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A Conversation with Tracy Mitchell and Dr. Georgette Grier-Key • James Lane Post • Hamptons Culture & Lifestyle Magazine

Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor will hold its annual summer gala, scheduled for Saturday, July 6. The purpose of the evening is to raise money to support Bay Street’s various educational programs. This year’s winners include actor Neil Patrick Harris, actor and chef David Burtka, and community leader Dr. Georgette Grier Key. The event features a variety of activities, including a live auction hosted by renowned auctioneer Richard Kind, delicious food, creative cocktails and a star-studded performance.

We had the opportunity to talk with Bay Street Executive Director Tracy Mitchell and Dr. Georgette Grier-Key, the executive director of the Eastville Community Historical Society. The Eastville Community Historical Society of Sag Harbor was founded in 1981 and its mission is to preserve the history of the Eastville community, with a focus on the arts, education and humanities. Eastville is one of the earliest known working-class communities, made up of African Americans, Native Americans, and European immigrants. St. David AME Zion Church, built in 1839, would have served as a stop along the Underground Railroad.

Tracy Mitchell and Dr. Georgette Grier Key.

Tell us about this year’s Gala.

Tracy: We were very pleased that Georgette agreed to be one of our honorees this year. She was selected because it was so clear to me how much she does for our community… so much that people don’t see. She is fighting the fight, not just for Eastville, but for all the arts in general. She always says, “It’s about unity and community,” and she does what she does, and she talks the talk.

Dr. Georgette: Every time Tracy says that it brings me to tears. It makes me feel seen, and not in a vain way, but seen in the sense that I am working here for a greater purpose.

Tell us a little about the work Eastville and Bay Street have done together in the past.

Tracy: We recently had an art exhibition. We worked with Georgette and her artists, and we did a show called ‘Afrofuturism’. We had a launch party and then it lasted almost two months here.

Dr. Georgette: When they have shows, they want to make sure the community is involved, so they offer special discounts or special promotions with us. The fact that we are a community center has been so important to us.

Tracy, can you talk about the fundraising goals for this year’s event?

Tracy: It’s the one time of the year that we really try to make all the money to fund these programs. We have 35 other nonprofits that use our space year-round, and we try to keep it free or very low cost because they also use it to raise money. And they need the support. We believe that art is for everyone. It’s a necessity. It is like the air we breathe, and it should not be treated as a privilege for the rich. I will never turn away someone who wants to come see a show because he or she can’t afford it. So either we find a prize, or they come to the ‘Pay What You Can’ evening, or we have free student Sundays, or we have free theater for everyone in the fall. We have now helped more than 43,000 students every year for free. We do it with ‘Literature Live’. We have camp scholarships for the children.

Dr. Georgette, tell us more about your goals for Eastville.

Dr. Georgette: Our building is showing its age. It’s a 1920 Sears and Roebuck catalog house. We need a new roof. It’s a historic building in a historic district, so there are certain ways we have to do things. It’s a small jewelry box, but that jewelry box is expensive.

Earlier in the 1970s, Sag Harbor Village used conservation efforts to create this historic district. But he stopped a block short of Eastville Avenue. And so the ladies of the communities organized themselves. We’ve held on for so long… but now we have to move on. We were lucky enough to be on Apple TV, which was a great experience. And that’s how people learn who we are. We must bring ourselves into the 21st century. We’d like to share more with the community. So we have collections that we now want to make sure the public has access to.

Historically, we exist because there are many artists in the community and they needed a place to showcase their work. So that’s what we’ve done over the years. So we also more or less serve the goal of inclusion of all people. It was the indigenous, the African American and the Jewish populations that settled in what we call the Eastville area. So being a voice for those people, who were really a progressive and very diverse community at the time, which is still diverse today. We all lived there together. Even the church was built by all three of these population groups. We talk about how they live there, work together and are buried together in our cemetery. The cemetery, which we manage, is the first integrated cemetery in the area, so we have a rich history.

History without art, without preservation does not work. We need it. It tells the story of happiness, of joy. But it also tells the story of sometimes painful things. Whether it’s slavery or segregation in Jim Crow. If you think about the developments, that’s how they started. Because African Americans in the city couldn’t go to just any swimming pool or anything like that. So they came here because they wanted to live a life full of relaxation and relaxation. So those are the many stories we tell. And through that little house, we want to continue to tell those stories, because it’s a complicated history of Sag Harbor.

What are you most looking forward to the gala?

Tracy: Personally, I always love the talent and enjoy the show. Because no matter what happens, even if I get to hear part of the rehearsal, I’m always surprised by something. And then the auctioneer, last year we had Isaac Mizrahi. And this year we have Richard Kind again, who is hysterical. It’s just so much fun because people are laughing, having a good time, knowing they’re giving to a good cause, and getting really into it. And it’s just fun.

Dr. Georgette: This will be the first time I ever come to the gala. I’m looking forward to my outfit. I love fashion. And I like to have fun and be around great people. I just know it will be a lifelong experience for me.

Tracy: One of the auction items is this package for two, first class to Paris. Fly to Paris for five nights in a chic hotel and be treated like one of the VIPs for Balmain. You go to the fashion show and you get a $10,000 gift.

Jessica Mackin-Cipro

Co-publisher/editor

Jessica Mackin-Cipro is an editor and writer from the East End of Long Island. She has won numerous NYPA and PCLI awards for journalism and social media. She was previously editor-in-chief of The Independent Newspaper.