Donors threaten to withdraw millions from East Hampton sculpture park

The mysterious shooting of a longtime East Hampton art director has led long-time donors to a storied sculpture garden to reconsider their big contributions.

The sudden termination of Longhouse Reserve CEO Matko Tomisek, along with a change of its board of directors, upset donors just months after the death of the nonprofit’s founder, Jacques Lenore Larsen.

“They’re pulling their money,” said Hamptons-based artist and donor Jane Johnson, who contributes to the park through a family foundation. “People call their lawyers and change their will until this council resigns.”

Another philanthropist, who has donated to LongHouse for a decade, is demanding answers.

“A number of donors are concerned and dismayed by this board’s guidance,” said Susie Gilman. “There appears to be a real lack of transparency.”

The controversy became public last month after the board of the nonprofit that runs LongHouse abruptly fired Tomicic, who has overseen the park as CEO for nearly 26 years, donors told The Post.

Circle of animals/Zodiac head sculpture by Ai Weiwei at Long House Preserve in East Hampton.
Circle of animals/Zodiac head sculpture by Ai Weiwei at Long House Preserve in East Hampton.
Newsday via Getty Images

Tomicic worked closely with Larsen, the famous textile designer who created LongHouse on his lush 16-acre property in the Hamptons, opening it to the public in 1992. The venue is inspired by a 7th-century Japanese Shinto shrine and includes sculptures by artists such as Willem de Kooning, Yoko Ono, and the glass artist. Dale Chihuly.

Larsen, whose textiles are in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, died in December. He was 93 years old.

Matko Tomicic attends the annual LongHouse Reserve feature - celebrating Brooklyn at LongHouse Reserve on July 21, 2018 in East Hampton, New York.
Longhouse donors question why Matko Tomicic was fired after nearly 26 years as CEO of Longhouse Reserve.
Patrick McMullan / PMC

“I don’t know why he was fired without warning,” said Ann Ross, a longtime benefactor who lives between homes in Montauk and Tennessee. Ross told The Post she was also considering ending her support for the organization.

More than 85 percent of the nonprofit’s $1.9 million total revenue came from contributions and grants in 2019, according to LongHouse’s most recent federal tax returns.

Longhouse Reserve founder Jacques Lenore Larsen
Longhouse Reserve founder Jacques Lenore Larsen passed away at the age of 93 in 2020.
Getty Images

Donors said Larsen originally left about $6 million in a fund to continue funding LongHouse after his death.

The trust was then adjusted in the months before his death, with money split between the nonprofit and his partner of more than 30 years, Peter Olsen, a member of the LongHouse board of directors, told The Post.

Former President of New York Botanical Garden and CEO Kari Rebora Barat
Former New York Botanical Garden President Kari Rebora Barat has replaced Matko Tomicic after his unexpected dismissal.
Getty Images

A spokesperson for the board told The Post that Longhouse and Olsen “have always been” beneficiaries of Larsen’s estate, adding: “As he neared the end of his life, Jack made sure Peter was taken care of.”

Tomic could not be reached for comment on Friday, but he told Sag Harbor Express Last week, the agreement he signed with the board of directors prevented him from speaking publicly about his dismissal.

Board co-chairs Nina Gilman and Diane Benson said Tomicic and the board “agreed to separate” last month as a result of a “strategic planning process” that began before Larsen’s death.

The LongHouse Board of Directors recently appointed Kari Rebora Bharat as interim director. Rebora Barat was appointed as the first female President and CEO of the New York Botanic Garden in 2018, But he stepped down last year.

At least one board member left LongHouse after the controversy. Alex Feleppa, president of the LongHouse Park Commission, left after Tomicic was fired.

“There is a small group close to our former director and we are trying to address their concerns,” the LongHouse board of directors said in a statement. “Unfortunately, the loudest voices are sometimes negative. We have also heard from many members of our community positively expressing their continued support for LongHouse.”

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