"Godfather of Funk" George Clinton danced into the audience at the conclusion of the Women@NJPAC Spotlight Gala concert. Credit: Photo courtesy of NJPAC

More than 800 guests filled NJPAC’s Prudential Hall on Saturday, October 1, as the Arts Center hosted its first in-person Women@NJPAC Spotlight Gala in three years. The annual fundraiser drew arts lovers, Newark advocates and NJPAC supporters together to celebrate the Arts Center’s 25th anniversary season and to raise $2.2 million for NJPAC’s extensive arts education and community engagement programs.
The event, titled The Possible Dream, featured beloved New Jersey stars including the “Godfather of Funk” George Clinton (performing with GRAMMY-winner and NJPAC Jazz Advisor Christian McBride), legendary chart-topper Dionne Warwick, GRAMMY and Academy Award-winner Regina Belle, Broadway’s Tony-winning star Laura Benanti, and tap phenom Savion Glover (the Arts Center’s Dance Advisor), and rising artists with Garden State roots including Wé McDonald of NBC’s hit show The Voice, and acclaimed keyboardist Matthew Whitaker (a graduate of NJPAC’s Arts Education programs). All performed under the direction of Ray Chew, of ABC’s Dancing with the Stars.
The stars of tomorrow also took center stage, as the headliners were joined in concert by students and alumni of NJPAC’s Arts Education programs. Several of the featured alumni subsequently studied at Berklee College of Music in BostonLili M. on piano, Ricky Persaud Jr. on guitar, Liany Mateo on bass, Jalin Shiver on saxophone, Alan Hsiao on trombone, Henry Spencer on drums and vocalist Lucy Yeghiazaryan jammed alongside the stars, and stepped into the spotlight by themselves to deliver a jazz-infused take on “My Funny Valentine.” More young musicians were highlighted as the STAX Music Academy Rhythm Section and Alumni Band of Memphis, Tennessee performed during the Gala’s cocktail hour and after-party.
“Twenty-five years, 11 million visitors, and two million students into this unlikely enterprise, we are excited about what’s next,” said NJPAC’s President and CEO John Schreiber, near the conclusion of the performance.
The event also honored humanitarian Ray Chambers, NJPAC’s Founding Board Chairmanand his familyfor their decades of support for the Arts Center. The Chambers family was presented with the Arts Center’s Founders Award, and lauded by dignitaries including former Governor Tom Kean and Prudential Financial Chairman and CEO Charles Lowrey. A video highlighting the family’s humanitarian work was presented, narrated by U.S. Senator Cory Booker.
“Ray and his family are those rare individuals who see the future as it could be, and work like heck to make it happen,” said Kean.
Other tributes were offered in person by those who benefited from scholarship programs the Chambers family supported, or who were personally mentored by Ray Chambers, including the incoming CEO of the KIPP Foundation, Shavar Jeffries, the President of The Prudential Foundation, Shané Harris, and Managing Partner at Newark Venture Partners, Vaughn Crowe.
“With Ray, the impossible becomes possible — and the audacious becomes inevitable,” Harris said.
The evening also offered a glimpse at the Arts Center’s plans for the future, which include the construction of the Cooperman Family Arts Education and Community Center across the street from NJPAC’s theaters; the redevelopment of NJPAC’s campus into a neighborhood of apartments, stores, restaurants and cultural venues; the redesign of Chambers Plaza in NJPAC’s front yard, to create more public park space and allow for outdoor public events year-round; the establishment of partnerships with community organizations throughout all Five Wards of Newark; the launch of a new initiative focused on arts and well-being programs that promote community health; and the establishment of the Lionsgate Newark film and television production studio in the city’s South Ward.
“As New Jersey’s anchor cultural institution, all that we do at NJPAC is in service to our community. We’re here to help make our city and state a better, healthier, culturally richer place, however we can,” said Schreiber.

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