The NJ Arts & Culture Renewal Fund is celebrating its second year of making a difference


Originally published: 11/22/2022

(LAWRENCEVILLE, NJ) — The New Jersey Arts and Culture Renewal Fund (NJACRF), hosted by the Princeton Area Community Foundation and established at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, has been a life-saving initiative for many of the state’s arts, culture and history nonprofits. The fund has prioritized support for small and medium-sized organizations led and/or serving by Black, Indigenous and Colored People (BIPOC) who have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

The New Jersey Arts and Culture Renewal Fund is an unprecedented collaboration between private and public donors. It has awarded grants to 185 organizations representing all counties in the state in four funding rounds that began in January 2021.

The fund recently received a $1.5 million grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to support the fund’s grantmaking efforts. The fund provides grants to organizations that contribute to cultural justice and community well-being, which aligns with the goals of philanthropy at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The fund has also received significant support from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts.

On November 17, 2022, a round of New Jersey Arts and Culture Renewal grants totaling $2.2 million was announced, with grants going to 96 organizations. These grants ranged from $1,500 to $50,000 with an average grant award of $23,000. The full list can be found here. This brings the fund’s total grants to over $6.7 million since its inception in 2020.

Major contributors include the New Jersey Pandemic Relief Fund, the Grunin Foundation, Merck, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, the Prudential Foundation, the Wallace Foundation, and Amazon.

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An early donation from the Grunin Foundation was a catalyst for other foundations and institutions to join in supporting the fund.

“The New Jersey Arts and Culture Renewal Fund launched two years ago as the RECOVERY Fund to help arts, culture and history organizations survive the COVID pandemic. We have now transformed into a RENEWAL fund, focused on the resilience and future of the sector as its needs change and evolve,” said Jeremy Grunin, Co-Chair of the Fund’s Steering Committee. “This sector is vital to our social and emotional well-being – it keeps us connected, promotes unity and improves mental health. Through equitable grant allocation, the New Jersey Arts and Culture Renewal Fund helps smaller arts, culture and history organizations thrive during difficult times, which in turn has a positive impact on the entire New Jersey community.”

“In this round of our grants, the New Jersey Arts and Culture Renewal Fund received applications totaling $5.8 million, indicating the great need that still exists among arts and cultural organizations across the state,” said Sharnita C. Johnson, Vice President of Strategy. Impact & Communication at the Victoria Foundation. “The New Jersey Arts and Culture Renewal Fund directly addresses injustices and historical disparities in funding and intentionally fills the resource gap,” she added.

As we continue to recover from the devastating effects of the pandemic, a simple but important fact has emerged: arts and culture are a critical part of our humanity, important to our well-being, and play a critical role in our economy and its recovery. However, the pandemic has also brought to light the immense vulnerability of the sector and compounded the injustices faced by organizations serving marginalized communities still struggling to stay afloat.

“Smaller arts and culture organizations make a huge contribution to the community well-being of our society,” said Lynne Toye, executive director of the New Jersey Arts and Culture Renewal Fund. “They offer spaces for more social cohesion by offering opportunities to meet, engage with culture and bridge cultural differences.” This is particularly important in parts of the country without a large “anchor facility”. “We found that these organizations serve multiple functions, including after-school enrichment, art and history education, entertainment, and community connection,” Toye continued.

Three organizations that were part of the initial rounds of funding underscore the critical role the fund has played in enabling everyone to continue delivering important life-changing programs and services.

The Vanguard Theater Company, a black-run performing arts organization in Montclair, New Jersey, was able to complete its theater renovation and resume its educational program for children and youth early in the pandemic thanks to support from the New Jersey Arts and Culture Renewal Fund. “Children have suffered in so many ways over the past two and a half years. We were able to offer them a safe place to reconnect and return to a sense of normality,” said Janeece Freeman Clark, founding artistic director of the Vanguard Theater Company. “Theatre offers a unique outlet for self-expression,” she continued. Since the pandemic, her program content has expanded to meet the socio-emotional and mental health needs of the young people she serves.

“We are so grateful for the continued support of the New Jersey Arts and Culture Renewal Fund, which allows us to offer affordable artist studios and free workshops,” said Asiyah Kurtz, executive director of Camden FireWorks. Camden FireWorks is a black-run, community-based arts organization in Camden’s Waterfront South area. Her mission is to bring about social change through art. “Participation in our workshops and events has increased steadily over the past two years and we are seeing greater generational participation,” she added. A recently opened art exhibition attracted over 200 people, the largest crowd ever.

Atlantic City’s MudGirls Studios, a shelter-based pottery initiative founded by designer Dorrie Papademetriou that combines her passion for design and social change, has continued to transform the lives of countless underprivileged women. The women who make up MudGirls’ growing workforce have found purpose, opportunity, education and empowerment. Many of the women involved have gained financial stability with the skills they have been taught through the sale of their prized goods. The training they receive and the community they enjoy in the studio boosts their self-esteem and has helped them overcome and overcome a variety of health and life challenges.

Led by Lynne Toye, Executive Director, and an 11-strong steering committee of leaders in the arts, culture and philanthropy, the New Jersey Arts and Culture Renewal Fund has provided significant support and impacted the sector’s sustainable recovery. By distributing funds fairly, it has brought a spotlight on the important work of smaller, more local organizations and the value they bring to people in underserved communities.

The New Jersey Arts and Culture Renewal Fund was created by a coalition of New Jersey funders aiming to ensure a coordinated approach to supporting the sector with a commitment to equity in grantmaking. The New Jersey Arts and Culture Renewal Fund provides financial support to catalyze an equitable nationwide recovery and build cultural sector resilience. The fund is hosted by the Princeton Area Community Foundation.

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