Plans to bring WaterFire to the Peconic River got the unanimous support of the Southampton Town Board last week with a resolution in support of working collaboratively on the project with the Town of Riverhead.
The board threw its support behind “WaterFire on the Peconic” as it noted that the proposal has earned broad support from community members in both towns, from Southampton’s development consultants working on Riverside revitalization, from the Suffolk County Office of Economic Development, as well as from civic and not-for-profit organizations in both communities, including the Peconic Land Trust and East End Arts.
A close working relationship with Riverhead Town is essential to the success of Southampton’s currently underway efforts to revitalize Riverside, the Southampton Town Board said in the resolution, adopted Dec. 9.
Southampton Deputy Supervisor Frank Zappone attended the Oct. 30 Riverhead Town Board and listened to a presentation by WaterFire representative Lisa Lowenstein. Zappone called the plan “a home run.”
“It’s very exciting and plays in very well with the vision of all the things we’re trying to accomplish,” Zappone told Riverhead board members. “We’re more than prepared to make that commitment to a partnership with Riverhead.”
WaterFire is a public art installation that incorporates a body of water, a series of floating bonfires, music, dance and visual art created by Providence artist Barnaby Evans. He originated the event in Providence in 1994 and it has been credited at the key factor in the city’s revitalization and renewal. Evans has brought WaterFire to a number of other cities around the world, including the small city of Sharon, Pennsylvania, located about 70 miles outside of Pittsburgh. Officials there say WaterFire Sharon — held three times a year — has been a boon to the local economy and helped transform its flagging downtown business district into an up-and-coming arts district.
He learned of Riverhead’s interest in floating bonfires on the river last year and, after some investigation and research, expressed interest in bringing his art installation to Riverhead.
The project immediately garnered the enthusiastic support of Riverhead officials.
The Riverhead Town Board has authorized a $350,000 grant application to ArtPlace America, at the suggestion of WaterFire founder Barnaby Evans. It has also authorized an application for a Bloomberg foundation public art installation grant.
It also authorized a grant application to the Bloomberg foundation, which is offering $1 million per year for two years to three communities for a public art installation, Lowenstein told board members in October.
WaterFire on the Peconic will be well-positioned for the grant, she said. “They already recognize Barnaby’s work as a foundational installation for what they’re trying to encourage with the money,” Lowenstein said. The Bloomberg grant application deadline is today, Dec. 15.
Southampton Town’s official support is a boon to the ultimate success of funding applications, Lowenstein said last week. “All government agencies, private and nonprofits, see these types of collaborations as huge guarantees that resources are leveraged,” she said.
Lowenstein, strategic consultant to WaterFire founder Evans continues to hold meetings with stakeholders in the area. Evans is attending some of the meetings himself.
“It’s very exciting to hear the support from people in the community and throughout the region,” Lowenstein said in an interview today.
Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter said last week he was happy to hear the news of Southampton Town’s resolution in support of WaterFire on the Peconic.
“I can’t wait to start WaterFire and tie it into the art space housing that Conifer wants to build downtown,” Walter said, referring to the apartment building proposed for the West Main Street site currently owned and occupied by the L.I. Science Center. The developers, who plan to build rent-controlled, low-income apartments, have said they will give a preference to artists seeking to rent the one- and two-bedroom units.
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