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In Riverside, imagining a place for community: art, poetry, music and games at first outdoor event in memory

Sisters Ariana, 4, and Alison Solorzano, 8 display their #daretoimagine visions for a photo by Courtney Surmanek at the Arts at the Park event in Riverside Oct. 17. Alison's vision was for parks, a pool, books and "school that we can play." Photo: Denise Civiletti

Riverside threw itself a little party yesterday. It was the first outdoor event held in the struggling hamlet in a very long time — maybe even the first one ever.

“Arts at the Park,” hosted by Riverside Rediscovered, was a family-friendly gathering where imagination and creativity took center stage.

Music, poetry, creative activities for kids, along with fun and games like hula hoops and chess were offered at the town park on the Route 24 traffic circle — the large open green space on Peconic Avenue, next to Peconic Paddler.

Courtney Surmanek, a multidisciplinary artist whose project “Becoming Our Spaces” debuted locally at the JumpstART event in downtown Riverhead this summer, assumed the role of “emissary from the future” from the U.S. Department of Arts and Culture, a “network of artists and cultural workers mobilizing creativity in the service of social justice.”

Surmanek set up a pop-up “imagination station” as part of USDAC’s nationwide “Dare to Imagine” week, where visitors of all ages were asked to imagine the world as they’d like to see it and write about it or make a picture of it. Surmanek took photos of participants and with their utopian visions for posting to the Dare to Imagine website and to social media with the hashtag #daretoimagine.

The Children’s Museum of the East End set up booths for art and activities for kids, including a chess station for games and instruction, manned by Chess NYC.

The Children’s Museum of the East End, located in Bridgehampton, was brought in to Riverside by Riveride Rediscovered this spring to teach a weekly art program for children, said the museum’s education coordinator Liz Bard. The weekly classes were so well-received, the organization obtained grant funding to continue the classes at Riverside Rediscovered’s Peconic Avenue office.

The new round of children’s art classes will run from Oct. 20 through Dec. 9: on Tuesdays for 2-5 year olds and Wednesdays for 6-9 year olds, Bard said.

Riverside Rediscovered coordinator Siris Barrios speaks at the Arts at the Park event in Riverside Oc.t 17. Photo: Denise Civiletti
Riverside Rediscovered coordinator Siris Barrios speaks at the Arts at the Park event in Riverside Oc.t 17. Photo: Denise Civiletti

“This is a very good start,” said Siris Barrios, Riverside Rediscovered’s community organizer told the small but enthusiastic crowd gathered for the event, including residents, local business owners and town officials.

“We hope to be able to do this again,” Barrios said afterward. “It’s so important to bring the community together for something like this.”

Barrios has spent the past 18 months working to bring the Riverside community together and to help it forge a collective vision for its future. Riverside Rediscovered is a “crowd-sourced placemaking” project launched by Renaissance Downtowns, a planning and development firm hired by the Town of Southampton in 2014 as a master developer for the hamlet of Riverside.

Incorporating the ideas and visions gathered by Barrios’ outreach efforts through community forums and meet-ups, Renaissance Downtowns produced a revitalization plan that was adopted by the Southampton Town Board this year. The plan is currently in State Environmental Quality Review Act process and will be the subject of a public hearing on Oct. 29 at Phillips Avenue Elementary School.

Artist's rendering of Route 24/Flanders Road, looking west toward the traffic circle. Riverside Revitalization Action Plan
Artist’s rendering of Route 24/Flanders Road, looking west toward the traffic circle. Riverside Revitalization Action Plan

The developer has been meeting with county officials to discuss different elements of the revitalization plan, including traffic, sewage treatment and parkland use, Renaissance vice president Sean McLean said yesterday.

Riverside has a lot of preserved land, including the large expanse of green where yesterday’s event took place. Surrounded on two sides by heavily trafficked roadways and fronting the traffic circle, the acreage — once the home of Tire Craft — was purchased by the town in 2002 with Community Preservation Fund money for “passive recreation” use.

Passive recreation is also the designated use for a 14-acre wooded parcel on the Peconic River purchased by the county in 2011 for $2.4 million.

“Passive recreation” uses acceptable to the county parks department are so limited, there’s really not much you can do with the land, McLean said. With the riverfront parcel, the only thing that will pass muster is a walking trail, he said. “No parking area, no boat launch…It’s very limiting,” he said.

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It wasn’t even clear to organizers whether yesterday’s “Arts at the Park” was “passive enough” to fit the bill.

“We haven’t disturbed anything. We will leave it just as we found it today,” Southampton Town Councilman Brad Bender said.

Riverside needs public park areas where community events and activities like yesterday’s gathering can take place, said McLean, who is a resident of the adjoining hamlet of Flanders.

As McLean watched his two young sons frolic with other children at the event, he observed, “It’s ironic that on land purchased for community preservation they say you can’t do things that will actually preserve community.”

RiverheadLOCAL photos by Denise Civiletti

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Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter and editor, an attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including a “writer of the year” award from the N.Y. Press Association in 2015. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website. Email Denise.