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CREATING COMMUNITY

Jess Frost ?93 The Arts Center at Duck Creek

Jess Frost ’93 became the executive director of The Arts Center at Duck Creek in 2018.

Its location is a 19th-century barn in East Hampton, Long Island, once home to abstract painter John Little, who used it as a studio and meeting place for artists. The estate it sits on, the Duck Creek Farm Historic Site, was a familiar sight for Frost, a curator, and art professional. Since childhood, she spent much time right across the street at her parent’s modest summer cottage.

She had a view and a vision.

Recreating the Experience

Frost studied visual arts at Purchase and fondly remembers the sense of community, the dialogue, and the inspiration drawn from peers. She also reflects on how difficult it was to maintain an art practice on your own.

“Finding your way just out of art school is hard, particularly if you don’t go on to a job in the arts or a higher degree straight away,” she says. “I grew up believing art was a solitary practice, and I wish I’d realized sooner how relevant a creative community is to maintaining momentum. Surrounding yourself with peers who are eager to look at what you’re doing and offer you critical input, is a huge part of making life as an artist sustainable.”

Building a Foundation

After graduation, Frost spent several years waiting tables and making paintings. But feeling unsatisfied working “in a vacuum,” she decided to advocate for other artists instead, which opened up the community she hoped to find.

She first worked for Barbara Gladstone Gallery, then became a production manager for Matthew Barney’s Cremaster 3 film and the Cremaster Cycle exhibition, which traveled internationally. In 2004, she moved to East Hampton, and ran a private art collection and museum for eight years, while working with several galleries, writing for the local paper, curating exhibitions on the side, and eventually landing as the associate curator of the permanent collection at Guild Hall, a local museum. The variety of experiences prepared her for what came next.

The Vision Manifested

The Town of East Hampton acquired the Duck Creek property in 2006, which triggered an idea. “I began manifesting this dream of a local arts center that was truly meant to enrich the entire community, not just those who could afford access to culture,” Frost explains. As early as 2014, she and a small group of local residents began organizing programs there.

In 2018, the organization officially gained 501(c)3 not-for-profit status, and Frost became its first executive director. “Everything we do at Duck Creek is free and open to the public at all times. This is part of our agreement to manage the property on behalf of the Town of East Hampton.” Duck Creek Estate, East Hampton, Long Island

And what they do is create a community around visual art and music.

From May to November, they present a season of art exhibitions, music events, and lectures to provide both free access to the arts and to support artists and musicians. One such young musician featured in the summer of 2021 was recent Purchase graduate and jazz vocalist Samara Joy ’21. Frost was unaware of her affiliation when booked. “But it didn’t surprise me she was from Purchase! She was wonderful to work with—such a graceful young woman, and so earnest,” Frost says.

Not bound by ticket sales, Duck Creek is free to experiment with the music it presents. Accomplished jazz guitarist and critic Peter Watrous pioneered the music series, which featured new talent, artists who take risks and support their fellow musicians. “This is our ‘sweet spot.’ We are not interested in big names, or flashy programming. We want to use our funding to support artists, and we feel aligned with people who think similarly,” explains Frost. The series is now structured as an incubator concept. The 2022 series will be curated by 27-year-old trombonist, composer, and educator Kalia Vandever, introduced to Duck Creek by composer and vibraphonist Joel Ross, who curated a series of concerts in 2021.

And she nods to her experience at Purchase as a source of inspiration. “Art was what brought us all to that space and was a language we shared regardless of where we came from,” she says. “I really am trying to recreate that atmosphere at Duck Creek, to encourage the dialogue that art initiates, and promote more communication within our community.” Art installation, The Arts Center at Duck Creek


The 2022 season is underway. Visit duckcreekarts.org for information on exhibitions, music, and special events. Proposals for future programs are accepted beginning September 1.


—Kristi McKee