Sag Harbor artists Eric Fischl and April Gornik had been longing to create a space in the area where works of art — from paintings to sculpture to dance pieces — could be exhibited and experienced by local visitors. Thanks to The Church, which opens Thursday, their prayers have been answered.
The Church, a former Methodist house of worship built in 1832 that the couple purchased and renovated, will open with two daily tours Thursdays through Mondays featuring an installation with two works by artists Kerry James Marshall and Awol Erizku. Also on view will be 20 of Fischl's portraits of people with connections to Sag Harbor who have contributed to American culture.
The main floor and mezzanine will be used for exhibitions and performances, and the ground floor will serve as a studio space for classes and other activities.
"We've created it so that it can embrace more mediums and activities. It's not just an art school or just an art exhibit space," Gornik said.
At one point The Church had been on the market for $20 million, though Gornik said she and Fischl bought the 10,048-square-foot space for "a tiny fraction" of that amount in 2017. They were also able to resume the renovation that had been started by the previous owner.
"He had designed it to be a very grand private home. We were lucky there was an entire section added by the first owner. It has four bedrooms for residents that come to stay," Gornik said. First among those residents was the Martha Graham Dance Company, which stayed at The Church for two weeks in February.
Gornik said the main floor can accommodate about 200 people and plans include having performances, such as dance recitals and concerts. "But that would not be until after COVID," she said. "We would need 100% capacity."
For more information on tours, go to sagharborchurch.org.
The Church is the latest endeavor in a cultural renaissance happening in Sag Harbor, which includes the reopening of the renovated Sag Harbor Cinema and the development of a new home for Bay Street Theater set to open in 2023.
"What we love about Sag Harbor is its crazy, resilient history. It's had more fires, floods and economic collapses than any place I can think of," Gornik said. "Still," the village "has a real community feeling."
"We want to make sure The Church honors the community by having things people will want to see and come and take part in.Things for the whole family," she added. "We want to be everything for everybody."