The first step in a renovation of the Victor D’Amico Institute of Art in Napeague, better known as the Art Barge, had the East Hampton Town Planning Department and the town’s zoning board of appeals crying, “All aboard,” after a public hearing held February 26.
The current application before the ZBA for the Art Barge, which is owned by the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan, is a request for a permit allowing it to replace, and heighten by 18 inches, 200 feet of bulkheading on Napeague Harbor. Brian Frank, the head environmentalist for the town planning department, told the board that the department had considered allowing the application to move forward administratively, but elected to go the public hearing route because of the fragile nature of Napeague Harbor and the area surrounding the Art Barge.
“The property is nearly surrounded by thousands of acres of state parkland, and town-owned open space,” he said. He called Napeague Harbor one of “the cleanest and most productive narrow mouthed embayments on Long Island.” The main concern of the department, he said, was that a strict protocol be put in place for the operation. “You could spend the rest of the night talking about the beauty of Napeague Harbor,” he said.
Christopher Kohan, the executive director of the Art Barge’s board of trustees, and Orly Friedman, the institute’s treasurer, addressed the ZBA.
Kohan said the bulkheading had been badly damaged in a storm almost exactly one year ago. An area protected by the bulkhead, where artists like to go and set up their easels and paint, is no longer safe. He said that the Art Barge has received all needed approvals from the East Hampton Trustees, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
Friedman said the Art Barge hired Billy Mack of First Coastal Corporation of Westhampton Beach to do the repairs. She said Mack was chosen because of his experience doing similar work across the East End. All agreed that a strict construction protocol would be followed, and that only untreated lumber would be used.
Kohan gave a brief history of the Art Barge. Victor D’Amico was the founding director of education for MoMA, and was a leading player in establishing the art community across East Hampton, bringing MoMA-sponsored art classes to Ashawagh Hall in Springs in the 1940s. He bought the barge in New Jersey around 1960 and brought it up the East River and across the Long Island Sound before beaching it where it currently sits. MoMA president and then governor, and patron of the arts, Nelson Rockefeller was instrumental in completing the project.
After the bulkheading is done, Kohan said his board would next look to raise funds for the renovation of the entire structure, including plans to winterize it. Friedman told the board that, currently, the Art Barge is only used 16 weeks a year.
After the hearing, the board agreed to expedite the process, instructing Beth Baldwin, the board’s attorney, to draw up an approval for the permit that can be approved at a coming meeting. “This is a very unique building, and a unique application,” said ZBA Chairman John Whelan. He cited the “community service that this facility does for the Town of East Hampton.”
All five board members agreed, including the newest one, Joan Morgan McGivern. For McGivern, an attorney and a licensed real estate broker, it was her first day on the job, after being appointed to the post two weeks ago by the town board.