By LINDA MOSS
Local arts groups have decided to go ahead and band together to form the Montclair Arts Alliance, which will be hosting its kickoff event later this month and is looking for a permanent venue for its members to share.
Led by Elaine Molinaro, the alliance has incorporated as a nonprofit, a 501(c)3, creating an arts-service organization for Montclair-area arts organizations and artists.
The alliance’s goals and mandates will go well beyond the functions of the now-defunct Montclair Arts Council, whose operations essentially came to an end in 2010 after the Township Council cut off its funding in a belt-tightening measure. For example, the new alliance is in talks with the United Way of Northern New Jersey to use its auditorium on South Fullerton Avenue as an arts center, space that local arts groups can share and use for their performances and events, Molinaro said.
Earlier this year Molinaro, artistic director of Montclair-based Culture Connection Theater, held several “visioning” meetings with representatives of local arts organizations to discuss creating a group that will find not only find a space for its members to share but also pool resources to promote Montclair as an arts destination; act as an advocate for its members; and create a comprehensive calendar of events taking place in the township.
Those are tasks that are beyond the scope of the municipal Montclair Arts Advisory Committee, a volunteer group that Molinaro chairs and that serves as a liaison between the local arts community and the council. The arts committee had proposed doing a township-wide arts festival to the council, but it was clear that funds would have to be raised to produce such an event – something the committee of volunteers couldn’t do but an arts nonprofit could, Molinaro said.
The Montclair alliance has formed a board, with Molinaro as president. The other board members are vice president Mia Riker-Norrie, general director and founder of the Opera Theatre of Montclair; treasurer Ian Finnell, a member of the Montclair Arts Advisory Committee; secretary Kathryn Osborne of the Union Congregational Players; and member at-large Julienne Pape of Montclair Early Music.
The Montclair Arts Alliance is modeled after groups such as ART New York (the Alliance of Resident Theatres) in New York City, the Downtown Brooklyn Arts Alliance and the South Jersey Cultural Alliance, according to Molinaro.
The alliance is just starting its effort to recruit members.
“We’re still working on getting a PayPal button on our website,” Molinaro said.
The alliance first big event and priority is the arts festival from Nov. 29 to Dec. 2, where more than 25 groups have lined up to participate, according to Molinaro.
But the alliance has already sprung into action to help local arts groups. The Westminster Arts Center at Bloomfield College recently, and suddenly, announced that it was shutting down for a year in January, putting arts groups who used it as a venue in the lurch, Molinaro said.
Molinaro heard about what happened through a group that was taking part in the festival, and arranged an emergency conference call last week with some of the groups who had scheduled their seasons at Westminster to try to help them find new venues.The 4th Wall Theatre, a group that started in Montclair and was in the township for many years, most recently was performing at Westminster.
That’s part of the arts alliance’s role, to share resources and “have an active network of artists,” Molinaro said.
Once the festival is over, going into next year, the alliance’s big goal is to find performance space, possibly at the United Way building. That’s where the arts festival is being held.
“We are in talks with the United Way about forming an arts center there in the auditorium at some point if we have the funders, come on – corporate funders, and foundation funders and individual and government,” Molinaro said. “And we could renovate that space. It’s in need of some renovations.”
The alliance held two open houses in October at the United Way for arts groups to show them the space and talk about the alliance, Molinaro said.
“We’ve been in discussions with members of the arts community as well as local leaders to learn about the needs of the community,” United Way CEO John Franklin said in an email. “We are still in the early phases of exploring the possibilities, but we are excited by the opportunity to help address a growing need for performance space in Montclair.”
It was Molinaro who put Riker-Norrie in contact with the United Way this fall when St. Luke’s Episcopal Church suddenly told the opera company that it no longer use space at the hours of worship for its performances.
One of the alliance’s goals is to create a comprehensive online listing of arts events in Montclair, and it is talking to web developers about that project, Molinaro said.
“That’s a big project,” she said.
The alliance has established a sliding scale, based on the budget of an arts organization, for its membership fees, Molinaro said.
For Montclair-based nonprofit organizations and arts associations dues for next year are: $150 for those with budgets less than $100,000; $200 for those with budgets from $100,000 to $249,999; $250 for those with budgets of $250,000 and $499,999; $300 for those with budgets of $500,000 to $999,999; and $350 for those with budgets of $1 million or more.