Sussex County Arts & Heritage Council provides community support
Photo by Warren Westura/New Jersey Herald - The Sussex County Arts and Heritage Council gallery on Spring Street in Newton.By Katie Moen New Jersey Herald
Posted: Jan. 22, 2018 12:01 am
NEWTON -- With its vast, open landscapes, quiet hollows and storied past, Sussex County is a veritable treasure trove of artistic inspiration.
For more than 45 years, the Sussex County Arts and Heritage Council has been encouraging artists, writers, musicians, performers and designers of all sorts to embrace their creativity and celebrate all that the area has to offer.
In addition to providing a number of ways for people to show and appreciate the arts, the Council also serves another important function in the community.
"We are the designated organization that distributes funds provided by the State of New Jersey to art and history groups throughout Sussex County," said board treasurer Melinda McCoy. "There are a lot of wonderful organizations here in the county that provide valuable artistic or historic services to their communities. Our job is to help them get funds in order to do what they do best. We call it re-granting."
The council is currently preparing to send out this year's letters of award, which will notify local organizations as to whether or not they have been selected to receive funding in the form of grant services.
"There are some state guidelines that organizations have to meet in order to qualify for grant assistance," McCoy said. "They range from diversification to the number of people that can be reached by your services. These are three-year grants, so each organization has to submit a detailed proposal that budgets out what the organization would do with the money. It's not an easy process, but it can be well worth it."
As an all-volunteer organization, the members of the Council, like board assistant Amanda Predmore, say that working to promote the arts is a true labor of love.
"The arts are an essential part of life," Predmore said. "When you look at a painting, or watch a performance, you are having a conversation with the artist. Everyone is going to bring their own interpretations, their own pasts and presents to the table, and that's what makes it so important. When you're talking about the arts, everyone is a participant."
The Council began as a small but dedicated group of art enthusiasts in 1971, council president Perry Anderson said.
"Honestly, not much has changed," he said, laughing. "We're still just a group of people who honestly believe in the merits of what we do."
The Council is headquartered in a bright, store front gallery on Spring Street. The gallery itself, Predmore said, is something of a "living exhibition."
"Every four to six weeks, we'll ask our members to submit pieces based on their interpretations of a theme," she said. "We try not to give too many guidelines. For example, if the theme is ‘Sussex County living,' we might get a photograph of a horse, a sculpture of the High Point Monument, and a painting of downtown Newton. All of those things will hang together, which is great, because each new show represents the talents and interests of the community at large."
The Council is made up of what Anderson called "a perfect hodgepodge" of painters, sculptors, dancers, and artists, each of whom brings something unique to the table.
"You don't have to be a professional to be a member," Anderson said. "When you join the council, you pay a small membership fee that entitles you to participate in any of our gallery shows. It gives people the chance to have their work shown and to meet with other art enthusiasts in the area. It really is a community."
In all, the Council helps to provide grant money to over 20 different organizations around the county.
Each one provides its own unique contributions to the culture and spirit of the area.
"We do what we do because we love it," McCoy said. "People tend to be so focused in their day to day lives that sometimes it can be hard to stop and appreciate what's around you. There are amazing reasons to explore Sussex County and to appreciate the talents and passions of the people that live here. We are so pleased to be able to be a part of this amazing community, and to be surrounded by such a rich tapestry of art and history."
The following are a sampling of some of the organizations that have benefited from SCHAC grants in the past.
Sussex County Historical Society
For over a century, the members of the Sussex County Historical Society have acted as vigilant stewards, keeping careful watch over a vast and ever-growing collection of historical documents, local mementos and treasures.
In 2016, the society celebrated its 100th anniversary with a year-long program of special presentations, exhibitions and discussions. Throughout the course of the year, local residents gathered at the Hill Memorial Museum to learn about the history of the railroads, agriculture and ideas that shaped the county.
Wayne McCabe, president of the society, said that many of the guest lectures were made possible through the support of the Arts and Heritage Council.
"This is the first year in a long time that we have had access to grant money, so this has been huge for us," McCabe said. "These lectures have really helped us to build up community interest. One of the most popular was a presentation about the Lackawanna Cutoff. We had about 160 people come to that event. This is all about local people learning where they came from, and people are very invested in that."
McCabe said that the funding was also used to host a 100th anniversary celebration and to restore a pre-revolutionary war flag, now on display at the museum.
In May 2016, the society acquired two new buildings -- located at 75 and 77 Main Street in Newton -- across from its current headquarters at the Hill Museum.
McCabe said that though it will be a long process, the society is in the midst of repairing and restoring the buildings, each with their own historical significance, to their former glory.
Eventually, he said, the new facilities will help the society to better care for and preserve their ever-growing collection of artifacts and to plan more community-based programming and events.
"As we move forward, we plan to utilize any additional grant money that we might receive to turn this lecture series into a permanent program," McCabe said. "We want to connect to the community as much as possible, and these presentations have been a great way to do that. This historical grant has helped out a lot of good organizations, and we are so pleased to have been able to add our own accomplishments to the mix."
Children's Chorus of Sussex County
It's hard to imagine anything more thrilling for a young performer than to stand upon a storied stage and look out into the crowd. The Children's Chorus of Sussex County has been providing young singers with the chance to develop their craft and perform around the world for over 25 years.
"We have performed at Carnegie Hall, the White House, Prague's Smetana Hall, the Candelaria Church, Rio de Janeiro and the Vatican," said director Deborah Mello, who founded the chorus in 1990. "The kids get the chance to work alongside professional performers and develop an understanding of what it's like to be part of a real ensemble."
The students in the chorus, Mello said, take their craft very seriously.
"They work very hard," she said. "For a lot of these students, this is their first experience with professional performance. When they spend time around each other and around other performers, they develop a life-long sense of appreciation for music and that hard work that goes into making it."
Currently, there are four groups operating within the Children's Chorus of Sussex County: The Musik Garten program for children in kindergarten and first grade; the Bella Voce program, which is for children in grades two through six; the Concert Choir, which is for children with unchanged voices between grades seven and 12; and the newly formed Young Men's ensemble.
Mello said new students are always welcome to apply to the program, and that as the reputation of the chorus continues to grow, so too do the opportunities for her students.
"It used to be that I would need to call around to get shows, but now, people are starting to recognize how talented these kids really are" she said. "You never know where we might end up next!"
Pass It Along
As any dedicated volunteer will attest, finding the time to give something back to the community can be a life-changing experience. At Pass It Along, a non-profit organization in Sparta, teenagers are encouraged to become more self-reliant, confident and compassionate through volunteer efforts and leadership training. Participants in the program work to support local organizations like animal shelters, food pantries and civic groups under the direction and guidance of Pass It Along Staff.
"We are focusing on youth empowerment," said Brittany Rockenfeller, marketing manager for Pass It Along. "We're trying to help create well-rounded members of the community by exposing them to volunteer opportunities, leadership development and self-discovery."
Rockenfeller said that students in the program really get the chance to "take the reigns."
"This is not about adults, sitting around and telling the kids where to go or what do," she said. "We give them the tools and teach them how to access some resources, but then it really all comes down to them."
Pass It Along partners with 40 different service agencies around the area, including OSCAR, NOWESCAP, and Cooking with a Mission.
"There isn't one right way to volunteer," Rockenfeller said. "We host a number of leadership seminars for our students, and it gives them the chance to discover their own passions and figure out how to turn them into opportunities. If you're an athlete, maybe you can help host a field day event for SCARC residents. If you're a photographer, maybe you can help OSCAR get the word out about some of their rescues. It's really up to the kids to figure out how they want to get involved."
Rockenfeller said that grant money that comes through the Arts and Heritage Council is used to promote a number of different arts and music oriented volunteer opportunities.
"We have always made our services free to the teens who participate in them," she said. "We're a non-profit organization, so if we didn't have that funding, we would probably have to charge for our services. It would completely change the dynamic of what we do."
Luna Parc Atelier Foundation Inc.
The towers and spires of Luna Parc have become something of a local landmark, rising out of the hills like a scene straight out of a fantasy novel. The living art garden, studio, and home of self-described "madcap artist" Ricky Boscarino began its life as a humble, if not slightly uninspired, hunting cabin. Today, the property, with its bowling ball structures, wandering footpaths, found art and stunning mosaics is a true playground for the imagination. In 2015, Boscarino established the Luna Parc Atelier Foundation, Inc., a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to helping the next generation of artists turn their passion for creativity into viable careers.
"Art and expression are such an important part of figuring out who you are as a person, that we wanted to create a program to help high school students navigate some of the challenges of becoming professional artists," Boscarino said. "Our passion, our whole purpose with this foundation is to let these kids know that it's possible to turn what they love to do into a viable career. If we can influence even a small group of dedicated students, then we have done what we set out to do."
Students in the program work with Boscarino to explore different mediums, participate in ongoing projects at Luna Parc, and learn to navigate the business side of the art world.
"Parents get nervous when they hear that their children want to become artists. They worry about earning potential and job security. They just don't know what the options are for their kids," he said. "In reality, we're part of a truly viable, legitimate art economy."
As part of the foundation, Boscarino recently purchased an adjacent property, complete with plenty of open space and a small cabin.
Ultimately, he said, he plans to develop the cabin into a new work space and classroom for his students. "Luna Parc developed very organically," he said, "and now, our hope is to be able to work with the next generation of artists to help the new property grow in the same way."
The Sussex County Arts and Heritage Council will host their annual meeting at 7 p.m. on January 22 at their headquarters located at 133 Spring Street.