At last, ground officially broken on new Parrish Art Museum

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National and local politicians, joined by a "who's who" delegation of East End cultural leaders, officially broke ground Monday to start construction on a new $25-million Parrish Art Museum - a project more than a decade in the making.

Gov. David A. Paterson and Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) were among those who gathered in an empty field in Water Mill just east of Duck Walk Vineyards and picked up their pale blue-handled shovels. Just as important, there were four bulldozers, a backhoe and a heavy earth roller in the background, bright yellow symbols of construction jobs to come.

"When I see heavy construction equipment ready to go to work on Long Island, it's a good sign," Bishop said. "We need to put people to work."

Many in the crowd praised the Parrish, which was founded in 1898 and has a permanent collection of 2,600 works, none of which are regularly displayed at the existing museum building on Jobs Lane in Southampton Village because of lack of space.

That collection of works by 600 artists, going back to the 19th century, are some of the most artistically significant paintings of the East End.

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When the museum is completed sometime in 2012, the museum building - which has 4,500 square feet of display space - will revert to the village. The new museum will have about triple the display space, and with large skylights and other features, it will be more useful for exhibit display, museum officials say.

Southampton Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst said the Parrish has collected the essence of the East End. "We are privileged to live in an artist's landscape. You can't go down any of our roads, or walk on any of our beaches, without being in a work of art."

Terrie Sultan, director of the Parrish, said that with the additional space the museum will not only be able to display its permanent collection and continue to show traveling displays, but it will expand its cultural and social programs.

"We want to reach out to our colleges ... to offer concerts and films and classes ... more of everything," she said. Unlike the cramped current location, the Parrish's new home - less than three miles east of the current site - will have parking for about 200 cars.

And, in another nod to the current economic climate, Sultan gave credit to the Bridgehampton National Bank for writing the mortgage. The museum's fundraising drive has gifts and pledges for nearly 70 percent of the mortgage.

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