Six months after its doors were opened for the first time, the new Southampton Center has announced that its first director, Michele Thompson, will take over on February 1.
Ms. Thompson, a native of Birmingham, Alabama, said this week she is thrilled to be taking the helm at such an up-and-coming institution. She hopes to help the center grow to fit the needs of the community and visitors alike over the next few years, she said.
She said she is excited to be given the opportunity to shape the center from the beginning, and that she is looking forward to bringing new and unique programs spanning a range of art mediums to Southampton.
“I am really excited about the idea of creating a warm cultural hub for the village and being a part of seeing that grow and take shape,” Ms. Thompson said. “My biggest goal is to make sure that the center becomes an integral part of the community and serves the needs of the community in the best possible way.”
The Southampton Center is a multi-disciplinary arts center located at 25 Jobs Lane in Southampton Village, the former home of the Parrish Art Museum. In its inaugural year, the fledgling Southampton Center has hosted movies, art shows, and live music and dance performances, as well as interactive educational workshops and children’s programs. It has also been used as a staging ground for village activities, including Halloween parties and post-parade celebrations on July 4.
Ms. Thompson, who was most recently the director of adult education and the arts at the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan, will be in charge of day-to-day operations, management, programming and development at the Southampton Center.
This week she said she believes her work with the 92Y and as a former director of 92Y Tribeca, an offshoot, has best prepared her for her new role. Although 92Y Tribeca was already formed when she came on board, she was the first director there also, and she helped develop a “broad spectrum of cultural programming” that created a new art hub in Lower Manhattan.
“We are thrilled to have found Michele to lead Southampton Center,” said Whitney Stevens, Southampton Center board of directors co-chairwoman. “Michele’s deep knowledge and experience in building a new organization, marketing and development will be integral to our continued success.”
The Southampton Center has been touted as the next art hub on the East End. Southampton Village Mayor Mark Epley and others believe that with the right guidance and programs, the center can become exactly what the village needs to move away from being typecast as a summer destination and closer to becoming a year-round vacation hot-spot.
“Southampton Center will be the heartbeat of the village for years to come and will continue to be a driving force for economic and cultural growth in our community,” he said.
A graduate of Vanderbilt University, Ms. Thompson has a bachelor’s degree in theater and English and a master’s in higher education administration, specializing in institutional advancement with a focus on the arts.
Her first task, she said, will be to get better acquainted with the facility itself, the community and local organizations that will be necessary to make the idea a success.
“There is just so much potential there,” she said this week. “The board has done a lot of work in envisioning the future for the center, and I will be looking for really strong partnerships because they are a great way to leverage everyone’s resources and make the most out of what is available.”
As to future programs at the Southampton Center, the sky is the limit. Ms. Thompson said she’s not ruling anything out and hopes to bring a combination of high-quality art, children’s programs and education programs, among other things.
“I just love the centrality of the space, and I love the beautiful lawn and grounds,” she said. “I think we can really open it up and make it into something absolutely special for everybody who lives and visits here.”
Ms. Thompson, who currently lives in Manhattan, is looking to move to the East End on a year-round basis in the next few weeks. An avid sportswoman who enjoys the outdoors, she is looking forward to taking advantage of all the East End has to offer, she said, from bike riding to surfing.
The Southampton Center will hold a welcome reception for her and the Southampton community on Saturday, February 1, at 5 p.m.
“I really think this cultural center needs to be organic to the Southampton community,” she said. “There are many other organizations that will be great models for various pieces of the Southampton Center, but I am going to be looking to the village to really help build a model for what they would like to see.”