Jeremy Dennis, photographer, educator and tribal member of the Shinnecock Indian Nation, spent a year and a half renovating the home he grew up in in the East End of Long Island. During the first wave of the pandemic, Dennis lived with his parents, after his artist residency plans were halted. There, he thought there wouldn’t be a better time to focus on renovating his family’s home, which had been abandoned for a decade. The house would give him a place to live and make art, but it became obvious to him that the space was too big for him alone.
This led to Ma’s House and BIPOC Art Studio, a new residence for artists of color on the Shinnecock Preserve nestled between Shinnecock Bay and the posh city of Southampton. âThere is such a disproportionate wealth gap here,â said Dennis, the executive he calls home. One in five members of the Shinnecock tribe live below the poverty line, so resources to carry out projects like Ma’s House are scarce.
The house was first built in the 1960s, cobbled together from scrap materials including gaskets and posts salvaged from an old church that dates back to the 1800s. Jeremy’s grandmother, Loretta Silva, also known as Princess Silva Arrow of the Shinnecock Nation, also known as “Ma” raised her family there. âMy mother and her five siblings grew up in this front of the house,â Dennis said of the site where his grandmother gathered the community for backyard powwows, walks in the backyard. pony and traditional food and crafts.
By the time Dennis was 13, with the floors collapsing from the water damage, the family had to move out. âIt was so degraded,â he said. For 10 years, the house remained empty, relegated to the rank of storage space âFull of archival material,â Dennis quickly noted.
Dennis was able to restore the house using wealthy inhabitants of the Hamptons. He launched a successful GoFundMe campaign explaining that Ma’s House had an important history in the community, and by raising it again, the space could be used not only for Dennis’ own benefit, but as a kind of cultural hub that host residencies and invite community members, Shinnecock and non-Shinnecock, to participate in various arts programs.
Toni Ross, co-founder of main restaurant Nick and Toni’s in East Hampton and a full-fledged artist, never questioned that she would donate to make Ma’s House possible. She and Dennis had exhibited together in the past and she came to know and appreciate her work. âI find his work both very stimulating and accessible,â said Ross. âSo I wanted to support that. But furthermore, I loved the idea of ââhelping to overcome some of the barriers that exist between the Shinnecock Nation and those of us in the East who are not part of the tribe.
The campaign raised over $ 40,000 for materials needed to rebuild the house while Dennis and his father provided labor for the renovation. They removed white mold, laid concrete, and erected floors and walls while completing the documents for Ma’s House nonprofit status.
After more than a year of hard work, the house is now complete as it hadn’t been in decades. A back garden is full of plants donated by friends. A beehive donated by Pink Floyd bassist Roger Waters and his partner hums quietly nearby. Various other gifts populate the house and the grounds, including a large filing cabinet East Hampton Star journal that Dennis uses to store his work. âNow I can show people stuff, even sell it,â he said. âBefore, I had to keep everything in boxes.
After Dennis started working and living in Ma’s House, he opened it up to other residents. Yanyan Huang, a multimedia artist, visited for two weeks and produced works inspired by the original myths of the Shinnecock tribe. At the end of her tenure, she showed it in an exhibit called “Time Cloud”. Allie Mitchell, a screenwriter, actress and director who recently moved to Long Island, just completed a week-long residency in which she spent time completing the television pilot scripts she was developing.
Dennis said that while he valued residences without too many strings attached, he believed that since artists benefited from staying on the reserve, they should find a way to give back to the community. Huang hosted studios that opened once a week and various other programs. Mitchell directed an encouraging read of an episode of one of his scripts.
âEveryone has been really welcoming and kind and generous with their time,â said Mitchell. “There is a strong sense of community on the reserve and I think people are excited and supporting what Jeremy is doing to bring more art to the reserve.”
Offerings from residents are only part of how Ma’s House is used to foster artistic and educational opportunities on the reserve. Working with Guild Hall in East Hampton, Dennis set up a program where Black and Native educators and artists gave talks over the summer in a series called “Gather.” Other events such as conferences and artist dinners are planned for the fall.
Thinking back to an earlier time when Ma’s House played home for powwows, Dennis said he was happy to see the community come together in the backyard again. âWith our first resident, it happened again – Shinnecock and non-Shinnecock people coming in, bringing together different communities,â he said. âAll around us there is art, storytelling and performance. I think it’s amazing.