Arts Day Offers Solutions and Celebration

By Madeline Orton
NJ Today

With a hand in education, tourism, even public planning, it’s no surprise that the New Jersey’s arts community has an entire day dedicated to making the state a better place through the arts.

“This gives us a chance to just take a step back and really think hard about the things we’re not seeing and how we can pull everyone together around the arts to make a difference,” said Ann Marie Miller, Executive Director of ArtPride New Jersey, one of the organizations hosting Arts Day.

“Everyone” includes a broader audience than might be expected at the annual Arts Day event. Leonardo Vazquez, who led a brainstorming session on sustainability, sees the arts as an integral part of that work.

“It’s not just ‘a mural’s nice,’” explained Vazquez, who is Executive Director of the National Consortium for Creative Placemaking. “But if a mural, for example, can express a history of community, can express the aspirations of a community, then it’s part of that community. It’s not just a painting on a wall.”

For communities, it’s not just about the residents, but the visitors as well. Christian Martin, Executive Director of Trenton Downtown Association, sees the arts as a point of interest for tourists.

“Our biggest attractions are arts and cultural events here in the city,“ said Martin. “It certainly has a spillover effect out onto the street. In these areas, they’re our most thriving, and beautiful, and clean, and well-maintained areas, so the arts are a big part of that.”

While much of Arts Day is a gathering of leaders in the arts and related sectors, it’s the next generation that really takes the spotlight. Now in its thirty-third year, The Governor’s Awards in Arts Education honors students, teachers, and leaders in the field for excellence in the arts.

Dr. Tracey Severns, Chief Academic Officer at the New Jersey Department of Education, sees this event as an important one. “I think it’s of critical importance to recognize the arts because they truly round out the individual … I think it’s through the arts that kids have an opportunity to truly express themselves, to really develop their own individuality, and to speak in ways that are beyond the word.”

Aaron Wilson-Watson, a two-time award winner from Lawrence High School, agrees. “[It’s] definitely a way to express myself, but also a way to engage not only myself in art and expose myself to different issues, but to engage others in different issues.”

“Arts in education teaches so many life skills beyond the performing arts and the visual arts,” said Shayne Miller, Director of Paper Mill Playhouse’s Broadway Show Choir and their Director of Press and Public Relations. “If you’re in an office job, if you’re a teacher, all of those skills that you’re learning here from your art are leading to greater things for the greater good.”

That message was resoundingly delivered by the Broadway Show Choir in a stunning rendition of Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror,” reminding audiences of the common goal of making the state a better place through the arts.

Major funding for NJ Arts is provided by The Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation and the F.M. Kirby Foundation.