The charismatic, visionary director of the Parrish Art Museum, Terrie Sultan, has been planning the beloved institution’s move to a new $26.2-million state-of-the-art facility in Water Mill since she took up the museum’s reins in 2008. The project, designed by world-renowned architectural firm Herzog & de Meuron, will finally open to the public on November 10 with an exhibition of Malcolm Morley works made with and on paper. Also on display for the first time will be the Parrish’s permanent collection, including pieces by William Merritt Chase, Fairfield Porter, Cindy Sherman, and Ross Bleckner. “The first time people come,” says Sultan, “they’re going to see and feel something that they have never experienced before.”

Art has been an integral part of Sultan’s life from the very beginning. Born to a hobbyist painter father and an amateur actress mother, her home life was filled with creativity. “I grew up in a household where it was okay to mess around with paint, to take piano lessons, and [it was] not unusual to spend a Sunday afternoon in a darkened school auditorium rehearsing a play,” says Sultan, whose siblings include Jeff, an electrical engineer; artist Donald; and Nancy, a university professor.

In fact, it was a family trip from their home in Asheville, North Carolina, to the World’s Fair and the Museum of Modern Art in New York that secured Sultan’s destiny as a curator. “There was a Picasso exhibition on view; I had never been to a major museum, and I had never seen a masterwork of art in real life,” explains Sultan, who today has collaborated with acclaimed artists such as Chuck Close and Louise Bourgeois. “I couldn’t believe the beauty of what I was looking at even though I didn’t really understand it. The other thing that happened was that I thought about what would cause someone to make that [and] how does it get on the walls. Those were absolutely life-changing moments for me.”

After graduating from Syracuse University, Sultan felt she “didn’t have enough to say as an artist,” so she joined the Peace Corps, serving in Western Samoa in Polynesia. Her souvenir from her two years abroad is, of course, a work of art—a traditional tattoo on her wrist. “It’s one of the last really indigenous existing art forms that hasn’t been completely destroyed by colonization,” says Sultan. “Their tattoos are incredibly beautiful, and so I thought what better thing to have than something that really represents that culture?”

Today, Sultan continues to surround herself with art and creative individuals—including her husband of almost 25 years, artist and critic Christopher French. “Both of our careers have evolved more or less together,” says Sultan. “I would say we are each other’s greatest advocates and harshest critics. He doesn’t hold back when he thinks that something could be better, and neither do I.”

What Sultan is trying to do better is bring even more art education to the East End by introducing fresh ideas to the Parrish Art Museum, including potentially implementing a residency program, more networking among the area’s myriad cultural organizations, and expanding the Parrish’s youth programs. “I am incredibly proud to have had the opportunity to be part of a team that is bringing something to this community that will last forever,” she says. “There are not very many people in the world that get this chance, and I am deeply grateful.”

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