By R. Couri Hay | August 30, 2016 | Culture
A lifelong love of the arts inspired philanthropist and entrepreneur Simone Levinson to help turn the Southampton Arts Center into the community hub it is today.
A background in the arts and event planning prompted Simone Levinson to help drive forward the Southampton Arts Center, which holds its annual fundraiser on September 1.
“I refer to the success of Southampton Arts Center as stone soup,” says Simone Levinson, founding co-chair of the organization, which provides year-round cultural programming free of charge at the former Parrish Art Museum site on Jobs Lane. Levinson is referencing the beloved children’s story about the powerful impact a community can have when it comes together.
“When each citizen contributes what they have, of whatever value it is, in doing so, magic is made and community is built.” A philanthropist and entrepreneur as well as a wife and mother, Levinson has been hands-on in taking the center from idea to reality. “I feel like each of the different hats that I’ve worn or lives that I’ve led have been one big continuum that has prepared me for what I’m doing right now,” she says.
Since opening in 2013, the Southampton Arts Center has offered talks, films, concerts, and theater, as well as wellness activities like yoga and meditation. In addition, each summer the center mounts three art exhibits; this July saw “Water|Bodies,” which was paired with films and discussions about environmental issues.
On display through September 11 is the timely exhibit “Winning the White House,” showcasing 60 years of presidential campaign photography from the International Center of Photography. But Levinson is quick to point out that the center— which holds its fundraising event SummerFest on September 1—is hardly a one-woman show: “It’s really important to be on record that this is happening through the generosity of a great board and the generosity and commitment of [Southampton] Mayor [Mark] Epley. There are a lot of heroes to this story.”
Levinson’s background as an actress and an event planner (one of her last gigs before retiring was producing the wedding of Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones) makes her ideally qualified for her role. As a child actress, she appeared in more than 100 commercials and in the movie Little Darlings, with Tatum O’Neal.
“I studied at the School of American Ballet and I sang in the chorus at the Metropolitan Opera, so I know the power of what the arts do when someone actually participates,” she explains. “But also, that’s why I love art. I immerse myself in the arts; it’s how I grew up.” Today Levinson sits on the New York State Commission on Judicial Nomination and the state Spending and Government Efficiency Commission.
This fall she will start working with Success Academy. And she is an investor in Juice Press, where her son, now 14, works during the summer. But downtime in the Hamptons is for family. Levinson has been coming to the East End since she was a child, and now she and her husband, David, bring their two children, James and Lauren, out as well.
The couple married on Shelter Island, honeymooned at the American Hotel in Sag Harbor, and return there every year for a mini vacation-within-their-vacation. The whole family loves spending time on their boat, which they dock in Sag Harbor. Says Levinson, “The best part of the boat is really it gives us such meaningful family time.” 25 Jobs Lane, Southampton, 283-0967
PHotogRaPHy By Doug young