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East End Arts mosaic street fair (Photo credit: Chris Francescani)

William Merritt Chase, Willem de Kooning and Roy Lichtenstein walk onto a train car. Or at least their paintings do.

No, this isn’t the setup for a pretentious, insider art world joke — it’s how East End Arts, a vital nonprofit group in downtown Riverhead, got its start. 

In 1974, a Long Island Rail Road train car containing  38 paintings, lithographs and sculptures from various fine artists whose work had never been shown on the North Fork stopped in Riverhead, slid open its doors and became an impromptu gallery space. The sponsoring organization, then known as the East End Arts and Humanities Council, called this project the “Artrain.”

“The motivation was to bring really terrific art from New York City out to Riverhead, and they did it on a train because they didn’t have an art gallery like we have now,” explains Diane Burke, executive director at EEA. “It was a way for people in Riverhead who didn’t have the opportunity to see this terrific art, to have it come to them and get that experience up close and personal. That’s how we were born.”

Today, East End Arts is a major presence in Riverhead, with multiple galleries, rotating shows every six weeks and year-round multimedia programming.

One of those programs is the annual “Detour” art show, a gallery exhibition featuring internationally acclaimed artists who live locally. Burke, taking inspiration from the Artrain, started “Detour” five years ago. 

“When I joined East End Arts five years ago, I wanted to give myself a little history lesson
as to why we exist,” she says.

“I wanted to do something as a nod to our history and bring back some of our ‘why.’ ”

But East End Arts isn’t all high-profile art shows. For most, the organization  is known for its educational initiatives, including art and music programs for children and adults, as well as a major band program that lets kids rock out. 

“Kids of all different varying talents come together and form a rock band,” says Burke. Programs include New Kids on the Rock, EEA Rocks, Rock You and even an adult band called Better Late Than Never. East End Arts also has a fully professional recording studio run by music industry producer Chris Jones.

Another popular event here is the Teeny Awards show, which Burke describes as the Tonys for high school theater and includes performances from the young casts of area productions. 

“It’s really a fabulous show,” says Burke. “ We’ve also noticed that because of the Teeny Awards, many people have pursued music and theater as a career.”

This upcoming summer is packed with events. East End Arts’ annual fundraiser will be held at The Suffolk on April 11, followed by a mosaic chalk-painting  festival for the community the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend where guests can purchase a square to draw an original work of chalk art on the street. The Mosaic Festival also serves a street fair with vendors and artisans showcasing their wares. And the fifth “Detour” show opens the week after Memorial Day. In addition, EEA offers summer camps for kids that focus on a variety of different aspects of  music and art.

“There’s so much going on,” says Burke. “And we can’t wait to welcome everyone in.”

East End Arts’ main gallery is at 133 East Main St., Riverhead. For more information on events and programs, visit