Of course you love the arts ... don't you?

What does it mean to live in an artistic community?

Let’s start with a rhetorical question:  does Maplewood love the arts?

“Of course we do!” most would say. We pride ourselves in the artists who live in this community. We're positively giddy when we rattle off the Broadway folk who grace the stages of our benefits. We might name one or two local filmmakers. An author. Or even distinguished alumni like that guy who designed the Getty Center in L.A. … what was his name?

Some of us arrived in Maplewood in hopes of exploring the artistic community we had heard so much about. I came here with my husband and children sure I would hear music in the streets – perhaps accompanying some wild communal mural painting in the center of town. It was going to be both funky and grand. A much kinder, gentler version of the arts community we left behind in the city. With better parking.

Like most things in life, I had to look a bit harder to find that artistic nirvana. And I can say enthusiastically – after years of commitment and very hard work - that Maplewood does, indeed, love the arts. We really do.

Question #2:  does Maplewood support the arts?

Let’s face it. This is the hard part.

The great news is that Maplewood shows up for its arts organizations; it embraces its arts galleries, its theatre groups, favorite bands, studio artists, writers, photographers, filmmakers, and its world-class dance company. Maplewood listens, it sings along, it weeps quietly, it laughs out loud, and it claps with gusto.

If any town were home to just ONE of Maplewood’s art groups, they would be extremely proud. We are home to more amazing groups than we can count (well, I have counted actually). And we should be over the moon.

But that’s where our support wanes.

The arts are seldom named by the powers-that-be as contributing value to this community. Mayor DeLuca’s recent State of the Township address failed to mention a single artistic accomplishment over the past year – although there were many. I fear that the newly-formed Maplewood Arts Council (an Advisory Committee that I helped found during my tenure as the Director of Cultural Affairs) is not well known, nor given much support; it should flourish in a community such as ours.

As a town, we love the arts, and we support the arts. But at best, the arts are seriously undervalued. As we move forward into discussions of making Maplewood a “cultural destination,” where are the arts on the agenda? So far, all I hear about is chickens.

Question 3:  How important are the arts to our children?

This question really shouldn’t be rhetorical at all. This is where we can set aside all of our excuses – our budget shortfalls, our lack of energy, our very busy busy-ness – and decide whether or not we can create a community where we go beyond art for entertainment’s sake, and realize that art is a vitally important part of our children’s education.

As a community, if the arts are important, we must find a way to make them integral.

Some of us actively (and expensively) incorporate arts education into our children’s lives. We drive them to and from lessons. We watch them flourish; they discover the joy of expressing themselves through dance or painting or playing an instrument. They learn a discipline, and transcend.

But if only a very small percentage of children receive extra-curricular arts instruction, what about the children who are not shuttled back and forth?

In our school district, we can count ourselves lucky that our children receive as much art instruction as they do:  a whopping 50 minutes per week in music and art from kindergarten through 8th grade.  This is not much.  And the South Orange/Maplewood School District is doing an amazing job using few resources to serve many children in arts instruction.

But the children of this community — this art-loving, art-supporting community — deserve more, don’t they? It may not be up to the schools; they are faced every day with the heavy burden of improving group standards and meeting individual needs.

No, the burden of creating a thriving arts community belongs to us, the community.

Which brings me to rhetorical question #4: 

How does a community create an arts-rich environment accessible to everyone? Strangely enough, the answer to this question may be found thousands of miles and many cultures away from Maplewood in Venezuela, the birthplace of EL SISTEMA, the youth orchestra program founded by José Abreu more than 30 years ago.

I will be diving into the answer to question #4 on Saturday night, along with local author TRICIA TUNSTALL, author of Changing Lives, TONY MAZZOCCHI, Director of Fine and Performing Arts for the South Orange Maplewood School System, and JULIE BURSTEIN, creator of Studio 360.

I, for one, am looking forward to helping to creating a community that loves the arts, supports the arts, and also realizes the transformative power of the arts.


Studio B Presents:  The Catalyst Film Series

Teaching the Life of Music

{followed by panel discussion}

Saturday, January 12 @7:30pm

Burgdorff Center for the Performing Arts

$10 rsvp: 


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Katie Wissel January 11, 2013 at 12:00 AM
It might be worth noting at the panel discussion (which I will not be able to attend) that while a fully integrated program seems ideal, there are some opportunities that are being missed in the current environment. I understand that there are Suzuki scholarships for children receiving free lunch that are going unclaimed. Also, nice article on incorporating some of el sistema ideas in Somerville, MA: http://www.bostonglobe.com/arts/2012/03/09/somerville-mass-boosts-music-education-while-others-cut-back/BuKRrhmfRi4zb06YTKDw3M/story.html
Victor De Luca January 11, 2013 at 02:26 PM
Marcy, In my last two State of the Township Addresses, I did mention arts and culture. And you know that the Township funds a dedicated person as the cultural affairs director. We set up the Arts Council to bring the arts to the community. So it is more than chickens. Vic 2012: "We created the Maplewood Arts Council so that we could properly support and coordinate the many cultural offerings in the Township. The Arts Council has taken off with a lot of energy and we will be hearing more from them as the months pass." 2013: "We will make improvements to the Burgdorff Center for the Performing Arts Center" and "We will support arts and culture as critical components of our civic life and build closer ties between businesses and arts groups."
Elizabeth January 11, 2013 at 09:41 PM
I have a son at MMS and between band, honors band and music class, he often has more than 6 hours a week of music including a semi-private lesson for band and an additional private once a month for honors band. All free! I really can not understand any parent not having their child take advantage of this.
Marcy Thompson January 11, 2013 at 09:42 PM
Aha! In that case, you might want to join us tomorrow night for a conversation about the ways the community can play a vital role in the arts. Should be very interesting.
Geralyn Robinson January 14, 2013 at 05:56 AM
I am sorry that I missed this discussion, is there a tape of it online somewhere that so that I can view Geralyn Robinson


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