Ned Puchner, the new executive director at Gallery North in Setauket, has big plans but first there’s the workaday job of running a well-respected local arts organization.

Puchner has a lot on his plate right now. He’s scheduling a year’s worth of exhibits (“A lot of the month-to-month events need to be set out”), getting his mind wrapped around fundraising efforts (“That is very much in flux”), and the general management of a gallery and arts education center keeps him pretty busy (“Housekeeping has to happen”).

In the midst of all that, he needs to figure out how to raise around $1.5 million for a new gallery space dedicated to the legacy of Terence Netter — one of Long Island’s most respected arts educators and working artists — and at the same time expand their storage barn to accommodate an expected generous donation of over 100 works of art for their permanent collection.

Puchner plucked his family up from North Carolina and moved to Long Island to start his job as executive director of Gallery North just weeks ago. While it is a change in geography, Puchner also feels the move is familiar ground from where he’s been both personally and professionally.

In North Carolina, he served as executive director of the Greenville Museum of Art, which he says is very much like Gallery North.

“It’s a similarly sized institution — a small museum, community based, with a small staff, and a small collection,” said Puchner.

Before that he was a curator at the McKissick Museum at the University of South Carolina. He spent some time at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (known for its collection and the famous steps that Rocky runs up in the movie’s training montague). Early in his career he served as gallery manager in New York City at the Luise Ross Gallery in SoHo. He received his Ph.D. in art history from Indiana University.

Originally from Englewood, N.J., Puchner felt it was time to move back to the Northeast. And when he saw the opening for the job at Gallery North he knew it was the place for him.

“I was really attracted to the community,” he said. “I saw many of the same elements at Gallery North that I had come to know in North Carolina.”

Puchner settled his family into the Three Village area.

Plans for the new gallery and the donation of new artwork had to be put on hold as the gallery searched for their new director. Around the time of his hiring, the gallery received word it was awarded $150,000 from New York State’s Regional Economic Council for its expansion.

It’s a start but to adequately house the new collection and expand its gallery, the organization will need more. There is a lot of weight to this project.

“He [Terrence Netter] was pretty important to Gallery North in the early years,” explained Puchner. “And had played a big role in keeping the quality of the art that is shown at Gallery North to a pretty high standard.”

Netter passed away in 2018.

Originally studying to become a priest in the Jesuit Order, Netter went on to a career in the arts, becoming an educator, administrator and an accomplished artist in his own right. In 1979, he became the founding director of the new Fine Arts Center at Stony Brook University (now known as the Staller Center), a position he held for eighteen years. He was also on the board of trustees at Gallery North.

“Before he passed he attended a strategic planning meeting that the board held and he expressed his vision for Gallery North at the meeting,” said Puchner.

He told them of a lifetime vision of what he thought the gallery should become. The board approached him before his death about dedicating a building to his legacy.

“He gave it his blessing,” Puchner said. “It was a very touching moment for an artist who played a large role in Gallery North.”

The vision is to knock down an existing structure on the grounds of Gallery North, a building referred to as 82 North Country Road. Right now that building is rented out, bringing in income for the gallery, but it needs work and has to be completely rebuilt for the type of reuse the gallery is planning.

The building would be transformed into a 3,500-square-foot structure that would provide more exhibition space. The plan is to also put in revenue —producing features like a coffee shop and a larger gift shop in the new building.

One of the goals for the expansion is to show off some of the over 100 pieces of new art promised to the gallery by Vincent Hayley and Astrid Delafield. The collection includes work by Long Island landscape artist Joseph Reboli, Terrence Netter, and Robert Rauschenberg whose work in the 1950s is said to have anticipated the pop art movement, among other artists. To help house the new collection, an existing environmentally-controlled storage barn on the campus would have to be expanded.

With the cost of the expansion topping out at about $1.5 million, Puchner says the gallery needs to start on a capital campaign to raise the funds. Fundraising plans are in the early stages and no timeline has been set for the work.

The $150,000 grant from New York State is a good start but it’s not enough to get the job done.

A new gallery would also help to expand the ability of Gallery North to host exhibits. The capacity of the existing gallery maxes out with about 12 exhibitions per year, according to Puchner. Exposing the public to local and regional artists is part of the overall mission of Gallery North as well as offering studio art education programs. The new gallery will increase its ability to fulfill that mission.

“There is very much a need for more opportunities for emerging artists,” said Puchner.

Top: Photo of Ned Puchner from Instagram.