Integration through the Arts supports creative, sustainable communities by using the arts to bring together people of different races and cultural backgrounds and to build authentic relationships across racial boundaries. The goals of the program are: 1) to use the arts to pull down the barriers of cultural and social segregation between residents of different races 2) to provide high-quality arts experiences for residents 3) to provide for collaborative associations between professional artists as well as an opportunity for these artists to share their talents locally.
Integration through the Arts began in 1999 with Two Towns-One Book—a community-wide book reading followed by a forum with the author. In 2003, we created Two Towns-the Play—a theatrical project about experiences of race in this community that was written by local, professional writers and performed by professional actors for the community at Seton Hall University. We have used the dramatic arts also in some of our Conversations on Race forums; using techniques similar to those of Playback Theater, we collected stories of racial situations from community members and, with a troupe of 4-5 racially diverse, professional actors, performed improvisations before an audience who then engaged in open, honest, and challenging dialogue in response.
In 2005, with a grant from the American Composers Forum, the Coalition engaged composer Janet Albright for our Two Towns in Harmony project to develop an original piece of music that reflected the integration culture of our towns. The performance of An American Dale, Becoming A Place for All People brought together hundreds of musicians for a large-scale community performance and resulted in new artistic collaborations, including the establishment of the Voices in Harmony choral group.
Since those early efforts, Integration through the Arts has grown to include photography, choral, dance, and poetry workshops, plus some amazing children’s theater productions (for details, see below). These programs have been supported by a yearly grant from the NJ State Council on the Arts through the Essex County Division of Cultural and Historical Affairs since 2006. Additional support has come from the Puffin Foundation, as well as local foundations including Fraentzel and Burgdorff. We thank them for their support of our vision of the arts as a means of fostering racial integration!
These productions use opera, other music forms, dance, and dramatic readings to teach the value of racial inclusiveness. In 2011, we presented a musical presentation of Green Eggs & Ham and a reading of The Sneetches. These stories were a great way to get kids thinking about fairness, discrimination, and how to work together to solve problems. In 2012 we produced a version of Aida that captivated young children with creative story-telling combined with excerpts from the original Verdi score. In 2013, we offered the Robert Kapilow musical version of Gertrude McFuzz, a story which demonstrates how accepting our differences can be the source of our strength and success, and Stand Tall Molly Lou Melon by Patty Lovell, a story about a little girl who is picked on because she looks different and how she manages to change people’s perceptions. The 2014 show was a musical production of two familiar stories told with a twist: The Zax, Dr. Seuss’ lesson on the consequences of not compromising, and Dvorak’s Rusalka –a Czech version of The Little Mermaid.
The concept for Through the Lens of Integration was capturing the artists’ vision of racial integration in our community. We offered free workshops with local professional photographers who covered digital photography basics, photo composition and evaluation criteria. Selected photos from the project were exhibited during the annual Artists Studio Tour and at the Maplewood 1978 Arts Center and the Pierro Gallery in South Orange. See some of the amazing photos here.
The 2016 project was Our Towns: What’s Your Story? This video project was intended to capture participants’ visions of their community or neighborhoods in a 90 – 120 second video. Workshops Local taught the basics of shooting and editing with smartphones.
Two Towns in Harmony-The Remix
In 2015 we celebrated the 10th anniversary of the “Two Towns in Harmony” concert that took place in July 2005 with two concerts that included children’s choir (grades 4 to 6), a Youth Dance ensemble (ages 12 to 18), the Voices in Harmony chorus, the Columbia High School Excelsior Choir, Columbia High School Special Dance, New World Music group Wogbledoe, the South Orange Symphony Orchestra, and members of Maplewood Community Music and the Maplewood Glee Club. Read more here and get links to videos.
We have convened both reading and writing groups in a variety of formats. For Two Towns, Many Stories several short stories plus selected chapters from a non-fiction book were the featured selections for the 2015 Two Towns – One Book series. The short stories had a common theme of the challenges that arise when trying to navigate across racial and ethnic boundaries. The 2013 Strength through Diversity book-making project was a multidisciplinary, community effort that included haiku writing, photography and collage to create an artistic book about our community life. The 2014 Story Door project–Doors to New Pathways and Possibilities–was a multidisciplinary effort in which teams of artists painted, inscribed or otherwise embellished door panels to reflect the theme of racial integration. The community was invited to write their own stories to add to the doors at community events.