Andrea Grover’s Ship Comes In

When the call came that she’d been chosen as the new executive director of Guild Hall, the East Hampton arts, entertainment and education center, Andrea Grover immediately did a victory dance…in the middle of Central Park. “I received a phone call from the chairman, Marty Cohen, and I was on one of those giant boulders that are at the south end of Central Park. When I got off the phone, I stood up and made the victory sign with my arms. My kids and my husband were all with me and they started cheering,” Grover recalled. “I felt like I’d announced it to all of Central Park.” Bystanders even applauded. “I think they first checked to make sure no one was being hurt,” she laughed, “and then they joined in.”

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Immediately, Grover, the daughter of a boat builder, powered ahead at characteristically full speed. She arrived last September with a course she’d charted for Guild Hall. On the list were four points, and they’ve since become guideposts for bringing the institution forward while simultaneously celebrating its rich history.

First and foremost is “letting artists lead the way,” Grover proclaimed. “When I think of innovation, I don’t think that comes from arts administrators or curators or the directors of institutions. It comes from artists themselves, and when you give artists creative agency and the freedom to express themselves the way that they want to…that’s where innovation is really born,” she said.

Grover began her curatorial work in her 20s, shortly after earning an MFA for her own multi-disciplinary art. She understands how young audiences are critical to arts institutions for growth, staying relevant and ultimately, survival. “Making way for the next generation,” she explained, is another of her goals for Guild Hall. The Teen Arts Council she initiated hired 11 teenagers from the community to produce programming for their peers. “After just the first meeting they had about four pages of ideas. We literally had to say after the third meeting, ‘Okay, of the 150 ideas here, let’s focus,’” she recalled, adding, “Do not underestimate teenagers.” Along with the Teen Arts Council, Guild Hall’s annual Artist-In-Residence program offers emerging artists, writers, musicians, choreographers and performers a space for experimentation, exposure to the community and a chance to show their work.

Diversity is the third key to Grover’s vision, and it will be a hard quality to miss this summer in a range of performances that include Jay Leno, Mavis Staples, Jacques Pepin, the Acrobats of Cirque-tacular and Alec Baldwin and Tracy Marshall’s Hamptons Institute program, which will address news and alternative facts, climate change and the Trump presidency. The museum’s exhibition highlights include Jackson Pollock’s groundbreaking prints and Avedon’s America, showcasing the iconic photographer’s portraits of civil rights, feminist and cultural leaders like Edward Albee, Florynce Kennedy, John Cage, Janis Joplin and Malcolm X. “I’ve always been interested in issue-driven programming and programming that inspires dialogue about the human condition,” Grover said. Keeping the dialogue going is collaboration, the final element. Rather than competing, Grover has begun working with a forum of 17 arts institutions on the East End to develop programs that complement one another and together reflect a wide range of voices.

Grover is able to conceive and implement these guiding principles by drawing upon her vast and diverse life experiences. The Freeport native comes from a big family with an appetite for adventure. “There was a lot of spontaneity in my childhood—and fearlessness. My dad loved to take unplanned vacations. He’d wake us all up in the middle of the night and say, ‘We’re going to JFK on standby to the Bahamas,’” she recalled. “And my mother was an artist. She studied painting in the 1950s and got married at 21 and really poured her heart and soul into my father’s boat building business…She always maintained a studio. All of us children had access to paints and clay and poster board and sewing materials and scraps of every kind. As a child I was an insomniac. I’d wake up in the middle of the night and my mom would say, ‘Well, go make some art.’” Her parents instilled “the attitude that you can, at any moment, change your circumstances or your outlook by trying something new and radical.”

So, that’s what Grover did. She left Freeport to study art, forging paths to her own unknown. Her journey took her from Syracuse to Chicago for studio art degrees, where she experimented in printmaking, bookmaking, sound art, installation and finally film. In 1995, an artist’s residency at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston helped her find her true voice—that of a storyteller. She discovered that by joining related ideas and artworks, she could touch bigger stories. Grover founded Aurora Picture Show, a non-profit showcasing artist-made films in an old church (her home at the time), in parks or projected onto rows of 40-foot high silos, giving new meaning to theater in the round. Her curatorial success led to an Andy Warhol Foundation Fellowship for work at Carnegie Mellon University, and then, in 2011, back to Long Island. As curator of special projects at the Parrish Art Museum, she introduced innovations like the Parrish Road Show, PechaKucha Night Hamptons and Parrish’s Platform Series, all of which continue to excite audiences.

Though she left Long Island at 18 and it took her 22 years to come back, Grover felt she’d finally found home the moment she stepped into Guild Hall. “One of the first things that struck me on arrival was above the front door in gilded letters. It’s the founding mission of the institution. To paraphrase it, ‘Guild Hall was founded as a gathering place for the community where the arts would encourage a finer type of citizenship.’ The arts being a catalyst for civic engagement is a timeless mission…I believe that creativity is an innate human trait. It’s something that we’re born with and everyone has access to it. The cognitive mutation that created Homo sapiens involved creativity. Art is everything. It will save the world.”

SEE IT: Season Spectacular with Jay Leno, July 1; Avedon’s America and Jackson Pollock: The Graphic Work, August 12–October 9; Hamptons Institute, August 8, 14 and 21; and performances throughout the summer Andrea Grover described as Lincoln Center-like.