Vanguard founding artistic director Janeece Freeman Clark, left and managing director Jessica Sporn, say grant funding will help them operate their new theater safely, as well as run programs like a sleepaway camp. (Courtesy of Vanguard Theater Company)

By DIEGO JESUS BARTESAGHI MENA
bartesaghi@montclairlocal.news

Several of Montclair’s arts institutions and other organizations are opening back up to in-person activity — in some cases, for the first time since the start of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

In many cases, that’s being made possible by funding from the New Jersey State Council of the Arts, which awarded nearly $750,000 to 50 New Jersey nonprofit organizations through the COVID Critical Needs Program, to help the arts sector prepare for a full-scale recovery.

In Montclair, that included the Vanguard Theater Company, Montclair Art Museum, Montclair Film and Jazz House Kids




“Many New Jersey arts organizations have remained shuttered for the majority of the last year. While our community has adapted to offering virtual programming and limited in-person attendance, we cannot truly begin to rebuild until we can do what the arts do best — bring people together for a shared experience,” said Council of the Arts program officer Diane Felcyn, who spearheaded the program, said in announcement from the group. “By creating a grant program to support COVID-specific updates for physical venues and locations, we are helping organizations take the crucial step of creating a safe environment for audiences, artists, crew, and staff.”

Vanguard Theater

Vanguard Theater Company, which was awarded $18,900 through the COVID Critical Needs Program, just opened registration for its Summerstock Sleepaway and Day Camps, and is planning an opening for its new theater location on Bloomfield Avenue. The theater signed a lease for the Old Mogul Theatre in the Fourth Ward on March 1 of last year — just before the pandemic hit New Jersey. The theater rented other locations prior to that.

Jessica Sporn, Vanguard managing director, said the grant is “about equipping your venue to bring audiences in and helping them feel safe.” 

“One of the major upgrades is that the space did not have a ventilation system or HVAC system. So, we have to add a HVAC system with fresh air ventilation and so nothing can be circulated from inside. Everything is fresh from outside in,” Vanguard founding artistic director Janeece Freeman Clark said. “So that is a huge upgrade.”

The new space will also have automatic soap dispensers, self-flushing toilets and faucets, and hand-sanitizing stations throughout the venue.

“We have also purchased a significant number of plastic dividers,” Sporn said. “We will have tables so families can sit together and they will be divided by plastic partitions.” The theater will also use the grant to fund a COVID compliance consultant who can monitor any new guidance from the CDC.

The theater had also been awarded a $37,500 grant from the New Jersey Arts & Culture Recovery Fund of the Princeton Area Community Foundation for renovations at the new location.

Montclair Art Museum

Montclair Art Museum, which was awarded $20,000, has also made plans for in-person activities as well as its annual summer camp, which will open registration soon. 

“Last summer we hosted a virtual camp, but we are expecting a full in-person camp this summer,” Ira Wagner, museum executive director said. “There will be limited capacity. There will be frequent disinfection and cleaning of the space.”

The grant has allowed the museum to be able to open safely as well as to be able to open galleries for its upcoming exhibitions, he said.

The museum will bring outdoor tents for additional accommodation and will constantly test faculty to make sure everyone stays safe.

“Attendance has been growing since [the museum opened in September],” Wagner said. “In a recent weekend we had over 500 visitors.”

Montclair Film

Montclair Film, which was awarded $18,629, has reopened its 2021 Summer Academy, a year-round workshop serving middle and high school students and adults, currently scheduled to meet in-person starting in July. It has set protocols including requiring all students to bring completed health forms to each class. Parents are not allowed to enter the building and must wear masks if dropping their children off at the door. Montclair Film will continue offering virtual cinema as well.

Classes cover topics including filmmaking, improvisation, acting for film and television, video editing, working with visual effects, screenwriting and comedy writing

Jazz House Kids

Jazz House Kids, which was awarded $16,493, will continue its 2020-2021 Jazz classes for kids and adults. The youth program will be offered in three nine-week trimesters online with optional in-person jam sessions. The adult program will be a combination of online as well as in-person classes, but some classes will remain online.

Outpost in the Burbs

Several organizations other than the grant recipients are reopening as well.

Outpost in the Burbs, a non-profit organization dedicated to building community through music, public service and cultural programs, unveiled its 2021-2022 live and in-person concert line-up beginning September.

“We will open this fall, and our first show will be an outdoor concert at the Van Vleck House and Garden,” Gail Prusslin, head of promotion and marketing for Outpost, said. “We have a reopening committee and these are folks that have been following state guidelines and reviewing state and industry guidelines from the Event Safety Alliance.” The alliance describes itself as a “a non-profit membership driven organization dedicated to promoting ‘life safety first’ throughout all phases of event production and execution.”

Outpost’s committee hasn’t yet made a decision on the guidelines for the opening concert in September.

“We are still reviewing what we need to do. It is an evolving situation,” Prusslin said. “But we are working on looking at all aspects of the concert experience for the patrons, volunteers and the artist so that we will be ready to have people come to our venue in a way that is as safe as possible.” 

Yogi Berra Museum

The Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center will reopen its doors in the beginning of May.

The preparation for its reopening has taken place under the guidance of Sonny S. Patel, NIH Fogarty Global Health Scholar at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Pater has years of experience working with non-profit organizations as well as corporations and governments in over fifteen countries.  

The museum closed on March 13, 2020, reopened in September and then closed again at Thanksgiving when community coronavirus transmission rose.

According to Eve Schaenen, the museum’s executive director, engaging Patel gave the museum access to the most current scientific data and best practices to guide protocols to ensure everyone’s safety.

“Baseball is back, and so are we,” Schaenen said in a press release. “We’re so happy that we can welcome visitors in person again in a way that looks out for everyone’s health and well-being.

The museum said safety measures include advanced online admission purchase, limited hours and capacity and enhanced hygiene protocols. For this phase of reopening, the museum will be open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays only, with two visiting sessions per day at noon to 2 p.m., and 3 to 5 p.m. Face coverings are required for entry.

Representatives of all of the organizations said they will continue offering virtual activities for any patrons that are not comfortable engaging in in-person activities yet.