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Long IslandTowns

Historic Fire Island artists program enters fourth year

Artists A.K. Burns and Katherine Hubbard poses for

Artists A.K. Burns and Katherine Hubbard poses for a photo in their Brooklyn apartment on March 22, 2014. The pair were part of the Fire Island Artist Residency which is entering its fourth year. Credit: Anthony Lanzilote

The Fire Island Artists Residency program in Cherry Grove is entering its fourth year as the first of its kind in the country to focus on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender artists.

The program, inspired by Fire Island's rich LGBT cultural and historical legacy, was started by artists Chris Bogia of Queens and Evan Garza of Boston. They are accepting applications until April 1 for this summer's residency. Five artists will be accepted.

"It got started when Evan and I had been out to Fire Island, and we decided it would be awesome to have a residency out there," Bogia said.

The program's first year started on a rushed note -- artists had only two weeks to submit an application -- and the program participants lived and worked in a small beach house called Hard Times. Five artists were chosen out of 75 applications for the first two-week, all-expenses-paid program.

The residency has extended to four weeks and draws hundreds of applications each year internationally. The program includes free public events, such as visiting artist lectures and film screenings.

"The program is open exclusively to artists identifying as lesbian, gay, transgender, bisexual . . . " said Garza, the exhibitions and public programs coordinator for School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. "That identity is important. The other quality is that the artist be an emerging artist."

Being on Fire Island was a crucial aspect of the residency, as the founders wanted to draw on the history of one of the oldest gay and lesbian communities in America.

"Fire Island has a long history of artistic production of both literary and performed arts," Bogia said, with writers and artists such as Robert Mapplethorpe spending time there. "There was a time during the AIDS crisis when our community lost producers of art, and Fire Island became, for many artists, a very depressing and uninspiring place to be."

The program aims to rejuvenate the artistic life of the island, he said.

Brooklyn multimedia artist A.K. Burns participated in the first year's residency with her partner, Katherine Hubbard, who is also from Brooklyn.

The sense of history on Fire Island was inspiring, said Burns, who is also on the program's board of directors. During their residencies, she and Hubbard gathered some of the histories of the women who summered at Cherry Grove for a multimedia documentary that's still being developed.

"We realized there were all these women on the island who had been going there for decades," she said. "You realize you're part of some . . . community that is generational."

Brooklyn performance artist Kris Grey also tapped into the local community's memories when he participated in a residency in 2012.

"It was an incredible opportunity to create professional networks, but also lifelong friendships," Grey said. "Those connections were very deep."

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