By Annette Hinkle
The East End economic model has long been driven by the summer season. As a world class destination, the area draws visitors from near and far and for most retailers, the success of the period between Memorial Day and Labor Day determines the health of their business for the rest of the year.
But this weekend when Southampton Village kicks off Arts Harvest Southampton, it will take a proactive step in rethinking the model of the seasonal economy.
Arts Harvest Southampton is a month long celebration of the performing, visual and culinary arts in the village business district. The theme is local, and to focus the festival, an Emerging Arts District has been delineated, anchored by cultural institutions such as Rogers Memorial Library, the Southampton Cultural Center, the Southampton Historical Museum and the Parrish Art Museum. From live music and art exhibits, to kids activities, films and tours, a huge array of events will be offered on the streets and at the institutions within the newly defined district during the run of the festival from September 17 to October 10.
But perhaps the highlight of the festival will be the Farm to Table Harvest Dinner on Saturday, October 2. The evening begins with late afternoon cocktails and music on the terrace of the Southampton Cultural Center. Then, weather permitting, up to 100 diners will take seats at elegant candlelit tables lining the sidewalk along Agawam Park for an alfresco dinner created by local chefs using fresh local ingredients.
The festival is the brain child of Shoreham based Kathryn Simos of Simos Productions.
Simos has been an event planner for 20 years and has organized festivals up and down the East Coast. When Southampton Village Mayor Mark Epley and the board of trustees came to her seeking input on a festival to reshape the image of Southampton, the notion of forging a stronger bond between the arts and commerce emerged quickly as a dominant theme.
“I thought if we tailored the event to performing, visual and culinary arts, it would be a really nice way to touch on the business and arts community,” explains Simos. “So we looked to embrace the farm to table movement.”
“We are so blessed to be where we live. People are interested in eating local,” says Simos. “We’re also blessed with great local talent. You certainly don’t have to go to Manhattan to embrace this idea.”
Simos notes that highlighting the artistic flavor of the East End will be “Paint the Village” an exhibition by renown local artists whose paintings of Southampton will be displayed in retail windows along Main Street throughout the run of the festival. The work will be auctioned off at the Farm to Table dinner, but it’s possible to take the work home on the spot by paying the “buy it now” price, just like eBay.
“This is a way for all local municipalities to transform from a seasonal economy into year ‘round,” she adds. “It’s a good, energetic, inspired event that connects arts to business and benefits everybody.”
For Simos, making arts the centerpiece of this festival was vital. Experience has taught her that embracing the arts can ultimately be a boon for a business community.
“When you marry the arts with downtown, everyone benefits,” says Simos, who notes that a key piece of the plan is to close off parts of Main Street and Job’s Lane each weekend to create a European atmosphere where pedestrians — not cars — dominate the landscape.
“By and large, all the businesses recognize there’s been a little bit something missing in Southampton and they’re excited about it,” she says. “They all have the opportunity to spill out onto the sidewalk with tables and restaurants can set up outside.”
Simos gives credit to Southampton Village officials for having the vision to create Arts Harvest Southampton. Having a municipality spearhead such an effort is unique in her experience.
“They’re visionaries. They’re thinking about the future — about when The Parrish is no longer there,” says Simos referring to the museum’s planned relocation outside the village. “Kudos to them that they didn’t wait until three months before the Parrish moved. They’re restructuring the village now into a whole new arts district.”
“It’s not inexpensive,” she acknowledges. “There’s definitely a cost. But in the end is that not the job of a municipality — to create an atmosphere that’s better for their businesses and residents?”
Simos admits that she has encountered some retailer resistance to the idea of closing the street. But just wait, she tells them…the proof, she says, is in the pudding.
“I can’t think of a great festival anywhere in the world that does not have a street closed,” says Simos. “So you park and walk. It’s shifting the culture and getting people to stop being so anal about being able to park immediately in front of the one store they want to go to. Shopping, walking, eating local. It’s not like they’re being asked to walk through an industrial site. It’s Southampton Village.”
“If we let go of the car, people will relax, enjoy themselves, have fun and hang out,” she says. “It’s a beautiful thing. Cars add a whole other element. It’s not the same. You’re always a bit on edge. You have to hold your kid’s hand. With the street blocked it’s a wide open space. You know they’re safe and it’s time for everyone to hang out.”
Simos also feels that festivals like this are a way to remind residents of the importance of shopping locally.
“Consumers have to really start patronizing the privately owned stores,” she says. “Even if it costs 10 percent more, so what? By shopping there you’re feeding a family, paying a local person’s wages. I feel it’s important to me as a person. I’d much rather shop where it’s more intimate and easy.”
For a full list of events, visit www.artsharvestsouthampton.org or call 287-4377.