EVERY WALL HAS TWO FACES and in a museum the one that is noticed most is adorned with artwork. But for every wall filled with wondrous imagery there is someone behind it overseeing budgets, writing grant proposals and keeping the building together. Lynda Moran, executive director of the Islip Arts Council, may not choose each piece for an exhibit, but she is responsible for keeping avant-garde, contemporary art close to home. Part of that means actively pursuing those residents and engaging them.
The council manages all things cultural in the town and its crown jewel is the Islip Art Museum. Working with art is in Moran’s blood; she learned the administrative end of things later. “My father was an artist,” she said. “The birds he carved look like they would fly away. He [kept] dead birds in the freezer so he could capture the exact feather movement,” she laughed, remembering it drove her mother crazy.
Though never far from the arts, the New York native forged a different career path. The one time teacher, law school graduate and former colleague of Dr. James Watson at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory finally meshed her leadership skills with an artistic endeavor at Splashes of Hope, a nonprofit that paints murals in hospitals and other facilities. “I brought it from the kitchen table to a worldwide organization,” she said. Some move art forward with a paintbrush and an easel—Moran’s doing the same behind a desk with a pen.
Keeping Brookwood Hall’s lights on is a hefty part of her responsibly, but she’s also pushing to extend its reach, literally. Her plan is to augment the 35 park-like acres surrounding the museum, a stately 1903 Georgian Revival mansion, by adding a sculpture park and a band shell. “Because we have such a fabulous location, we can open the doors and have the works of art outside,” she said. “I have my nose to the grindstone searching for an endowment.”
Her goal is to increase the town’s exposure to all the arts and visual art is just one of the vehicles. Since taking the position in 2012, Moran has added classes at the museum for writing, music and dance. “My vision is that Brookwood Hall is the center for all the arts in Islip.” If visual art doesn’t grab a resident’s attention one of these other programs just might.
The Islip Art Museum is known for cutting-edge conceptual, visual and performance art. And while running a museum might seem natural for the child of an artist, the subject matter took a little getting used to for someone whose tastes run more traditional. “We don’t always have to like every single piece…but I’m seeing things in a different way.”
From the ’80s, when Wegman’s iconic dog portraits made an appearance, through 2012’s, Prints Please, featuring modern masters like Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg and Cy Twombly, the museum has exhibited works of national and international importance. The recent exhibition, New York Bound, presented artists’ handmade books from around the world, as well as from accomplished local artists like John Cino and Ellen Wiener. As opposed to books that tell a linear story, these pieces engage the reader to redefine both bookmaking and reading.
The museum focuses on avant-garde art and although that isn’t changing, Moran has already made strides in growing its reach beyond Brookwood. Now anyone visiting Islip Town Hall can walk through an exhibition of pastel and watercolor landscapes by local artists. During last year’s holiday season residents visiting the neighborhood’s optometrist office or gift shop on Main Street stumbled upon paintings and photography as well. And, thanks to Moran, the experience of taking in Jim Sabiston’s photography at MacArthur Airport might be enough to make airport transfers tolerable. Moran uses these pop up galleries to bring art to the people and get the conversation started.
Shock-U-Mentaries, thru March 30; opening reception February 2. The show features site-specific installations by five artists. Among them is Tobi Kahn, known for minimalist sculptures and “deeply spiritual” paintings, some of which have exhibited in leading museums such as the Guggenheim.