Art had Christina Mossaides Strassfield at hello. Or, at least, from her first visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan.
Back then, the brand new executive director of the Southampton Arts Center was just a kid from a tight-knit Greek family growing up in the Parkchester section of the Bronx . One afternoon, a friend of her mom’s, taking a little culture trip to the Met with her own daughter, offered to take Strassfield along for the ride. “I began to get all the stories of the art we were looking at and I knew I wanted to work in a museum, be around all these beautiful objects and learn the stories behind them,” she says. “I thought: This will be my life.“
From that moment on, Strassfield followed her path. “I was the kid who went on museum trips and loved it,” she says. “I was in the front row raising my hand constantly.”
Since January 9th, Strassfield stepped into the role of executive director for the Southampton Arts Center, after 20 years as curator and, later, museum director for Guild Hall. She brings with her not only that vast experience working within the Hamptons art community, but the fire that’s driven her own journey in the art world.
As a student at St. Jean Baptiste High School on the Upper East Side, she jumped at the chance to join a program with her beloved Met, where she got to shadow both an artist and art educator from the museum, going to galleries to experience multiple art disciplines and learning the fascinating world that went on behind-the-scenes at the famed institution. “I grew up in an immigrant household, and we had no original artwork—just pictures of the Parthenon!” she laughs. “It was wonderful to be exposed to all of that. I was fascinated.”
The Met would eventually become the place Strassfield would start her career. As an art history and anthropology student at Queens College, she interned for the Egyptian Department at the Brooklyn Museum; in grad school, she worked part time for the Met in the Central Catalogue Department. “I just wanted as much experience as I could get,” she says. Her work was so impressive, she landed a full-time job there.
She took a short five-year hiatus to raise her twin sons and daughter, when Guild Hall came knocking at her door. “Guild Hall was home for me, and such a wonderful experience,” she says. Indeed, she stayed with the multidisciplinary East Hampton institute for nearly a decade.
Last summer, SAC approached Strassfield to curate a one-off exhibit for them, “Figures Transformed,” which brought art to both the indoor galleries and the grounds surrounding the iconic, village-owned brick building built by Samuel Longstreth Parrish in 1897.
Around the same time, then-SAC executive director, Tom Dunn, announced his departure from the now-10 year old community art institution. “I loved the staff here and I loved working with them and what we were doing,” says Strassfield. “It seemed like the right time to make a change and I said to myself, ‘Let me do this.'”
Do it, she is, with a cache of exciting plans and programs in the works—one in particular, the Paton Miller-curated “East End Collected7,” is slotted to open February 11th. Now in its seventh iteration, the show features the work of renowned Hamptons and North Fork artists inspired by the beauty and creative energy of the region—it’s an apropos kick-off to SAC’s 10th year as an important anchoring art establishment on the South Fork.
Hot on the heels of that crowd-drawing show will be the riveting photos of the Scottish nonagenarian, Harry Benson. “He really captures a moment in time,” says Strassfield. Expect to see famed shots of the Beatles on tour, the wedding of Lisa Marie Presley and Michael Jackson, portraits of cultural icons like filmmaker and artist Julian Schnabel, legendary supermodel Iman, among a multitude of other faces and moments frozen in time.
In July, there will be her big collector’s exhibition, only it will feature art through eyes of female art lovers, especially interesting in what has long been an arena dominated by men. “The show will have the work of five women collectors, who amasses world-class art collections on their own and are among the top 200 collectors in the world,” says Strassfield.
And all summer, there will be so many more reasons to walk in and around the beautiful space on Jobs Lane. Life drawing classes, water color workshops, a six-week class on choral cabaret singing culminating in a performance, among so many other activities to dive into.
“Community I think is the basis for everything—it’s the beginning of everything. I’ve lived and worked on the East End for 25 years. It’s where my children went to school, where I shop and live and want to stay,” says Strassfield. “For me, working at the Southampton Arts Center with a mission of reaching the entire community has a special place in my heart.”