Prom Helps Push Southampton Center Closer To Community Hub Goal

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It is a night they have been dreaming about for years.

But unlike the proms enjoyed by their predecessors, members of the Southampton High School Class of 2015 will always fondly recall their special evening as more than a chance to show off their carefully selected gowns while the boys, decked out in their tuxedos, do their best James Bond impressions.

For the first time, the pinnacle of the local high school’s social calendar will be held at the Southampton Arts Center, marking the start of a new era for the community building, one that shepherds it away from its former use as a museum and begins its transformation into what community leaders have always hoped it would one day become: a new cultural hub to be enjoyed by the entire Southampton community.

“It was just a no-brainer that we wanted to hold the prom here,” Southampton Arts Center Director Michele Thompson said during a recent interview. “When I heard that the students were having to go all the way to the North Fork and take buses, I thought why wouldn’t we want to have it right here in the village? So, we were able to figure out fairly quickly that we could accommodate them, and we have been planning away ever since.”

The building at 25 Jobs Lane was originally owned by Samuel L. Parrish, an attorney and Quaker who built a museum to house his extensive art collection. After his death, the museum and its contents were donated to Southampton Village and after the long-standing lease with the Parrish Art Museum expired, and the organization opted to build a new facility in Water Mill, village officials spent several years debating what to do with the village-owned property.

A decision was eventually made to convert the space into a community center dedicated to arts and culture, a venue that also incorporates the performing arts, film and educational programming.

Now that the first of what could be many proms is coming to the facility in June, Southampton Village Mayor Mark Epley, a longtime proponent of the reutilization of the former museum space, said he is thrilled that the village’s vision is finally being embraced by the community. “It is awesome, it really is,” he said. “I am so excited because it really identifies that space as a true community space.”

And the students are just as excited about the change. This week, prom committee members Sarah Pierson, Megan Goleski and Keara Wood, all 18, said they are thrilled to help organize the event, scheduled for Saturday, June 20, into a real community affair centered in the heart of Southampton Village. The students are even choosing to highlight the history of the building for their special night, going with a “Night at the Museum” theme and selecting artwork created by their fellow seniors and juniors that will be displayed throughout the venue.

“We wanted to bring the prom somewhere that was a central location and we know that people in the community have wanted to bring it back into town for a while, and that is something that is really important to a lot of people,” Sarah said. “That is a really good thing, because now that we have brought it back to Southampton, we have been getting a lot of support for it and people are really getting involved.”

On prom night, dancing will be held in the Arts Center auditorium, with tables and food stations set up throughout. The goal, according to Ms. Thompson, is to create more of a lounge-feel than a formal, sit-down dinner.

“I think this is a really unique opportunity,” said Megan, who added that she loves the space. “For a lot of us, we have been going there since we were really young, doing art classes and that kind of stuff at the Parrish, so it is kind of a place we all know and definitely value. That makes it more than just a venue for the prom, like a vineyard; it makes it unique because the space, this space, is important to us.”

The students are also planning to incorporate as much of the village as possible on their special night. Last week, Southampton Village granted prom attendees permission to utilize the new boardwalk at Lake Agawam for pictures so that their parents and families can come see their graduates off on their big night. From there, students will walk to the Southampton Arts Center up the street. School officials are also working with local restaurants to see if they can offer special menus for the night, so parents can have their own night on the town after taking photos, and sharing final hugs, with their children.

“It gets the entire community involved,” Keara said. “Now that the photos can be taken out front or at Lake Agawam, it allows for everyone that you care about to come and see you with your date or your friends and take those beautiful photos in a beautiful location.”

The prom is yet another step of many to come for the Southampton Arts Center, which is launching a full summer schedule of activities for residents and visitors alike. Future plans for the venue, according to Ms. Thompson, include a long-awaited renovation to restore the historic property, and to eventually become a year-round facility—a difficult step that they are coming closer and closer to achieving. For the upcoming prom, the center offered the building to the Southampton School District at the—very—discounted rate of $3,000, which is not the normal fee.

“We want to be that cultural hub for the Village of Southampton and we want the residents of the community to really feel some ownership for the building and the whole property,” Ms. Thompson said. “Mr. Parrish gave this property to the village so that everyone who lives here or visits here can enjoy it, and we have made a really concerted effort to open it up and really foster that kind of a community feeling.

“Hosting the prom here really just nails it,” she added.

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