There’s a funny point in life for some of us when art becomes something we forget how to engage with. Like it needs a special interpreter or, as mere mortals, we can’t possibly grasp its complexities, instead of taking joy in tuning into and exploring our reactions to a piece of work right before our eyes. Of trusting our instincts and our senses.
This is what Martha Stotzky, the newly minted Deputy Director of Arts Education for the 125-year-old Parrish Art Museum, would really like you to do, whether you’re 8 or 28 or 58 or 80.
“I see the job of Deputy Director of Arts Education as a guide—how do you connect this person in front of you to the object in front of them? How do I make it accessible to the viewer? We live in a culture where so many images pass before our eyes in a minute. We’re losing our sense of patience and of really looking at things,” says Stotzky from her home in Springs. “To me, it’s about inviting people to slow down and really look and even go beyond that—to let the art come to them in some way.”
There are a multitude of ways that Stotzky plans to do that, building upon her own experience not just as an artist herself and a professional deeply involved in the community educational aspect of art, but as someone who started her career at the Parrish some 30-plus years ago. During those initial years, she helped to create several educational programs that are still part and parcel to the Parrish today—and she even hired the person she just replaced, Cara Conklin-Wingfield.
“She’s amazing. I hired her as an intern when she was in college, and we worked together at the museum for four years,” she says. “We’re still friends.”
It’s a full-circle moment for Stotzky, not just in an old-home-week kind of way. She’s excited to build upon, expand and create new ways of bringing people to art, and art to people.
One of her plans is inspired by Conklin-Wingfield’s Access Parrish program, which used art to engage people in the community suffering from Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease. “I’m looking to grow that program, and possibly create a wellness protocol for people going through cancer treatments as well–that’s something I’m looking closely at,” she says.
She’s also drawing upon a program she created during her 13-year stint as Education Director at Project MOST in East Hampton. “I want to create a travel program for middle and high school students. It’s an age where kids want independence, and parents want to give semi- independence.” The project will be modeled on the Fresh Air Fund concept, which takes inner city kids to the country for a dose of nature, but Stotzky reverse-engineers the concept. “My idea is the opposite: Taking kids from our semi-rural area into the city to give them access to the phenomenal arts culture just three hours away, but which some can seem entirely out of reach,” she says.
“First, if you have parents who work 6 days a week, they may or may not have not their own experience in the museum here; they may or may not speak English well enough to facility that kind of a trip for their kids. There are so many different circumstances,” Stotzky says. “It’s a way to open their eyes to more of the world.”
She’s also keen to develop more partnerships and support for arts programs in local schools. “For teenagers especially, what more can we do to give them what they’re not getting in their school?” she says. “The art departments in Southampton, Bridgehampton, East Hampton, etc., are outstanding—but how can we help? And I absolutely will be making an effort into expanding the programming for adults as well.”
Stotzky grew up a city kid in Greenwich Village, spending her childhood summers with her family in Greenport. Twenty-six years ago, she moved to Springs and never looked back. “It’s a special place. It still feels rural,” she says. “Every day, I cannot believe I get to live in Springs. The physical beauty of it and the somewhat easy access to an urban area that’s perhaps one of the greatest art centers of the world—there aren’t that many places like this. We’re rural but an art satellite.”
And of course, along with the Parrish and its own phenomenal history, there are all the storied artists and art centers of the region to inspire her, too: Pollock, Krasner, de Kooning; the Arts Center at Duck Creek, and on and on.
“That’s the thing, though, about art education—it’s not about what year a painting was made, or what impressionism is. It’s about connecting people to it and what can art do for us,” Stotzky says. “It’s heart-opening to view a work of art and make a work or art! If we don’t have that in our culture, what’s the rest for?”