Arts organizations in Bergen County get grants from state council

BY STEPHANIE NODA Northern Valley Suburbanite

Eleven arts organizations across Bergen County will continue to bring music, dance and theater to local communities after a $618,828 grant from the N.J. State Council on the Arts.

One Bergen County performing arts center, however, believes the region deserves a bigger piece of the more than $15.7 million of grants awarded by the council to organizations across the state.

The N.J. State Council on the Arts announced the recipients of the $15.7 million grant funding at the arts council’s 49th Annual Meeting at Trenton’s Wyndham Garden Hotel on July 21. Art organizations in Demarest, Englewood, Hackensack, Fort Lee, Tenafly, Ridgewood and Mahwah were among those awarded funding.

BergenPAC received a $132,699 grant for general operating support, which was the largest awarded in Bergen County.

While bergenPAC thanked the State Council on the Arts for its support, CEO Dominic Roncace said the performing arts center and Bergen County as a whole "warranted a more substantial grant."

Roncace said that Bergen County ranked "dead last" in the amount of funding received from NJSCA when compared to other counties.

Bergen County received just more than $600,000, while other counties received grants that were in the millions, such as Essex County with approximately $5.6 million, Mercer County with $1.5 million and Middlesex County with $1.1 million, said Roncace.

"In addition to being located in the county with the largest tax base in the state, bergenPAC is the only performing arts center in the county of over a 1,000,000 people," said Roncace in a statement. "We create a significant positive economic impact within our communities, which unto itself should surely merit a larger award."

Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, D-Englewood, hopes to address this concern raised by bergenPAC by introducing legislation to increase the amount of funding received by the Arts Council to help provide more grant funding.

The arts council receives a portion of its funding from a Hotel & Motel Occupancy Tax, which has stayed flat at 16 percent since 2004, said Huttle. While Huttle’s proposed bill would not increase the tax, it would increase the tax revenue received by the arts.

"In 2005, the percentage should have risen to 22 percent, but it did not and the arts have suffered since," said Huttle. "That $16 million leverages about $325 million in statewide economic impact. By increasing the investment we can increase the reward."

For some non-profit arts organizations, like Center for Modern Dance in Hackensack, the annual grant from the N.J. State Council on the Arts allows the group to start new programming.

Center for Modern Dance, in addition to a $14,713 general operating support grant, also received a $5,000 "project serving artists" grant to fund a community performance project titled "One Love."

One Love will be a multimedia dance work stating in September with photographs and poetry combined with personal stories and professional dancers in the community of all ages and ability, said Artistic Director Elissa Machlin-Lockwood.

Machlin-Lockwood said the general operating support grant also allowed the organization to keep tuition low and affordable for local community. One such program is three summer dance camps for teens and children that began this Monday.

"We’re really grateful for the funding that’s available," said Machlin-Lockwood. "It’s great to be recognized."

The Art School at Old Church, a Demarest art school and fine art gallery, uses its annual $51,195 grant supported by the art council’s grant funding to run its 80 classes each semester, said Executive Director Maria Danzinger.

"The grant is really helpful for us to offer services that we’re able to offer," said Danzinger. "It’s very wonderful they’re supporting the arts in the community."

Email: noda@northjersey.com