The Arts

Artists group eyes move to church, prays they can raise the money

Artist Bob Kuhne, president of the Old Town Arts and Crafts Guild in Cutchogue, outside the Cutchogue church building the group hopes to purchase. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)
Artist Bob Kuhne, president of the Old Town Arts and Crafts Guild in Cutchogue, outside the Cutchogue church building the group hopes to purchase. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

Unable to host winter meetings in their own building due to an inadequate heating system, members of the Old Town Arts and Crafts Guild have been gathering this season in a small downstairs room at Cutchogue-New Suffolk Library.

The nonprofit’s weekly “Wednesday workshops” are typically attended by a dozen members and usually focus on ideas for future events or design concepts for fliers and brochures. 

But last week’s conversation took on a much larger idea: putting money together, somehow, to purchase the North Fork United Methodist Church building (formerly the Cutchogue United Methodist Church).

After the meeting, guild president Bob Kuhne explained that the group’s current building is not only outdated, but cramped.

“Due to the lack of upgraded utilities and necessary renovations, we can remain open for only eight months a year,” Mr. Kuhne said. “We would love to be able to expand into a more appropriate building, such as the Methodist church.”

Anticipating a need to protect historic churches while keeping them commercially viable, the Southold Town Board has been considering legislation that would allow purchasers to apply for special exceptions in the code that allow new town-approved adaptive reuses for former church buildings.

One acceptable use would be to house community organizations like the guild.

Founded 67 years ago, the Old Town Arts and Crafts Guild occupies a red-shingled building on Main Road in Cutchogue, across from the Capital One Bank branch. Its gallery and gift shop are open from May through late December and are used to showcase and sell pottery, photography, paintings and other crafts created by guild members. Those sales help sustain the organization, Mr. Kuhne said.

During his 15 years as president, Mr. Kuhne said, the guild has initiated several successful programs and events, but with that growth has come the downside that the group’s facility hasn’t grown to accommodate its more than 50 members.

For example, patrons might be perusing goods in the shop while a children’s program is in progress in the same space.

“It is disruptive in a lot of ways,” Mr. Kuhne said. “People come in and they see the painting and running all around the place and it makes them hesitant to walk around.

“We have to expand one way or another.”

After learning about a month ago that the Methodist church building on Main Road in Cutchogue was on the market, Mr. Kuhne said he immediately thought the historic building would be an ideal space for the guild’s current activities, as well as a place to expand its programs.

“The main part of the church would be perfect for the gallery and the altar is already set up like a stage, which would allow us to do performing arts,” he said. “It would only take minor renovations to the interior.”

Unlike the guild’s current gallery, the church is also handicapped accessible, has downstairs classrooms and plenty of space outdoors to host art shows in the summer.

Sue Purcell of Southold, a guild member for more than 30 years, said the organization wouldn’t just survive, but would thrive in a larger space.

“We would love to do more arts and crafts for kids, but it’s hard to get much done in our limited space,” she said. “It would be exciting to be in [the church building] where those things can be done year-round.”

The all-volunteer nonprofit was founded in 1948 and originally settled in a rented home next to Capital One Bank, not too far from its current location. A year later, after raising several thousand dollars from members, the guild was able to move into a new, larger building. About 30 years ago, member donations once again helped out and the guild was able to pay for an addition to that space, which houses its gallery today.

But buying the Methodist church will require more than member contributions, Mr. Kuhne said.