Local Arts Program is a “Hidden Gem” Downtown


      As one ventures down Rector Street, a black and white building stands
tall with the words Poetry, Dance, Theater, Drama, Writing, and Music in bold capital
letters. The black words placed upon the white background captivates bystanders as
they are given just a small preview of the many wonderful practices that take place
inside. This building, called the Arts Center for Education, is in the center of downtown Newark, granting students the opportunity to express their creativity while fueling their
passion for the arts.
       “It is a hidden gem,” says Vice President for Arts Education Alison Scott-Williams. “You
wouldn't even know that we’re here.”
        The Arts Education building is affiliated with the New Jersey Performing Arts Center on
Center Street. The NJPAC first opened in 1997 and has attracted over seven million
visitors to its venue, and have had over a million children statewide participate in its arts
education programs. Since its construction in 2000, the Arts Center for Education have
offered a variety of training programs for students interested in hip-hop, tap, jazz and
more. The center also has a black box theater that can host performances for a
maximum audience of 100. NJPAC shares its Arts Education building with the Episcopal
Diocese of Newark as the Cathedral House.
     “We have been here and doing these programs for more than 20 years”, says Vice
President of Arts Education Alison Scott-Williams. “We have programs for any child in
the community that wants to grow. A lot of the people who perform on our stage do
master classes with our kids.”
      Students can be enrolled into the arts education programs through two pathways. With
the first option, the parent of a prospective child can request an NJPAC residency in
their child’s classroom from the school’s principal. The child must go to a school within
the 25-mile radius. With the second option, parents can enroll their child online by
visiting the NJPAC website under the “students and families’ tab. The portal also has an
application where parents can apply for financial aid.
       “No student is turned away for their inability to pay,” says Scott-Williams. “We take
students where they want to go in terms of expressing their authentic voice and what
they want to learn in the arts.”
        Having been a rectory in the past, the Arts Center for Education building was
constructed in the year 2000 by graphic designer Paula Scher. Scher, according to
Pentagram.com, is described as “the master of conjurer of the instantly familiar” whose
“architectural collaborations have re-imagined the urban landscape as a dynamic
environment of dimensional graphic design.” She has been involved in her career since
the 1980’s, creating identity and branding systems, promotional materials,
environmental graphics, packaging and publication designs. After getting contacted by
former NJPAC director Larry Goldman, who admired her work in Public Theater, Scher was chosen to transform the ancient-looking building into a modern masterpiece. Her
hopes were for observers in Newark to be intrigued by her design.
     I knew that in London, in the West End theater district, Victorian buildings are often
painted with the names of the theater and plays on the side of the building,” says Scher.
“It seemed to make sense to transform this building into a place which would reflect its
use and become visible in the neighborhood.”
     The creation of the Arts Center for Education has allowed many students to have fun
while being trained to expertise their skills and talents. For students, attending the
programs have given them a positive and memorable experience. On the New Jersey
Performing Arts Facebook page, parent Lou Alvarez left a five-star review, saying “Our
daughter has attended one Fall and two Summer Programs,” said Alvarez. “She's truly
inspired and excited when she spends time with everyone there. She hopes to be back
this Fall. Thank you NJPAC Arts Education.”
      The organizers of the arts education program are implementing methods to reach more
students. There is a current marketing plan in place, which involves interaction and
involvement in the current media scene. There is also a large mailing list sending
material throughout the five wards of Newark. However, most people hear about the
arts programs by word of mouth.
      “I think many people don’t know that we exist,” says Alison Scott-Williams, vice
president of arts education. “I think it would be good for them to know that we are here.”
This summer, the NJPAC will be holding various programs. Among them, will be the
jazz and R&B intensive, which runs from Monday, June 25 to Friday, July 6. Each
student participating in the program will get an intensive study on their primary
instrument, and learn about theory, composition and ensemble playing. Children from
the ages of 12 to 18 are welcome to join the program, which accepts any experience
    “People feel like they would have needed to master something in order to get in; and
that’s not true,” said Vice President Alison Scott-Williams. “A lot of the people who
perform on our stage do master classes with our kids.”
     Unlike other programs, the Jazz and R&B Intensive will not only focus on jazz, but will
also focus on r&b songs from artists such as Kendrick Lamar, Bruno Mars, and Patti Labelle. The program will be taught by Director of Jazz Instruction Mark Gross. For
more information about summer programs, visit njpac.org/summer.