Stephanie Chaiken is new on the job and new to Jersey City. She is the inaugural director of the New Jersey City University Center for the Arts.
“The NJCU Center for the Arts brings cultural arts together under one umbrella,” Chaiken says. “It’s not just one building, it’s a creative umbrella for everything arts at NJCU.”
The campus has a wide variety of arts venues, including the Margaret Williams Theatre, which seats more than 1000; the smaller West Side Theatre; several visual arts galleries; and the Gothic Lounge. The Center for the Arts manages this network of art spaces on campus.
“My job is to take the incredibly talented faculty and students at NJCU and show the community what we have here,” Chaiken says. “People say that this is the best-kept secret. I see that there’s really a concentration of great talent here. We really want to nurture that.”
But the job goes way beyond that. Chaiken aims to nurture the arts with seminars that will serve artists both on campus and in the Jersey City community at large.
“We are working with a lot of the city’s organizations and artists,” Chaiken says. NJCU Center for the Arts will partner with the Jersey City Arts Council, the Jersey City Office of Cultural Affairs, and the nonprofit organization Rising Tide Capital to start a professional development program for artists and arts organizations. “We’ll have workshops and seminars on grant writing and structuring, planning for how to use money from grants and donations, as well as marketing and how you can find your voice as an artist or arts organization.”
The NJCU Center for the Arts is also working with the Jersey City Office of Cultural Affairs to create a cultural asset map of Jersey City.
“We have created a survey for artists and arts organizations to fill out with the details of who they are, what they do, what they’re looking for and what their needs are as far as, are they looking for space, are they looking for marketing,” Chaiken says. “We will be using this data to look at how we can best serve the arts community. There’s going to be a physical map as well.”
At least 500 individual artists have responded so far, and Chaiken hopes to gather even more data. The goal of the survey is to build an arts community and assess needs, while the map is meant to encourage art-based tourism.
“It’s going to bring economic development because people will come here,” Chaiken says, noting that Queens has created a similar cultural asset map, which was very successful in making the area a destination for arts tourism.
The survey reveals that many artists have trouble finding performance spaces in Jersey City. NJCU has performance space for rent to artists in the community. This includes space near the School of Business in Downtown Jersey City. “People can contact me with inquiries about that,” Chaiken says. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
NJCU Center for the Arts brings events to campus. In October a dance company run by the husband- and-wife team of Bridgman Packer performed at NJCU behind the Margaret Williams Theatre while an interactive video installation was staged inside the theatre. “They did a program called Truck,” Chaiken says. “They kind of blur the lines between live performance and site-specific art. They rented a 17-foot box truck, so the stage is the truck.”
The interactive video installation playing inside the theatre encouraged viewers to come up on the stage to perform as well.
The event was open to the public.
“I think this is different for the whole country,” Chaiken says of the program. “It’s exciting for us. We are really looking at being an incubator for new arts as well as the traditional, and this serves that mission.”
On the day of the event, the campus art galleries—at Hepburn Hall in room 323 and in the Visual Arts building at 100 Culver Ave. on the ground level—were open as well.
The Center for the Arts is hoping to expand the school-time performance series for NJCU. This series provides teachers with study guides to accompany live performances at NJCU.
Award-winning storyteller Charlotte Blake Alston will perform for this program on Nov. 27 at 10:30 a.m. in the Margaret Williams Theatre. Alston tells traditional African and African-American stories that she enhances with a musical performance. Tickets are available to the public for $8.
The Right Resume
Prior to assuming the NJCU position, Chaiken worked as director of the Ramapo Berrie Center for Performing and Visual Arts. An artist herself, Chaiken has years of experience working with art communities across the country. “I’m a singer and an actress,” says Chaiken, who has the poise and presence that make it clear that she would be just as comfortable on stage as she is in the NJCU office. Chaiken also owned a music management agency. “Education and outreach are kind of my personal mission,” she says. “I really like doing professional development and doing workshops and skill building. A lot of people need help in doing the business side of being an incredible artist.”
NJCU Center for the Arts plans to help artists do just that.
“I think a lot of stuff happens here that people don’t know about,” Chaiken says. “I think it’s easy to get dwarfed by what’s happening in Manhattan, and certainly there’s amazing stuff going on there, but I think that there’s amazing stuff happening right here in Jersey City.”—JCM
For more information, visit njcu.edu/about/center-arts
Fill out the arts survey at culturalassetsjc.com