Youth Movement at LongHouse

Junior Council looks to future
Max Bonbrest, a member of the LongHouse Reserve’s Junior Council, left, was joined by Zandy Reich and Lea Michele at this year’s Salon on the Lawn, the council’s annual party. Neil Rasmus/BFA.com

Across the East End, organizations of all kinds are struggling to attract young people to join. In 2013, amid concern that its board of trustees was going gray, the LongHouse Reserve in East Hampton assembled a junior council of artists and curators that — now in its fifth year — is helping to inject new life into the institution. 

Founded by the textile designer and art collector Jack Lenor Larsen, LongHouse has long been a cultural center for modern art on the East End. The property, made up of 16 acres of sculpture gardens and a large home fashioned after a Japanese Shinto temple, is home to permanent works by Willem de Kooning, Sol LeWitt, and Yoko Ono, among others. 

Mr. Larsen, who is approaching 91, is still involved in curation at LongHouse, but the current president of the board, Dianne Benson, is looking toward the future. “It is time to welcome a new generation,” she said. “The board is getting older and we are going to need them to carry on our work.” 

In assembling a core team for the Junior Council, Ms. Benson drew upon a rich local network. Several council members are second-generation LongHouse supporters, including Max Levine, Sarah Duke, and Taylor Van Deusen, whose parents serve on the board. Others were connected through other means. Scott Bluedorn, for example, a 35-year-old artist and illustrator, worked at LongHouse before joining the council. 

“LongHouse is a small and intimate organization, so mostly everyone knows one another,” said Mariah Whitmore, the current council chairwoman. Still, the Junior Council operates independently of the board, which allows it total creative freedom.

The council has influence on programming, working with the arts, education, and landscape committees to assist on special events like the summer gala. Its members are also in charge of organizing the annual “Salon on the Lawn” exhibition. This year, the show, which opened on Memorial Day weekend, was curated by Tripoli Patterson, who is 33, and featured work by Aakash Nihalani, 32, and Quentin Curry, 46. It drew a large crowd of millennials to roam the lush grounds and appreciate the large-scale outdoor work. 

Though the show was once held on Labor Day weekend, this year the council decided to move it earlier in the season to better capitalize on the momentum raised by the party. “We want to get the word out that there is a lot going on at LongHouse,” Ms. Whitmore said. “People don’t know this, but there are things happening here every weekend. We have a ton of regular programming, including Saturday morning meditations, garden classes, and family days.”

Ms. Benson said that she has definitely noticed a shift since the council was formed. “Yes, there is certainly more energy now. Every year at the benefit we have a few tables” for a younger art crowd. “This year, they made up a significant portion of our group, and it keeps growing.”

In July, a LongHouse Celebrates Brooklyn gala will honor the work of Dustin Yellin, 42, an artist and founder of Pioneer Works, a not-for-profit cultural center in Red Hook, Brooklyn. The event is part of a larger initiative to align LongHouse with other young, vital organizations that could be potential partners and help to increase its membership.

Long term, Ms. Benson hopes that members of the Junior Council will stay invested in LongHouse and help contribute more broadly to East Hampton. An architect here, Nick Martin, 50, recently “graduated” from the council to the board of trustees, of which he is now the youngest member. If others follow the same path, moving up to fill leadership roles, they could help to ensure a bright and sustainable future for the organization.

“We are lucky to have such a wonderful group,” Ms. Benson said. “Their ideas are ambitious and raise the bar for all of us. We are very proud of what they’ve been able to accomplish.”

Performers at the LongHouse Reserve’s Salon on the Lawn included members of the Fiery Sensations. Neil Rasmus/BFA.com