizations that loves the idea of our park and wants to do their bit,” said Mayor Sandra Schroeder. “They’ve been thinking and thinking about what they can do to support the village, and I find it very touching.”
Creating such a recreational-educational-historic-maritime-and-harbor-fronting-space doesn’t come cheap, though no firmed-up cost estimates have been publicly released. But the partnership aims to build a financial floor for those efforts and raise at least $50,000 after expenses.
“It’s not an easy event to put on,” said Ms. Mead, who says the wharf permit, allowing 400 people at any given time, was obtained in December 2015.
“It’s phenomenally complicated,” adds Ms. Gornik, who says the benefit has been in the making for close to a year.
And the fundraising appeals don’t begin under the canvas on the wharf, they run all day: “There’s always a tent, and there’s always auction items in the tent, but we started to think, ‘Wait a minute, we don’t want people to just come from 5 to 8 and be inside a tent, we want people to be in all of Sag Harbor!’” Ms. Gornik said.
So the partnership lined up village shopkeepers who wanted to participate. For a $200 tax-deductible contribution to a park fund, merchants will get signs to post in their windows, proclaiming, “Proud to be Part of the Big Tent: Come See What’s in Store.”
Sponsoring stores are encouraged to plan raffles, discounts, deals and auctions that will promote the park, defray their costs and help them lure shoppers to generate extra sales.
And then there are “all-day surprises.” Expect the best hot dogs, hamburgers and grilled chicken the Sag Harbor Volunteer Fire Department can conjure up:
”We want to show our support for preserving open space and the creation of a community park that will beautify Sag Harbor,” said Fire Chief Thomas Gardella. “We’ll have a couple of grills and supply manpower, maybe five to 10 guys — and these are very good cooks who know their way around a grill.”
Other highlights of “The Big Tent” include:
* “Art for the Park Auction.” Five participating galleries — Romany Kramoris, Tulla Booth, Monika Olko, RJD and Grenning Gallery — are donating space to host a silent auction from 2 to 7:45 p.m., with advance bidding on their websites. The donated works of over 50 artists will be up for sale with proceeds going to the park.
* “Photo Contest for Teenagers.” There will be 10 winners in 10 categories, and the two judges will be Ralph Gibson, a globally known art photographer, and Eric Fischl, the painter-sculptor who is also the husband of Ms. Gornik. Still in the planning stages, the organizers hope to find venues to exhibit the winners’ works.
* “A Taste of Sag Harbor.” Dozens of local restaurants, vineyards and food purveyors will each have their own tables, and the donated wine and food they serve is part of the $50 admission price.
“We’ll be pouring very versatile, food-friendly wines that will work with the varied offerings of so many different chefs to help make the party a bigger success,” said Roman Roth, winemaker and partner at the Wölffer Estate Vineyard.
“We’re more than happy to help out to support the waterfront park,” said Michael Schiavoni of Schiavoni’s Market, who said it would also boost the family’s catering business and introduce the village to the market’s new chef, Michael Mosolino.
“One of the great places of Sag Harbor is its unique waterfront, and so to be able to bring the whole community to a place that’s a park for everyone is a dynamic, exciting endeavor that says, ‘We’re Sag Harbor, and we’re here to stay,’” Ms. Gornik says.
“It’s a way of reaffirming our identity in a very powerful and family-friendly way.”