Diane Burke of Rocky Point, who has an extensive business background, was named executive director of East End Arts in December. Photo; Denise Civiletti

East End Arts has a new executive director for the second time in less than six months.

Diane Burke of Rocky Point was named to the position in December, following the departure of Shawn Hirst, who held the post from August to November.

“Shawn decided the job that needed to be done at East End Arts was not a good fit for her,” said East End Arts president John McLane. “She was hired with support of our board and her resignation was disappointing,” he said.  The board tapped Burke to replace her.

The changes follow nearly two decades of leadership by former executive director Patricia Snyder, who served five years as director of the school before being named executive director in 2001.

Burke, 51, comes with a range of business experience in both the for-profit and nonprofit sectors, with positions at Cablevision, Phillip Morris, Dun and Bradstreet and Habitat for Humanity on her resume. A graduate of Northeastern University with a degree in finance and a concentration in computer science, Burke has been active in her community and church, serving as president of the Rocky Point Civic Association, serving on the Rocky Point Board of Education and on the Brookhaven Town Zoning Board of Appeals.

Her background as “an analyst focusing on business operations” will serve her well as she works to get the 47-year-old, Riverhead-based arts organization back on track.

The growth of East End Arts outpaced its funding, Burke said, resulting in a debt burden that made it hard for the organization to function. Before she arrived, much of the administrative and gallery staff had been furloughed. The school, which provides instruction in music, fine arts and theater, is operating in the black, she said. It was the rest of the group’s operations that drained its resources.

With cuts in place, the balance on a $150,000 line of credit that was almost at its limit has been reduced to about $134,000, Burke said.

Burke said her immediate goal is to hear from members about what they want from East End Arts.

“This is, after all, a membership organization, so that’s the place to start,” she said.

A membership meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday at the East End Arts carriage house. All members are welcomed to attend and participate.

For her part, Burke said, she wants to make sure East End Arts can sustain itself, with goals defined by the membership and the community. Once its position is stabilized, she will look at where the organization can grow from there.

In her utopian vision, East End Arts would have a staff in place to fulfill the needs and wants of the membership and the community. It would have a fully functioning gallery and the best instruments and tools of the trade for the school, she said.

“There would be no artist that didn’t feel well-represented,” she said, “and no kid that couldn’t take lessons because of money.”

And the downtown would be “bustling with people coming to enjoy performances and see all the galleries — and there would be lots of galleries.”

Working as CEO of Habitat for Humanity of Suffolk “allowed me to bring my skill set and love of community together,” Burke said. She sees the same opportunity at East End Arts.

“This organization is a gem,” she said.


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