New East End Arts director addresses organization’s funding challenges

East End Arts has named their second new executive director since longtime director Pat Snyder stepped down in August.

Diane Burke joined the nonprofit arts organization in December. She holds a degree in finance from Northeastern University and lives in Rocky Point with husband, Brian, and their son Leo.

She replaces Shawn Hirst, who left in late November, according to Board of Directors president John McLane. “Shawn reached the conclusion that this position and its responsibilities were not a good fit for her,” Mr. McLane wrote in an email, adding that her departure was “disappointing” to the board.

“Diane brings a full palette of experience in terms of modern management techniques and fundraising insight for a not-for-profit,” he added.

The organization continues to grapple with funding challenges, something Ms. Burke is hoping to address in her new role.

According to Mr. McLane, operations over the last several years have amassed $150,000 in debt.

“This debt is currently consuming cash that would otherwise be directed to stabilize our programming and financial posture by establishing a reserve fund, something all sustainable and successful non-profit organizations have. In short, it is threatening the short-term survivability of East End Arts,” he wrote in a newsletter to members in December.

Under new leadership, he hopes to raise funds to eliminate debt while strengthening programs and embarking on a five-year strategic plan.

We recently spoke with Ms. Burke about her vision for the arts organization.

Q: What are some of your short-term goals since joining East End Arts?

A: The first thing I wanted to do when I got here was to figure out where we were financially and operationally.

We’re having a membership meeting here at the Carriage House on Jan. 30 at 6 p.m. I want the members to be a part of our future and have a seat at the table at planning what that looks like. It will really help us identify where we go next.

Q: What’s the biggest challenge facing the organization?

A: East End Arts is an incredible gift to the community. The services that are provided through the school and art gallery are really special. They were growing, but the funding wasn’t keeping pace with the growth. That’s really what drove the financial challenges here.

It’s nice to take on a new challenge and help an organization get back on its feet.

Q: How are you going to address the ongoing financial problems?

A: Cuts have been made over time. It’s been hard, but sometimes you need to press pause. In life and in business, you need to catch your breath, get your feet back on the floor, assess what your needs are, figure out how you’re going to pay for them and grow.

Q: What were you doing before this?

A: I was the CEO of Habitat for Humanity of Suffolk County for six years. They had similar struggles when I started there and I’m happy to say they don’t have those struggles anymore. That’s what I hope to do here.

Q: Have you always worked in the non-profit world?

A: No. Before that, I was an international investments analyst for a Fortune 300 company. I took some time off to be home with my son and got very involved in my community and my church. I ran a soccer league and was a civic leader for a while. I sat on the school board for six years and was also on the Zoning Board of Appeals in Brookhaven.

When I decided to re-enter the workforce, I wanted to bring my unique skill set to a place where I could be a part of the community and help others. It’s what drives me.

Q: Your background isn’t in the arts. What led you here?

A: I wasn’t an expert at housing when I started at Habitat either. My corporate background lends me to be very flexible.

I’ve always enjoyed the ways that East End Arts enriches the community. Arts play an important role in people’s lives because it provides enrichment. It’s an important piece to the puzzle of ‘How do we make this an even better place to live?’

Q: There’s a lot of buzz around revitalizing downtown Riverhead. How does East End arts fit into that vision?

A: The possibilities are really endless. I’m sitting on the downtown revitalization committee and there are a lot of people that are focused and excited about what could be here. I went to the Blue Oyster Cult concert at the Suffolk Theater the other night with my family and was completely impressed with how many people were downtown. We need to capitalize on what we’re already doing great.

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Photo caption: Diane Burke took over as the director of East End Arts in December. (Tara Smith photo)