By Madeline Orton
“Audiences are everything to the arts community,” says Jim Atkinson, ArtPride New Jersey Foundation’s director of programs and services who founded the honor.“So this was a chance to create an award that was completely driven by the people who actually see the plays, visit the museums and meet the artists at galleries… [The people] who are really the lifeblood of the arts community.”
The ballot is formed through nominations by members of the field. Since organizations are not permitted to nominate themselves, multiple nominations in a category are needed for an organization to make it onto the ballot. The voting itself, however, is the public’s domain, offering arts-lovers the opportunity to reflect upon the past year and select their 2013 favorites in 14 categories.
This year, nominations have reached an all-time high with eight downtown arts districts (cities with thriving arts scenes) and 71 non-profit arts organizations receiving nods.
GlassRoots, a glassworking studio based in Newark, received its first nomination this year. “It’s exciting, isn’t it?” GlassRoots Interim Executive Director Barbara Heisler says. “Being nominated for the People’s Choice Award for ‘Favorite Place to Take an Adult Class’ recognizes the power of the vehicle we use.”
Still Heisler adds in a jokingly sheepish tone, “I’m encouraging people to write us in for ‘Favorite Place to Take a Child’s Art Class’ as well.”
Heisler isn’t the only one with her eyes on the prize. “It’s a friendly competition,” says Atkinson. “We’ve seen some really wonderful, creative and very fun campaigns to try to get audiences to vote.”
New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC), also in Newark, has had the “Favorite Performing Arts Center” category sealed up since the award’s inception — and they’re not about to give up the title without a fight.
“It’s great from a bragging rights perspective,” says John Schreiber, NJPAC president and CEO. “It’s a point of pride. Seventeen years ago, when this place opened in the middle of Newark, people wondered if this place would succeed… Winning this award enables everybody in the community to be a part of this success story.”
While some organizations like NJPAC may have a winning track record, Atkinson reminds that the awards are anybody’s game and every vote counts. “We see a significant number of groups who won…who have never won before,” says Atkinson. “Some groups will win and then may not win again until three years later. And this year, there is a significant number…of first-time nominees… It is really vibrant, and living and breathing process.”
If a favorite organization wasn’t nominated, Atkinson urges utilizing the write-in option available in each category.
For arts organizations nominated or lobbying for write-in votes, the JerseyArts.com People’s Choice Awards are a unique way to engage supporters, and with the award ceremony held annually at the New Jersey Conference on Tourism in Atlantic City, they’re an opportunity to shine a spotlight on the role the arts play in state tourism. In the end, though, it’s the people who are the heart of the People’s Choice Awards.
“We wanted to create an opportunity for the public to express their love of the arts by supporting the groups they love the most,” Atkinson says.
Voting for the 2013 JerseyArts.com People’s Choice Awards closes Jan. 22, and only one ballot can be submitted per computer/IP address. Winners will be announced in February prior to the New Jersey Conference on Tourism.