By GWEN OREL
“We want to make sure our society cherishes our culture,” Melissa Walker, president and founder of Jazz House Kids, told a group of about 25 artists and representatives from Montclair arts groups last Wednesday, April 12, at Montclair Fire Headquarters.
The meeting was called to plan “Montclair Front Line for the Arts,” a march to save the National Endowment for the Arts.
The march up Bloomfield Avenue is scheduled for Saturday, June 24, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., and includes speeches and performances that will take place at the Montclair Art Museum, the march’s landing point.
The NEA is zeroed out in President Trump’s FY18 budget. If the budget passes, the NEA will be eliminated.
The organizers of the event are Jazz House Kids, Montclair Art Museum, Studio Montclair, and Sharron Miller Academy of Performing Arts. A flyer for the event lists hashtags #SAVEtheNEA and #FrontLinefortheArts for social media use. The event has a Facebook group.
The Montclair Art Museum and Jazz House Kids receive money directly from the NEA, but many local arts groups receive it indirectly, through the New Jersey State Council on the Arts or more local government grants.
Ann Marie Miller, of ArtPrideNJ, spoke to the group about arts advocacy statewide.
The 30-year-old advocacy group is “dedicated to preserving the arts in New Jersey,” Miller said. “The arts are embedded in housing, economic development, healthcare.”
Miller, like others in the room, recalled the battles over arts funding in the late 1980s and ’90s. The battles are different now, Miller said, because one thing that came out of those early fights was that funding is now spread across the country. “During the time of Speaker Boehner, earmarks were removed,” she said.
The NEA gives about $2 million to New Jersey annually, about $875,ooo of which goes to the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, Miller explained. She encouraged those in the room, who represented Opera Theatre of Montclair, Adinkra House, Seed Artists, Culture Connection Theatre, and others, to attend town halls, and to sign up at artpridenj.com to receive alerts.
On June 17, a study will be released by Americans for the Arts, a national nonprofit that supports the arts and art education. The study will detail how the arts affect the economy, what people spend on parking, retail, restaurants when they participate in an arts event. Miller said she spent $100 visiting the art museum, when she included her meals and what she bought at the gift store and in town. Having the information about the economic impact visible before the march takes place will add substance to the demonstration, Miller said.
MAKING A FRONT LINE
Chris Gifford, husband of Jazz House Kids board member Susan Korones Gifford, plays trumpet in the Adult Jazz Ensemble Program at Jazz House Kids, and came up with the name of the march.
A second line in a New Orleans march, he explained, are the people who follow the band, the main line. The idea behind this march, which will begin at Lackawanna Plaza and march up to MAM, is a kind of second-line march for the arts, he said.
The name “front line” plays on the idea of a second line and a front line in a battle, according to Nancy Klein, marketing and communications specialist for Jazz House Kids.
A brass band will lead the community and marchers up Bloomfield Avenue. Attendees are encouraged to dress in a costume that represents the type of art they make — dancers in leotards, artists in smocks. At some point the marchers will freeze, showing what the world would be like without the arts, Gifford said.
Walker asked, “When the music stops, what does it sound like?”
The idea for the march is that it be bipartisan, said Gifford. Support for the NEA does not always divide along partisan lines, Miller pointed out.
Politicians and other speakers will be invited to talk at MAM at the parade end, but the organizers intend to keep that part of the event under 20 minutes. Once at MAM, there should be different areas of entertainment: photo booths for people to share the goings-on to social media, performers, poets.
“We need to lean in,” Walker said. “As we say at Jazz House Kids, ‘Rise and improvise.’”
The organizers are seeking help in every aspect of putting the march together, including production management and publicity.
Asked what the march would accomplish specifically, Walker said, “It’s a call to action. It puts pressure on our representatives.”
Miller said that this march can serve as a role model for rallies around the state: “So many issues get attention that the arts tend not to.
“This is a way to focus that attention on the arts.”
FRONT LINE FOR THE ARTS
Saturday, June 24, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Begins at Lackawanna Plaza, ends at Montclair Art Museum
Marchers encouraged to bring signs, wear costumes
For more information, email Jennifer at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 973-744-2273