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Islip considers moving arts museum

The Jacob Ockers House in Oakdale, built in

The Jacob Ockers House in Oakdale, built in 1880, was home to one of Sayville's most prominent and wealthiest oystermen. The house now serves as the offices of Islip Councilman Gene Parrington. (Aug. 3, 2011) Credit: Carl Corry

Islip Town officials have proposed relocating the Islip Arts Museum -- and possibly charging the proprietors rent -- a move the local arts community has widely criticized.

The proposal, which would move the museum from its longtime space at the historic Brookwood Hall mansion in East Islip to the Ockers House in Oakdale, is one of several being considered by the town's newly formed space committee.

Town Supervisor Tom Croci has tasked the 11-member group -- which he leads -- with analyzing the town's building and land inventory for possible consolidation, to help close a looming $26 million budget deficit.

The museum relocation would allow the town's senior citizens services to be housed with the Department of Recreation, which is based at Brookwood Hall, said Councilwoman Trish Bergin Weichbrodt, who sits on the space committee.

Senior services were shifted recently when Croci reorganized the Department of Human Services. The controller's office may also move from Town Hall to 401 Main St., which houses town records and the clerk's office.

"It's difficult for me, looking at a $26 million hole, to give buildings away to nonprofits for free without charging any rent -- I have a difficult time justifying that," said Bergin Weichbrodt, who said officials are considering charging the museum rent. "We need to shrink government and stop giving away space for free to not-for-profits."

Beth Giacummo, a curator at the museum, said she was shocked about the move to Ockers, describing it as "one foot in the grave." The museum draws an estimated 7,000 visitors a year.

"We were notified that changes may happen about a week or so ago, my jaw dropped and I was flooded with emotion/ heartbreak," Giacummo said via email.

Town officials acknowledged the designated space for the museum would decrease significantly with a move to Ockers.

Lynda A. Moran, executive director of the museum, did not respond to calls and emails seeking comment.

Robert Edwin, founder and co-curator of FRESH Art Long Island, a nonprofit art collective, said the potential move was "terrible."

"The problem is with the [Ockers] building itself -- it's not conducive to art," Edwin said. "They're basically downsizing the entire operations . . . I don't think the artists should be evicted to turn [Brookwood Hall] into a conference room."

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