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After 10 Years, South Jersey Performing Arts Center Closes

The South Jersey Performing Arts Center (Camden, NJ), which opened in 1995 as part of the waterfront revitalization of Camden, will suspend operations at the end of the fiscal year, June 30, 2005.

The South Jersey Performing Arts Center (Camden, NJ), which opened in 1995 as part of the waterfront revitalization of Camden, will suspend operations at the end of the fiscal year, June 30, 2005. The Board of Trustees voted today to suspend operations, the final performance of which was May 16. Government leaders have recommended elimination of SJPAC’s direct state funding in anticipation of the state budget deficit in the upcoming fiscal year.

“The Board of Trustees deeply regrets this course of action,” said board chairman James E. Verzella, “but we cannot continue a viable operation without the state funding. We are proud of our accomplishments and the considerable contributions that SJPAC has made to the quality of life in the city of Camden. Board members fervently hope the gap that SJPAC’s suspension leaves will be filled in some way, so that the under-served citizens of Camden do not suffer yet another loss.”

Since 2002, South Jersey Performing Arts Center has endeavored to move beyond the challenges of its Tweeter Center base to present performances in other venues more conducive to the performing arts, such as the Gordon Theater at Rutgers, the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Collingswood’s Scottish Rite Auditorium and Temple Emanuel in Cherry Hill.

For the just-concluded 2004-05 season, SJPAC entered into a comprehensive presenting partnership with Rutgers-Camden Center for the Arts (RCCA). CityArts On Stage, as the partnership was titled, allowed the two organizations to co-present all of their touring artists and school matinee programs, reallocating the monies saved into additional marketing and audience development. Rutgers is expected to continue some scaled-back version of CityArts On Stage without SJPAC starting in the fall.

From the beginning, SJPAC faced unique challenges with its location and structure. In recent years, the non-profit presenting and arts outreach organization had made significant progress in creating new programs, building audiences and establishing community relationships, but as the first public-private partnership of its kind, it remained dependent on major state funding.

SJPAC, in addition to its presentation of national and international touring artists, also sponsored artist residencies in Camden and regional schools. Staff, under the direction of Mark Fields since July 2002, developed several new programs, including a unique arts introduction experience for children, ArtSafari, which provided access to a range of performing and visual arts in a family setting. Its latest enterprise, A Camden Christmas Carol, was to be the creation of a new stage adaptation of Dickens’ holiday classic set in Camden. That project received a three-year, $310,000 grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation in December 2004; SJPAC is working with the Foundation to continue the project.

SJPAC opened in 1996 with a performance by the Haddonfield Symphony and violinist Itzak Perlman. Since then, the organization has brought many talented and prominent artists to perform in Camden, including pianist Leon Bates; singers Michael Feinstein and Ben Vereen; gospel performers Richard Smallwood and Fred Hammond; Puerto Rico’s leading folk band, Plena Libre; jazz artists Cyrus Chestnut and Preservation Hall Jazz Band; Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and Samm-Art Williams’ Home; comedy acts Second City and MacHomer; St. Petersburg Ballet’s Giselle and Harlem Nutcracker; and family programs Russian-America Kids Circus and Fred Garbo Inflatable Theatre; and the string sensation Bowfire.

SJPAC also hosted numerous matinee performances for local school children featuring renowned children’s companies such as Kennedy Center Imagination Station, Mermaid Theatre of Nova Scotia and Theatre IV, as well as New Jersey-based Pushcart Players, ArtsPower and New Jersey Shakespeare Festival.

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