NJ fund to assist non-profit arts education

Christel Deskins

ELIZABETH, N.J. — A new fund will provide assistance to non-profit arts and cultural organizations in New Jersey. It launches in a few weeks and will give a much needed financial shot in the arm to many small to mid-size organizations who apply for, and receive a grant. The pandemic […]

ELIZABETH, N.J. — A new fund will provide assistance to non-profit arts and cultural organizations in New Jersey.

It launches in a few weeks and will give a much needed financial shot in the arm to many small to mid-size organizations who apply for, and receive a grant.

The pandemic had an immediate and substantial impact on the industry. Additionally, the shutdown has profoundly affected artists and their communities.

The Institute of Music for Children serves well over a thousand kids and teens in Elizabeth, New Jersey. It was founded 25 years ago as a response to schools cutting arts programming. Today, it continues to introduce music, fine arts, dance, acting, filmmaking, creative writing, even cooking, to youth who otherwise may not have the opportunity to be exposed to arts programs.

Alysia Souder is their longtime executive director.

“A lot of our children are with us not just for one semester, but for many, many years,” said Souder. “We are founded on the vision of HARMONY: helping achieve responsible motivated optimistic neighborhood youth and we use art as a tool for youth development and community building as well as creative exploration and imagination.”

Like many densely populated and diverse city, Elizabeth has been greatly affected by COVID-19.

“When the pandemic hit we had to shut down immediately,” said Souder. “We knew this was going to affect our children because our children really rely on us for that safe space.”

Still, the Institute has been able to defy the odds and carry on, moving classes online and even their summer program survived. However, things are not so certain for the future.

“We don’t know if we can have a fall program yet,” said Souder. “We’ve already lost a number of grants because they have redirected funds to COVID emergency response, which is completely understandable.”

In addition to offering scholarships and financial aid, the Institute offers a subsidized program where they pay two-thirds tuition and the student’s family is responsible for the remaining one-third. Like so many arts and cultural organizations nationwide, they need financial assistance.

Jeremy Grunin of the Grunin Foundation gave the initial gift of $250,000 to establish the New Jersey Arts and Culture Recovery Fund.

“The arts represents a vital cog in the economic engine of our communities,” said Grunin, who says it was a strong part of his upbringing. “My Sundays with my parents typically was reading the New York Times, watching NFL football with the sound off and listening to classical music!”

Grunin spearheaded the fund. Others, like the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, quickly jumped on board. Sharnita C. Johnson is the arts program director for the Dodge Foundation.

“The arts and culture sector has been very important,” said Johnson. “We have arts organizations providing educational programs for students and adult learners.”

Thus far, the coalition has raised over $1.5 million dollars, including support from the state’s pandemic relief fund. It’s estimated the cultural sector generates at least $600 million in annual revenue and employs over 22,000 people in New Jersey. It’s essential they survive. Johnson says we should consider the non-profits as we do small businesses that need help.

“It’s a very vibrant sector,” said Johnson. “There was immediate relief opportunities for the business community and people don’t necessarily understand that arts organizations and individual artists, are small businesses as well, they have staff, they have overhead, they have benefits to pay, they have the same needs as a retail operation.”

Community-based programs and individual artists account for roughly 80% of all arts organizations in the state. While the larger organizations have a solid fundraising basis, many of the smaller ones do not.

“We’re really focusing on the small and midsize arts organizations as well as individual artists, many of who work on contracts, they don’t have your typical pay structure so they really need the work and they don’t have it right now,” said Grunin. “That’s not to say the anchor organizations like NJPAC don’t need money because they most assuredly do, the difference is many of them have incredibly generous donor basis built-in already and the muscle around fundraising.

To be eligible to apply for a grant:

  • Must have a budget size of up to $3 million (but organizations that plan to support individual artists are eligible, regardless of budget size)
  • Must have at least one paid staff member
  • Must be able to demonstrate the negative impact COVID-19 has had on the organization and the communities they serve
  • Must have a strong recovery plan

For more information on how to apply, visit this website.

Studies have shown exposure to the arts has a deep and lasting impact on people, particularly children. often it’s the artists who are fostering that creativity, artists who have lost work in performances and teaching during this pandemic.

“It’s so important for our emotional well-being,” said Grunin. “It’s not necessarily that kids are going to grow up and act on Broadway, it’s about how they’re going to unlock their minds and think creatively and to think in a different way than somebody who may not have had that ability.”

It’s this combination of artists and young people that makes it special to Souder.

“The artists are at the center of this as well the children,” said Souder. “They are served by artists that love what they do, that have lived their lives in this passionate space of creativity, so while we’re talking about the value of arts for children, we cannot forget the artists and how important it is to support our arts community.”

The program will be up and running by mid-September. It is the organizers’ goal to make the fund long-term and go far beyond COVID relief.

“I hope that people donate and I hope that people are still consuming the arts,” said Johnson. “I hope they’re checking in on their artists friends and colleagues and we’re hoping for a great reopening where people can enjoy arts and culture in-person one day soon.”

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