Our Story - Guild Hall

Program Update: FanFair (aka Clothesline Art Sale) has been rescheduled for 2023 when our building reopens.

Our Story

Mary Woodhouse (often identified as Mrs. Lorenzo E. Woodhouse), founder of Guild Hall at the Clothesline Art Sale, 1947. Guild Hall Archives

Guild Hall opened on August 19, 1931, founded by Mary Woodhouse on the principle that participation in the ARTS creates greater civic engagement.

Guild Hall, one of the first multidisciplinary centers in the country to combine a museum, theater, and education space under one roof, was established in 1931 as a gathering place for community where an appreciation for the arts would serve to encourage greater civic participation. For nearly nine decades, Guild Hall has embraced this open-minded vision and provided a welcoming environment for the public to engage with art exhibitions, performances, and educational offerings. Art and artists have long been the engine of Guild Hall’s activities and the institution continues to find innovative ways to support creativity in everyone.

In 1930, East Hampton resident and philanthropist Mary Woodhouse anonymously dedicated land and an initial financial gift toward building one of the country’s first interdisciplinary centers. Her vision was “to heighten the importance of the arts” and provide a building that would “serve as meeting place.” The community rallied to secure additional funding, as well as manage and oversee the development and maintenance of a new facility.

In August 1931, Guild Hall opened, boasting a jewel-box proscenium theater and fine art galleries. The much-loved institution has been a cultural cornerstone of the Hamptons ever since.

The world-class artistry presented at Guild Hall is uncommon for a small town. Artists such as Jackson Pollock, Lee Krasner, Roy Lichtenstein, Jane Freilicher, Willem de Kooning, and Larry Rivers, among many others, were early exhibitors in the galleries.

Edward Albee, Bob Fosse, Olivia de Havilland, Jerome Robbins, Tennessee Williams, Kurt Vonnegut, and Thornton Wilder were just a few of the accomplished talents to have worked in the John Drew Theater. The Fantasticks became one of Broadway’s most successful shows following a run at Guild Hall, and Nora Ephron and her sister, Delia Ephron, debuted Love, Loss, and What I Wore at Guild Hall before its premiere as an Off-Broadway production.

The tradition of providing a testing ground for artists to make work continues today with the Guild Hall William P. Rayner Artist-in-Residence Program.

“Guild Hall couldn’t have happened just anywhere. It needed the kind of land and seascapes that could seduce artists; it needed a city like New York nearby to nourish it; and, most of all, it needed the dedicated people who make the exemplary cultural center it is today.”
—Enez Whipple, Guild Hall Executive Director from 1943–1991

NOTABLE HISTORY

  • 1931: Cornelia Otis Skinner is the first star to grace the stage of the John Drew Theater, appearing in her one-woman show, The Six Wives Of Henry VIII.
  • 1946: Thornton Wilder appears on the stage of the John Drew Theater in the role of the Stage Manager in his Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Our Town.
  • 1949: Jackson Pollock and other Abstract Expressionists open 17 Artists of Eastern Long Island, coinciding with Pollock’s Life Magazine article leading to his superstardom
  • 1951: Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon star in Pal Joey.
  • 1960: After a troubled first run, The Fantasticks plays at Guild Hall for the summer, returning to NYC in triumph, later becoming the world’s longest running musical.
  • 1972: Edward Albee is the Director of the John Drew Theater for the summer season.
  • 1973: Guild Hall becomes an accredited museum from the American Association of Museums.
  • 1981: A 50th anniversary, Night of Stars in the John Drew Theater, features Betty Comden, Adolph Green, Uta Hagen, Sheldon Harnick, Helen Hayes, Anne Jackson, Eli Wallach, and Carlos Montoya, with special effects by Bran Ferren. Larry Rivers creates a birthday cake sculpture of Guild Hall displayed in the foyer.
  • 1996: Billy Joel and Elvis Costello perform concerts
  • 2010: Equus is presented in the John Drew Theater for 4 sold out weeks, starring Alec Baldwin and directed by Tony Walton. The playwright, Peter Shaffer, comes to Guild Hall to work on re-writes to his famous play for this production.
  • 2018: Laurie Anderson’s Virtual Reality exhibits Chalkroom and Aloft debut in the Museum alongside her large-scale chalk drawings and a screening room playing her films.
  • 2019: Beyoncé secretly films scenes for Disney+’s Black is King video album in the Guild Hall galleries during the Ugo Rondinone: Sunny Days exhibition.