3 min read March 2023 — Invest: spoke with Talia Young, CEO of Newark Symphony Hall, about her goals to create equity and access in the performing arts. Newark Symphony Hall continues to be a pillar in Newark and New Jersey through programming, partnership and philanthropy. “Our focus is to be a stronger center of the arts and an anchor institution in growing community that could further thrive with the proper investments and capital,” Young said.
How would you describe Newark Symphony Hall and what are your priorities?
Newark Symphony Hall is New Jersey’s oldest and largest arts and entertainment venue and has been the home of almost a century of arts and culture. I joined the board in 2014 because of my admiration for the institution’s impact on the community. While other arts venues in the area may be more widely recognized globally, Newark Symphony Hall is a thriving venue that hosts the biggest names in the business while also nurturing those on their way up. Newark Symphony Hall holds quite a legacy based on its love and support for the arts – that love continues to motivate what we do every day.
Newark Symphony Hall is part of the Newark Performing Arts Corporation, and the city is moving toward investing in access to these opportunities. We focus on all the city’s performing arts programs and have an open door for artist residencies. We house dance, theater, music, and other performances here. The building has four floors that consist of various venues, such as a dance studio, a black box theater and, of course, the historic Sarah Vaughan Concert Hall. We also have a ballroom for large galas and shows. We house residencies and performing arts programming to increase access to those arts.
The organization is currently in a transition period. We are leaning into a different perspective, focusing on three themes: Art is Impact, Art is Service and Art is Now.
The first mission is to make an impact by elevating the Newark Arts & Education District to attract talent. We intend to do that by facilitating membership in the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Moving Picture Technicians, Artists and Allied Crafts of the United States, Its Territories and Canada (IATSE) union to create more attractive employment opportunities. We also aim to create substantial opportunities to support local small businesses and create jobs for residents.
Through “Art is Service,” our mission is to serve the performing arts community — particularly artists and performers of color — by creating access to the arts via artistic employment, education and career advancement. In addition, we will increase our philanthropic efforts to ensure our community has access to fresh food, produce and winter clothing needs.
Our organization wants to solidify Newark Symphony Hall as a preeminent destination for cultural expression, becoming the stage for artists to share new creative works. Our “ Art is Now” mission is to elevate the first stage of Newark to its full potential as a cultural asset and economic cornerstone. We aim to grow our membership base to include a broader audience, both geographically and demographically. These efforts will stimulate economic development and deliver artistic excellence and improved quality of life in New Jersey’s cultural capital.
How does investment in the arts translate to greater access?
At Newark Symphony Hall, we are creating a platform to look for that access. We have a capital infusion from two state appropriations, and we plan to re-energize the facility. We are looking at our core values and revenues to identify our capital needs and strategically figure out how to keep growing. The capital received in the last two years was a huge step, but we now want to create a narrative and a team to meet these opportunities. That is where our focus is today.
As we approach our 100th anniversary, we are focused on meeting the fiscal structure of our building so that we can stabilize the organization for the future. Our mission is to enhance the facility to offer more programming and activations. This will help to achieve access to different types of art and cultures. We aim to be a more robust center of the arts and an anchor institution in a growing community that could thrive with the proper investments and capital.
What was 2022 like from a programming standpoint?
In 2022, Newark Symphony Hall had a good balance of grassroots programming and online activations as people were still cautious about coming out in big groups post-pandemic. Our approach was to focus on our base first so that we could start engagement. We could engage finance and capital with that strategy to renovate and innovate.
The approach to the arts and creative placemaking is ever evolving and has changed. It is not always a direct go-to in one format, so we must explore that. Artists are approaching the idea of murals, pop-ups and online concerts to achieve a balance and broader reach. We can provide space to connect with that varied programming. We recently hosted a global dance competition from South Africa, and we worked to leverage it so that we could meet the need.
What is the importance of the theater in the community?
Newark Symphony Hall is on the southern end of the Arts District in Newark, and, more importantly, we are the first thing you see on South Broad Street. This is primarily a Black and Hispanic community that is growing — 700 new housing units will be going up right across the street by 2024— so we need to understand what quality of life looks like. Where does the community sleep, shop or find entertainment? Understanding the market players and zoning rules is important to achieving this.
We try to connect with other corporations that share our values, but we can’t always rely on that. We want to be an anchor of the community, so we need to take everything into our view. We don’t want a one-phase partnership but an integrated and organic one that flourishes over time. We would never engage in a one-sided, one-time approach. We are a nonprofit with for-profit objectives, so we need a multifaceted, sustainable relationship.
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