Guild Hall leadership has put plans to alter the John Drew Theater on hold while addressing public concerns about the historic nature of the space.
On Wednesday night, during a regular board meeting, the Guild Hall trustees decided to put their renovation plans on hold.
As announced in February, plans included restoring the Guild Hall’s entrance to its original form, adding outdoor seating, and several changes – some subtle, some radical – to the lobby, galleries, theater, education center, and workspaces to do. The plans have been met with both enthusiasm and great concern over the possible destruction of historical aspects of its interiors, particularly the John Drew Theatre, which has seen the most dramatic transformation in the proposals.
East Hampton Village recently granted the arts institution permission to begin construction on the exterior renovation. Village officials claimed that they had no jurisdiction over the proposed internal changes.
In an email, Guild Hall executive director Andrea Grover and board chairman Marty Cohen said, “We heard the voices of our community, whose passion for Guild Hall is obvious and moving, and measured how we can incorporate the feedback.” and at the same time achieve the important goal of testing our institution over time. So we decided to take a break and consider the John Drew Theater upgrades.”
They added that the building’s renovation “is time-consuming, complicated and costly for a small nonprofit, but we know it’s important.”
The leadership “understands that buildings serve as receptacles of community memory and history, and physical spaces possess intangible qualities that provide important continuity and value.”
They will share their progress “as we reflect on the best way forward to improve theater and meet the needs of today’s and tomorrow’s performers and audiences”.
During the celebration of its 90th anniversary last year, Guild Hall embarked on a capital campaign to modernize its facilities and address the technological challenges its presenters had encountered in staging performances and exhibitions on its premises. Corridors and doorways that were too narrow limited what could be shown in the galleries, and sophisticated multimedia performances were constrained by the theatre’s technological and acoustic limitations, Ms Grover said in February when unveiling the new plans and in more recent conversations said.
The building, completed in 1931, had been modernized with renovation and restoration work on the public and office spaces completed in 2009. But in discussions with Ms. Grover and the consultants engaged, they said there was a need to revisit these upgrades and take them to a new level.
“As a vibrant creative space, upgrades to keep up with new technologies and standards are a necessary part of our institution’s evolution,” they noted in the email. “Our planned improvements are focused on improving security and access, the visitor experience, beautifying our landscape, and the physical and technical capabilities of our museum, theater, education center and office space.”
The institution’s performances and exhibitions span more than 22 different artistic disciplines that “can overlap, intersect and sometimes defy definition,” they said.
“Since we began the first steps of our plan this spring, we have had both positive and critical reactions to our proposal, particularly for the John Drew Theater – from those who want us to have exceptional facilities for the arts, to those who think we’ve gone too far with this vision.”
Noting the institution’s role in the community since its inception, they said they are “proud that Guild Hall is the cultural heart of East Hampton” as well as their role in “presenting the youngest of the community to the most internationally recognized, which is often.” both sides reached the spectrum together for education and exchange for a wide audience in the East End.”