By LINDA MOSS
Arts groups in Montclair are discussing forming an alliance so they can pool their resources, to promote the town as a destination and to create a comprehensive calendar of events in the township.
In some ways, the envisioned group would take on part of the role 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.
In addition to advertising and marketing, an arts alliance could tackle the problem of finding affordable space for local nonprofit arts organizations to hold their events, according to Elaine Molinaro, chair of the township’s Arts Advisory Committee.
A second “visioning” meeting about a potential arts alliance will be held this Saturday, May 20, at 3 p.m. at the Culture Loft, 13 Montclair Ave. Molinaro has been leading the effort to explore possible models for a group that could act as an active advocate for the estimated 60 arts groups in town.
“There seems to be a continuing need for arts organizations to band together and jointly work together to strengthen arts communities,” she said. “There are some things they can do together that they can’t do for themselves, like joint marketing programs.”
Molinaro and Second Ward Councilwoman Robin Schlager started the municipality’s arts committee, a volunteer group, about two years ago. It doesn’t have a budget, and can merely make recommendations to the council and other local government bodies, according to Molinaro. In contrast, a formal alliance could secure funding to provide services to arts organizations by seeking money from not only the township but from the state and federal government, as well as corporate and individual donors, she said.
Depending on what local groups decide, the alliance could also raise funds by charging membership fees to organizations that join it, according to Molinaro.
Andre Weker, president of the Montclair Orchestra, has been involved in the talks about the potential alliance. He said that most arts groups in Montclair are nonprofits or are run by individuals, so many of them have limited resources. An arts alliance would connect artists of all disciplines — music, dance, theater, painting, film — in town, according to Weker.
“What’s awesome about Montclair is you have so many people caring about so many different issues,” said Israel Cronk, executive director of the Montclair Center Business Improvement District. “But there aren’t many people connecting the dots … I think it’s fantastic that somebody’s trying to bring them all together in one room and kind of have one voice.”
An arts alliance would offer other benefits, according to Weker.
“It also pools our resources, whether it’s potentially things like advertising, promotion, and getting the word out about the arts community in Montclair and continue to drive Montclair as an arts destination, as a complement to obviously what the Montclair Film Festival and the Montclair Art Museum are doing,” he said.
One of Montclair’s biggest needs is to establish an online listing of all the arts, cultural and entertainment events happening in the municipality, according to Molinaro. The Montclair Arts Council had a website, Destination Montclair, that had served that purpose but no longer exists, Molinaro said.
A long-term goal for an arts alliance would be to craft a strategy to secure affordable space for arts organizations of all kinds to use for their events, according to Molinaro. She pointed out that several theater groups, including Luna Stage and 12 Miles West, have left Montclair.
“I believe it was due to rising rents,” she said.
The redevelopment plan for Seymour Street, adjacent to the Wellmont Theater, sets aside a public plaza and 10,000 square feet indoors for arts and entertainment use. But Molinaro said it appears the interior space will be for a tenant that can pay market-rate rents, which isn’t affordable for local nonprofits.
“If there was more visibility with a group of artists, such as an alliance, I think perhaps that future projects (like Seymour Street), might be a bit more practical, hopefully,” said Mia Riker-Norrie, general director of Opera Theatre of Montclair.
Molinaro has been advocating for a flexible local performance space that could be used for theatrical productions, concerts and art exhibits and other events.
“Probably one not-for-profit could not program a space like that 52 weeks a year, but a groups of arts organizations could probably work together and program a space for most of a year,” Molinaro said.
The township arts advisory committee held a forum in December on promoting the arts that started the dialogue about an alliance, according to Molinaro. A Montclair arts alliance could form its own tax-exempt nonprofit or put itself under the auspices of one, she said, and decide if it would require fees to join.
“Ultimately it’s up to the arts organizations in town and whether they feel like they want to pay membership dues to an alliance that could provide services that could be of value to them,” Molinaro said. “So that’s what we’re going to look at. My hope is yes.”
The Montclair Art Museum appears to have an open mind about an arts alliance.
“The museum supports all efforts to collaborate and enhance Montclair as an arts and culture destination and MAM Director Lora Urbanelli has attended recent meetings of the Montclair Arts Advisory Committee,” said Catherine Mastrangelo, the museum’s assistant director of marketing and communications.