Searching for a new artistic base and incubator for his work, theater director Robert Wilson found a former Western Union research facility in 1986. Abandoned since the 1960s, the building, on the outpost of the Shinnecock Reservation in Water Mill, NY, was in terrible condition, but it had the potential he had been looking for. The building also had a storied history as it was the site where the stylus for the first fax machine had been developed.
By 1989, Wilson’s mind was made up and he was convinced that there was magic in the old and obsolete buildings, and purchased the deed for the building and land. In 1992, The Watermill Center was founded by Wilson and The Byrd Hoffman Water Mill Foundation, with the first International Summer Program being held in collaboration with the Trisha Brown Dance Company. Wilson envisioned Watermill as a laboratory for experimentation, technological and otherwise—a space accommodating artists-in-residence, students, and collaborators, housing an extensive collection of art and artifacts and providing a “think tank” in which artists could conceive, develop, and rehearse new work.
Completed in 2006, The Watermill Center stands an eight-and-a-half acre arts compound, with verdant lawns and outdoor sculpture gardens. The Center is Wilson’s summer home and home to an ever-burgeoning collection of artifacts, textiles, sculptures, furniture, and other art objects that are available for study.
Watermill serves as a place for young and emerging artists to work, learn, create, and grow with each other, it integrates performing arts practice with resources from the humanities, research from the sciences, and inspiration from the visual arts. Watermill is unique within the global landscape of experimental theatrical performance, and regularly convenes the brightest minds from all disciplines to do, in Wilson’s words, “what no one else is doing.”
In addition to the long-standing International Summer Program, expanded programming in the fall and spring includes an Artist Residency Program, workshops and classes, conferences and lectures, and a variety of local and international educational partnership programs. Watermill has collaborated with institutions such as The Lincoln Center Theater Directors Lab, The Baryshnikov Arts Center, Park Avenue Armory, Kampnagel Hamburg, CUNY’s Martin E. Segal Theatre Center, ArteEast, Performa, Taipei Cultural Center, Chez Bushwick, CPR – Center for Performance Research, New York Theater Workshop, Summer Play Festival, MRI – Métamatic Research Initiative and RADIALSYSTEM V in Berlin, among others.