Bay Street Gala: A Talk With Tracy Mitchell & Dr. Georgette Grier-Key

Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor will hold its annual Summer Gala, scheduled for Saturday, July 6. The aim of the evening is to raise funds to support Bay Street’s various educational programs. This year’s honorees include actor Neil Patrick Harris, actor and chef David Burtka, and community leader Dr. Georgette Grier-Key. The event will feature a variety of activities, including a live auction hosted by celebrity auctioneer Richard Kind, delicious food, creative cocktails, and a star-studded performance.

We had the opportunity to chat with Tracy Mitchell, the executive director of Bay Street, and Dr. Georgette Grier-Key, the executive director of Eastville Community Historical Society. The Eastville Community Historical Society of Sag Harbor was founded in 1981, and its mission is to preserve the history of the community of Eastville, with a focus on art, education, and humanities. Eastville is one of the earliest known working-class communities comprised of African Americans, Native Americans, and European immigrants. Built in 1839, the St. David AME Zion Church is believed to have served as a stop along the Underground Railroad.

Tracy Mitchell & Dr. Georgette Grier-Key.

Tell us about this year’s Gala.

Tracy: We were really thrilled that Georgette accepted to be one of our honorees this year. She was selected because it was so clear to me how much she does for our community… so much that people don’t see. She fights the battle, not just for Eastville, but for all the arts in general. She always says, “It’s the unity and community,” and she walks the walk, and she talks the talk. 

Dr. Georgette: Every time Tracy says that, I get teary… It makes me feel like I’m being seen, and not in a vain way, but seen in that I am working for a greater goal here. 

Tell us about some of the work Eastville and Bay Street have done together in the past.

Tracy: Well, most recently we did an art exhibition. We partnered with Georgette and her artists, and we did a show called “Afrofuturism.” We had a launch party, and then it ran for almost two months here. 

Dr. Georgette: Whenever they’re having shows, they want to make sure that the community is involved, so they extend special discounts or special promotions with us. Just being a community center has been so important to us. 

Tracy, can you talk about the fundraising goals for this year’s event?

Tracy: It’s the one time during the year when we really try to make all the money to cover these programs. We have 35 other nonprofits that use our space throughout the year, and we try and keep it either free or very low cost because they’re using it to raise money as well. And they need the support. We believe that art is for everyone. It’s a necessity. It is like the air we breathe, and it should not be treated as a privilege for the rich. I will never turn someone away who wants to come see a show because they can’t afford it. So we either find a price, or they come to “Pay What You Can” night, or we have free student Sundays, or we have free theater in the fall for all. We’ve served over 43,000 students now for free every year. We do it with “Literature Live.” For the kids, we have camp scholarships.

Dr. Georgette, tell us more about your goals for Eastville. 

Dr. Georgette: Our building is showing its age. It’s a 1920 Sears and Roebuck catalog house — we need a new roof. It’s a historic building in a historic district, so there are certain ways that we have to do things. It’s a small jewel box, but that jewel box is expensive.

Earlier on in the ’70s, Sag Harbor Village used preservation to create this historic district. But it stopped a block before Eastville Avenue. And so that’s when the ladies of the communities organized. We’ve been able to make it so long… but we need to go further now. We’ve been fortunate to be on Apple TV, which was a great experience. And so people get to know who we are. We need to bring ourselves into the 21st century. We’d like to share more with the community. So we have collections that we now want to make sure that the public has access to. 

Historically, we exist because there are a lot of artists in the community, and they needed a place to show their work. So we’ve done that over the years. So we kind of serve the purpose of inclusion of all people as well. It was the Indigenous, the African American, and the Jewish population that settled in what we call the Eastville area. So being a voice for those people, which at the time was really a forward-thinking and a very diverse community, which remains diverse. We all have lived there together. Even the church was built by all three of those populations. We talk about how they live there, work together, and are interred together in our cemetery. The cemetery, which we are stewards of, is the first integrated cemetery in the area, so we have this rich history. 

History without arts, without preservation, it doesn’t work. We need it. It tells the story of happiness, of joy. But it also tells the story of sometimes things that are painful. Whether it’s slavery, whether it’s segregation in Jim Crow. If you think about the developments, that’s how they started. Because in the city, African Americans couldn’t go to just any pool or anything like that. So they came out here because they wanted to have a life of respite and rest and of leisure and recreation. So those are the many stories that we tell. And through that little house, we want to continue to be able to tell those stories because it’s an intricate history of Sag Harbor. 

What are you each most looking forward to at the gala?

Tracy: I personally always love the talent and enjoying the show. Because no matter what, even though I get to hear some of the rehearsal, I’m always surprised by something. And then the auctioneer, last year we had Isaac Mizrahi. And this year, we’re having Richard Kind again, who’s hysterical. It’s just so much fun because people are laughing, they’re having a good time, they know they’re giving to a good cause, and they get caught up in it. And it’s just fun. 

Dr. Georgette: This will be the first time that I’ve ever come to the gala. I’m looking forward to my outfit. I love fashion. And I like having fun and being around great people. I just know it’s going to be a lifetime experience for me. 

Tracy: One of the auction items is this package for two, first class to Paris. Fly to Paris for five nights in a fancy hotel, and be treated as one of the VIPs for Balmain. You go to the fashion show, and it comes with a $10,000 gift. 

Jessica Mackin-Cipro

Co-Publisher/Editor

Jessica Mackin-Cipro is an editor and lifestyle writer from the East End of Long Island. She has won NYPA and PCLI awards for journalism and social media. She was previously the Executive Editor of The Independent Newspaper.

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