At the JCC of Central New Jersey, in a basement room where little happened beyond occasional meetings and a Super Sunday blood drive, there is now creativity in all directions.
What was known as the Teen Lounge has been transformed into an art studio, complete with work tables, two big sinks, and storage cabinets. In the near future, there may also be kilns for firing pottery.
Children initiated the space this past week. Camp Yachad, the center’s summer program, brought in a steady stream of youngsters to paint and glue and plaster, with the enthusiastic guidance of art teachers and counselors.
Come September, a whole slew of day and evening classes will begin, offering introductory and advanced teaching in all kinds of media for adults and teens. There will also be a series of Sunday workshops that parents and children can take together.
Barak Hermann, the JCC’s executive director, showed a visitor the studio with an air of wonderment, delighted at how quickly this new entity has come into existence. “Isn’t it terrific?” he asked.
Some of the members, he said, began talking about the need for a place where people could come for art classes. The senior adults’ program provides art classes, held in the Weinberg room on the ground floor, but until now the center offered no other programs for those interested in visual arts. And there didn’t seem to be an available space to hold them.
But they noted that the basement room was underutilized. The Wilf family, who funded its initial furnishing and in whose honor it was named, readily agreed to a repurposing of the space — and work began just a few months ago.
The whole process has been led by Lesley Black-Vogel and Debbie Livingston, the artist-designers responsible for the aesthetics of the renovation the rest of the center underwent last year. Working with Amy Warsh, the director of Adult Arts and Education, and Sheri Finver, who handles graphic design for the center’s marketing and communications department, and a committee of likeminded people, they took the same approach used before — utilizing as many cost-saving measures as they could.
That has included grateful acceptance of a donation of solid wooden doors — effectively transformed into countertops, finished with a rounded edging. The Wilf family, Steve Needle, and Robin Plattman were among those who provided other furnishing and hardware. Vogel and Livingston brought their faux-painting skills to bear again, creating decorative panels of what looks like mosaic tiling, and Finver painted the art room logo — “Art and Soul at the J.”
“We hope the art classes will be an added incentive for people to come to the JCC, and for members to stay and do more here,” Livingston said.
The price of the classes — around $180 for members, 25 percent higher for non-members — will include materials; Sunday workshops — which will cover mosaics, tallit-decorating, and collage — will cost around $80, and the materials will be extra. But for all of them, the organizers say, the price will basically cover expenses rather than serving as an income generator for the center.
Hermann relishes new challenges like a gourmet relishes an innovative dish. “It’s like with the new performing arts program we’re offering this summer,” he said. “It opens up all kinds of fresh possibilities for our members.”
Livingston and Vogel said the materials used will be water-based and non-toxic, and the instructors will all have their own storage spaces, so supplies can be easily stashed away. What’s more, the room is set up in such a way that should there be a need to use it for meetings, like in the past, it can accommodate them just as well.