The artist has one function–to affirm and glorify life. Art is not a mirror held up to reality, but a hammer with which to shape it. The purpose of art is to lay bare the questions that have been concealed by the answers. A lot of suits in power believe that the arts are important and that’s far from being truthful. When our ancestors stated that it takes a village to raise a child, that’s just the tip of a very large, and solid, iceberg.
Thank goodness that the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC), a non-profit multidisciplinary performing arts center, and one of the nation’s largest arts education providers, announced the creation of the Colton Institute for Research and Training in the Arts.
Building on NJPAC’s unique focus on arts education as a means of learning, empowerment, and social and emotional development, the Colton Institute will be devoted to pedagogic research, curriculum creation, teacher training, and pre-professional workforce development.
Made possible by a generous $10 million donation from Judy and Stewart Colton to support arts education programming and research into new arts training techniques, the Colton Institute will enable the Arts Center’s continued growth as a national leader in advancing 21st-century arts education.
NJPAC’s dedication to arts education began more than 25 years ago – prior to the opening of the Arts Center’s campus in 1997. It now offers more than 3,000 arts education classes, residencies and workshops each season, reaching more than 100,000 students and families.
With the Colton Institute, the first-ever research hub and incubator within a performing arts center, NJPAC will have access to a research staff that will allow the Arts Center to devise ongoing metrics, including both qualitative and quantitative criteria, to study the efficacy of its curricular and pedagogical approaches.
The Colton Institute will also increase the Arts Center’s education offerings and advance its services for students – many of whom come from economically disadvantaged circumstances – including mentorship and field training, creating a pathway for college and career opportunities in the performing arts, whether onstage, behind the scenes, or in administrative offices.
The Colton Institute’s work will also allow NJPAC to:
Expand its most effective arts education and teacher-training programs to reach more students;
Develop a more comprehensive arts training experience for teachers and professionals;
Identify research agendas and, working in tandem with a team of professional researchers, study and consistently analyze the impact of the Arts Center’s arts education work;
Continue to develop NJPAC’s rigorous training for its arts education faculty, enabling the Arts Center to ensure consistent knowledge and pedagogical practices for all its teaching artists;
Develop and disseminate learnings and tested curricula to other performing arts centers, educators, and the field at-large on a national level.
“The arts are inherently linked to 21st-century skills such as collaboration, creative problem solving, critical thinking, and global and cultural awareness. The Colton Institute will allow NJPAC to expand and enhance programs that advance those skills and help our students use them to take the next steps on their journeys. I’m incredibly grateful to the Colton’s for their acknowledgment and generous support of this mission,” said John Schreiber, President, and CEO, NJPAC.
In addition to direct arts skills training, NJPAC’s performing arts education methods center students’ voices and perspectives as the driver of the art-making experience across genres, benefitting the whole child. Surrounding students with supportive care and fostering creativity by providing young people with the skills, tools, and space to tell their own authentic stories, the practice is built around a student-first “maker” philosophy.
The work is supported by coaching based on individual students’ interests that builds confidence and amplifies skills and performance training with mentoring programs that emphasize education, professional development, and social and emotional well-being. Through this work, enabled by more than 150 teaching artists, the Arts Center has continually inspired growth and creativity among its students in diverse communities throughout New Jersey, as well as globally through its expansive digital offerings.
“This gift is especially personal for us. One of our grandchildren participated in NJPAC’s arts education programs, and we have seen firsthand how transformational that experience can be,” said Judy and Stewart Colton.
“As Arts Center patrons over many seasons and volunteer leaders engaged in NJPAC’s evolving education work, we wholeheartedly believe in the vision and the objectives of the Institute.”
“We see our students discovering things about themselves they didn’t know before. Just watching them open up and change after being a part of some of these workshops is fascinating,” said jazz violinist Regina Carter, a MacArthur “Genius” Fellow, composer, bandleader, NJPAC Board member, and one of the Arts Center’s teaching artists. Importantly, Ms. Carter is also the Artistic Director of the annual Geri Allen Jazz Camp at the Arts Center, a unique training and mentorship initiative for young jazz musicians identifying as female and non-binary.
“Even if they don’t become professional musicians, these experiences help them to be better listeners, better communicators. They learn how to work together, how to become really good problem-solvers. I know they’ll be better at working as part of a team after this, no matter what careers they pursue,” Carter added.
For decades, NJPAC has offered access to the arts to children in Pre-K through high school classrooms, via live performances in its theaters, and through its own on-campus arts training programs. In addition to developing new programs within the Colton Institute, the Arts Center will continue and expand its current offerings, including its Creative Coaching mentorship program for students seeking to continue in the arts field beyond high school, and Saturday and summer arts training-from Wells Fargo Jazz for Teens to In the Mix, NJPAC’s social justice arts program. The Arts Center will also increase its use of social workers who participate in all NJPAC arts education programs, providing mental and emotional support to students, as well as its professional development for classroom teachers, resource guides for educators, and On the Mic podcasts for students connected to NJPAC’s SchoolTime Performance series.
“The arts play an undeniable role in the development of children, creating cultural citizens who have knowledge, compassion, and tangible skills to better understand themselves and others which equip them to contribute to society in meaningful ways,” said Jennifer Tsukayama, Vice President, Arts Education, NJPAC. “With Judy and Stewart Colton’s meaningful gift, the research institute affords us the opportunity to assess the impact and effectiveness of NJPAC’s teaching, learning philosophies, and programs.”
For more information on NJPAC, its education programs, and ongoing initiatives, please visit www.njpac.org.