Dorothy Lichtenstein has given the Stony Brook Southampton Graduate Arts programs a $1 million gift at a crucial time in their development, the school announced this week at the beginning of its annual Southampton Writers Conference.
According to Robert Reeves, the associate provost of the school, who has initiated and overseen the evolution of its programs, the gift will allow it to “prime the pump” for a number of nascent ventures and take advantage of opportunities as they arise.
Ms. Lichtenstein, who lives in Southampton, is the widow of the artist Roy Lichtenstein and the president of the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation. A Stony Brook Foundation trustee, she is actively involved with the school, attending many of its events and taking part in its writing workshops.
She said on Tuesday that after Long Island University decided to close Southampton College, “I was enormously pleased that Stony Brook stepped in to take over. . . . It would have been disastrous had the campus been left vacant.”
Calling it a “cultural nexus,” she added, “the Writers Conference was especially dear to me even before I participated in a workshop. Their roster of literary giants drew me to readings, conversations, and discussions that were held as part of the conference. These events were both informative and frequently hilarious.”
She praised Mr. Reeves’s leadership of the conference and of the programs it has spawned in theater, film, and visual art. All of these programs, which were launched during summer conferences, are being nurtured into year-round certificate and fully accredited graduate programs with classes in Southampton and New York City.
In addition, the school has started TSR Editions, an offshoot of The Southampton Review, a literary journal the school has published for a number of years under the editorship of Lou Ann Walker. The new publisher has its own studio led by Scott Sandell and will produce artists’ books, beginning this month with a photography book by Joe Pintauro. Though he is better known for his plays, he has had several exhibitions of his photos.
Except for the Writers Conference and the M.F.A. program in creative writing and literature, which the school has offered for several years, most of the graduate programs were founded just recently. The M.F.A. program in theater will include tracks in acting, playwriting, directing, dramaturgy, and film, much of it seeded from an existing program moved to the Southampton campus from the main one at Stony Brook. It will enroll a class of 17 students in the fall.
When it comes to the overall graduate school on campus, the goal is to expand it from 120 core students to ultimately 200 over time, in addition to “the hundreds of people now attending the summer conference,” Mr. Reeves said Tuesday.
From the start, the most important thing for Mr. Reeves was to find the right people to run things. Nick Mangano, the director of the M.F.A. in theater program, has a long C.V. of acting, directing, teaching, and awards to his credit. Julie Sheehan, a Whiting Writers Award-winning poet, has taken over as director of the creative writing and literature program from Mr. Reeves. Mr. Sandell, an artist with a long history in printmaking, is the director of visual arts.
Christine Vachon, a film producer known for her long association with the director Todd Haynes, is leading the film program and working at the conference with the intensive 20/20/20 digital film program, in which 20 filmmakers on scholarship make 20 films in 20 days. It is now in its second year.
Mr. Reeves said the school has acted entrepreneurially in its development rather than rely on an academic paradigm. “It’s a creative arts program. Our building process for it is let the story tell you what it wants to be.”
Noting his own writing background, he said that the “surest way to write a bad novel is to take an idea and try to fit things into it.” Drawing on the many writers on the East End has given him a model “that has weathered many storms” — from the closing of Southampton College in 2005 to the early uneasy years of Stony Brook University’s stewardship of the campus.
Rather than have a roster of full-time faculty, which could also weigh down the institution, he said the creative community out here consists of “practicing artists who don’t want to spend all of their time teaching. One course a year is plenty for them. Academia is not a good model for creative people anyway.”
The school’s focus, as it has always been in the writing program, is on producing. “We don’t recruit out of college. We are looking for adults who have made mature decisions to accomplish what they want in art. They want to write a novel, poems, a play, or make a film. We will help them do that and give them access to the best artists in the country.”
Mr. Reeves added that, with the access everyone now has to publishing and filmmaking through online outlets, “there is a great democratization of the arts. It’s no longer about the gatekeepers, but what you have to say. That is what we can contribute. We can help our students find out what they have to say and how to say it in that medium.”
Being aligned with a state school is a tremendous help, both in its current and future accreditation efforts and in keeping tuition relatively affordable, about $5,300 for a three-course semester of 12 credits. “We don’t want our students going into $150,000 of debt. It should be an affordable and inclusive program.”
While much of the work will continue to be done on the Southampton campus, the school will build on its international programs and classes in Manhattan as well. As it does so, the endorsement of Ms. Lichtenstein, a major supporter of arts organizations who serves on the board of the Parrish Art Museum, among others, cannot help but further its mission.
“My expectation is that Stony Brook Southampton will become a graduate school of the arts under Professor Reeves’s direction,” she said. “This will bring enormous vitality to an area that I love and that I call home.”