It’s Artists vs. Veterans
What will take place on the downtown green in Montauk on Memorial Day weekend is now up for determination by the East Hampton Town Board. Two groups, the Montauk Artists Association and the Montauk Memorial Committee, have filed applications for gathering permits to use the site for a full weekend of activities.
For many years, the Montauk Artists Association has held a show on the green in August that is highly rated in art periodicals. But about four years ago, Bill Kinney, a noted photographer who produces shows across Long Island, suggested that a show be held on Memorial Day weekend. He received support from the Montauk Chamber of Commerce, whose members thought it would be a good weekend activity for guests, and the fair was held on the west side of Lions Field.
The following year, however, the show was moved to the downtown green under the auspices of the chamber, which faced some backlash from business owners in the hamlet who claimed it was taking away from their businesses and monopolizing parking spaces downtown.
Shortly after, the art fair was turned over to the Montauk Artists Association, whose members exhibit their work at the Depot Gallery at the Montauk railroad station. But residents were vocal at civic meetings, saying they didn’t like that nonresidents were selling jewelry, art, framed photography, and other items that might compete with their own work. They asserted that the green should not be used as a site for a moneymaking enterprise. What’s more, they pointed out that traffic on Memorial Day weekend was already congested and said the fair downtown made it even worse.
Two years ago, Ken Walles, a motel owner, formed the Montauk Memorial Committee. The veterans staged a two-day event on Sunday and Monday, with a parade, speeches, and a flag-raising ceremony. The Boy Scouts conducted a proper flag-burning ceremony for torn and tattered flags. The first year they burned more than 150 flags while smoke filled the air under the watchful eyes of Montauk Fire Department volunteers, who had a fire truck parked nearby.
Last year, Mr. Walles wanted to extend the Memorial Day festivities for the full weekend, Saturday through Monday, but was told the artists had already been granted the permit from Friday to Sunday. He said this week that he compromised, with a caveat that this year the veterans could stage more activities on the green by the war memorial, near the American flag.
Mr. Walles applied for a three-day event in November but was told the town board could not vote until the new board members were sworn in in January. The veterans’ plan is for activities to start on Saturday with a re-enactment group performing, a Civil War encampment, war vehicles, and a board depicting scenes from each war and showing the dates and numbers of soldiers who were killed in action. There may be 1940s-style music, he said.
On Sunday, the display would continue, and Mr. Walles would host a breakfast for veterans on the grounds of his motel, the Oceanside Beach Resort, at the entrance to the hamlet. At the appointed time, parade participants would line up to march on Main Street to the eastern end of town near Montauk Fuels, then turn north toward the Montauk Post Office and proceed to the green. There are to be speeches, political guests, a patriot guard, possibly a bluegrass band, and picnicking.
At sunrise on Monday, the flag would be hoisted halfway up the flagpole until later in the morning, when Coast Guard members would raise it the rest of the way while reveille is played. At sunset, the flag would be retired to taps. And then worn flags would be burned, with the ashes disposed of in a respectful manner.
Although he is not a war veteran, Mr. Walles said, his father was in the Army and had two very close calls that could have killed him. He also watched friends of his go off to war only to return battered and bruised. “This country has taken a beating from all sides of the world. America is under attack and we need to support our vets.”
Anne Weissman, the organizer of the art fair, said she submitted an application for a gathering permit on Jan. 2, stating that she expects 60 to 70 vendors from around the world to exhibit their work. She said the artists are proud to wave their flags with enthusiasm and last year even bedecked the gazebo with dozens of flags. Her husband is a veteran of the Korean War, she said.
The art group’s purpose, she said, is to bring art and art education to the residents of Montauk and the many visitors who come out east. The art fair gives an early economic boost to all businesses, she said. It was her understanding, she added, that the veterans group had not yet planned all the weekend events but is “only trying to tie up the Montauk green so no one else can use it.”
“Will this also apply to the farmers market, the library book fair, and the Oktoberfest?” she asked. “We are sure that the residents of Montauk would prefer to avoid the confrontation.”
Mr. Walles said the Montauk Historical Society has already agreed to allow the art fair to be held on the grounds of Second House Museum — a statement that surprised Ms. Weissman. “They’d never allow that,” she said when told of it.
If the fair were moved it would give visitors and residents two events to partake of on Memorial Day weekend, Mr. Walles said. “This is the time to be strategically smart.”
Paul Monte, the president of the chamber’s board of directors, said he doesn’t know of any other community that observes Memorial Day for three days. “I think it’s disingenuous to plan a three-day event just to move the artists from the green. Of course Memorial Day should be observed, but not by negating the other group,” he said, adding that the compromise that was made last year seemed to work. “I think it didn’t provide any conflict. Veterans certainly need to be recognized in a solemn and respectful manner.”
Other locations have been suggested for the art fair. Bill Becker of Becker’s Hardware, which is just feet from the downtown green, said fairgoers “end up using all the parking spaces in the lot behind my store and on the street. It certainly doesn’t help my business. I don’t think the green should be used for profitable events at all,” he said.
Moving the art fair to the baseball field on the east side of Lions Field, where there is plenty of parking, electricity, public restrooms, and good lighting at night, would be ideal, Mr. Becker said. If the weather is nice on fair days, visitors who spend the day at the beach would still be able to ramble through the art show at night, he said.
Ms. Weissman said experience has shown her that an art fair at night is entertaining but not profitable: “There are no sales at night,” she said.
Organizers are careful not to allow vehicles to park on the edge of the green, she said, adding, “And the fair on the green is already billed as ‘the fair on the green.’ ”
The subject came up at the Montauk Citizens Advisory Committee meeting on Feb. 6, and after a discussion a vote was taken, with the majority of members voting in favor of the veterans using the green.
East Hampton Town Police Lt. Christopher Hatch, the Montauk precinct commander, said the fair is known as a traffic nightmare for police. He, too, said the fair would be better off at Lions Field.