By Megan Rodick and Lori Zelenko
An abundance of creativity has always surrounded Andrea Grover, Executive Director of Guild Hall in East Hampton. Indeed, she discovered early on the joys of artistic expression, encouraged “to make art and write stories,” as she explains this became the “foundation of my childhood.” It is only a natural trajectory then that she lead Guild Hall, which Grover describes as a “gathering place for the community where the arts encourage a finer type of citizenship: Civic-participation, support for the community, and cultural awareness, all are fundamental to our activities.”
Guild Hall, one of the first multidisciplinary centers in the country to combine a museum, theater, and education space under one roof, was established in 1931 as a gathering place for community where an appreciation for the arts serves to encourage the civic participation that is vital to Andrea Grover’s intentions.
For nearly nine decades, Guild Hall has embraced this open-minded vision and provided a welcoming environment for the public to engage with art exhibitions, performances, and educational offerings. Art and artists have long been the engine of Guild Hall’s activities and under Grover’s leadership, the institution continues to find innovative ways to support creativity in everyone.
Since becoming Executive Director in 2016, Grover has elevated the programming and sees it soaring to new heights as her tenure progresses. Naturally, we have to ask what her plan is. She reveals,
“My guiding principle is to let artists lead the way.
Artists see the future, and they’re the ones we should look to when we want to know what will be happening, culturally, in years to come.
Guild Hall is structured as an interdisciplinary center; it’s evident that art and conversation already thrive there.”
And that’s a dialogue she couldn’t be more enthusiastic about having.
Among the highlights she recalls from this past season, having the influential and tremendously innovative composer Philip Glass perform on piano in the John Drew Theater and seeing celebrated artist Ugo Rondinone exhibit not only his work, sun-themed sculptures and paintings – but also the sun drawings of local school children in the Guild Hall Museum – catch these rays through October 14. Seduction by light you could say is the result of this exhibition which according to the artist, competes with a day at the beach, “It creates for viewers a cocoon, it’s just the art and you and it stops time for that moment,” Rondinone says.
“If I had a window in this space, I would have covered it. You want as an artist to connect easily with viewers and, like listening to music, give yourself over to it. For that, you need to seduce.” Indeed, Andrea Grover understands how to empower artists to weave a spell and draw the community in, surprising, engaging, provoking, and spurring a dialog that crosses disciplines and generations.
Grover’s commitment to the arts long precedes her work at East Hampton’s most important cultural institution. Although she doesn’t have a favorite “child” among the arts, she loves all compelling expression as evidenced by the bountiful program of art exhibits, readings, concerts, dance performances, children’s programming, panel discussions, stand-up comedy, films, and more she oversees for Guild Hall. But if she were to let you in on a little secret, as her career started as a film curator, she does find that moving images particularly capture her affection.
Leading up to her appointment as Executive Director at Guild Hall, she was The Century Arts Foundation Curator of Special Projects at The Parrish Art Museum in Water Mill. As always expressing a vision that is at once emotionally charged and technologically advanced, she presented Radical Seafaring, a phenomenal representation of work that ranged from artist-made vessels, to documentation of creative expeditions, to speculative designs for alternative communities on the water.
Earning both a Tremaine Foundation and an AADA Curatorial Award for the exhibition, she describes the show as the one she was “born to curate” because:
“My father started out as a commercial fisherman in the late 1930s and then ran a marina for 50-plus years.
My mother was a painter and a sculptor. The two sensibilities merged in my childhood.
In 1985 my father crossed the North Atlantic in an outboard-powered boat of his own design, and my mother helped him create some of the safety features that helped him survive the nearly 3,000-mile journey.”
Water surfaces again as she looks forward to the first exhibition of her tenure at Guild Hall. In 2021 she will unveil, Alexis Rockman: Shipwrecks, new work from an artist beloved out East who is recognized for monumental paintings depicting the hazards of environmental destruction.
To understand Grover’s vision for the present and of course, the future of Guild Hall, it’s helpful to grasp her past. In terms of education, she holds an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and a BFA from Syracuse University. But though her education may be the roots of her commitment to the arts, this “tree,” if you will, bore fruit when at the age of 27, she founded the nonprofit film center Aurora Picture Show in Houston, Texas. An early demonstration of her lifelong commitment to the arts, this non-profit “microcinema” specializing in media art and the presentation of multi-disciplinary performances and screenings, hosted thousands of visiting artists and film and video programs in an old church she had renovated into her own living quarters.
As the vanguard of film and video programming, Aurora hosted the notable premieres of Isaac Julien’s “True North”, and Laurie Anderson’s film, “Hidden Inside Mountains”. A visionary and an authority in the moving image arena, her role at Aurora led to prestigious collaborations with globally respected arts organizations, among them the Dia Art Foundation and The Menil Collection.
Continuing her path of innovation post-Aurora, she researched artists working at the intersection of science and technology earning a Warhol Curatorial Fellowship, jointly hosted by the STUDIO for Creative Inquiry and Miller Gallery at Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA. resulting in the publication, New Art/Science Affinities, which profiled more than 60 contemporary artists working in maker culture, hacking, artistic research, citizen science, and computational art with a corresponding exhibition, Intimate Science which toured arts hubs in the U.S.
Grover explains that contemporary artists working in the art/science matrix are distinct from their 1960s predecessors, a shift she attributes to the networked communication and open-source culture enabled by the internet:
“Artists two generations ago were dependent on access to technicians, labs, computer time or manufacturers to realize works of scientific or technological complexity.”
In contrast, she observes that,
“practitioners now have greater agency to work fluidly across disciplines and beyond rarified institutions and industries.”
With such diverse expertise in multiple media art platforms and her local heritage of curatorial roles that have so brilliantly expanded the footprint of the arts in the Hamptons, it’s supremely logical that she was chosen to direct the far-ranging and complex programming at Guild Hall. Andrea Grover’s “dynamic vision along with insightful knowledge of our ever-evolving community,” made her the perfect fit for this position, a pivotal role in the Hamptons arts community, according to Marty Cohen, chair of Guild Hall’s Board of Trustees who is proud to see her as “the ideal person to take the reins of Guild Hall and lead us into the future.”
What makes Guild Hall such a special destination is how welcoming it is to every member of the family; there may be cutting-edge, avant-garde performances to thrill the adults but there are plenty of offerings for kids as well. In addition to children’s programming, Guild Hall provides in-school education programs, dubbed “cross-disciplinary” as they incorporate the multiple mediums Guild Hall has to offer. Plus there is the Student Art Festival which takes over the entirety of Guild Hall’s galleries and theater.
This bright future of art shaped by Guild Hall is supported by its impressive history which Grover enjoys imagining, thinking of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town with Wilder acting in the production or wondering what it would have been like to see Edward Albee at work as former artistic director of Guild Hall’s John Drew Theatre. Guild Hall was an incubator long before that was a buzzword for tech, “The Fantasticks was incubated at Guild Hall, and later went on to be the longest running show on Broadway,” Grover reminds us.
Although she values the intimacy of Guild Hall, expansion is not 100% off the agenda: “I would welcome more elbow room for education and the permanent collection. If there were a way to maintain the scale of the institution but add flexible space that could be radically adapted as needed, that would be a dream come true.” And making dreams come true is what Andrea Grover is all about, creating Guild Hall as a destination that’s fulfilling, genuinely welcoming, a place where all on the East End can dive into enthralling waters and flow with creative currents that lead from the beachside of the present to the oceans of the future.
For more information visit https://www.guildhall.org/