PLAINFIELD, NJ - After a 19-month search, the Board of Directors at Plainfield's duCret School of Art has appointed Stephen Epstein as the new Executive Director for the school.
A New Jersey native, Epstein is from the New Brunswick area and is currently pursuing his doctorate in Education, Culture and Society at Rutgers University. As Executive Director, Epstein will be responsible for the overall management of the school administration, programs, and the strategic plan of the organization, as well as fundraising, marketing, and community outreach.
TAPinto Plainfield stopped by the school to get acquainted with Epstein.
Welcome to Plainfield! How did you become acquainted with duCret School of Art?
I was working with other non-profits and I have always been an appreciator of the Arts. I came across the position and felt qualified with my background, and so I researched the school. I saw a lot of potential here, so I sent in my resume and one thing led to another. It was a good opportunity.
So you mentioned previous work with a non-profit but this is also a school. How does your background tie in?
My background is very varied, but I worked in the Newark Mayor’s Office of Comprehensive Community Education as a Policy Associate, and the schools were under state control at the time. So we worked with the school districts and the Newark Teachers Union to start community school projects and make them district-wide.
And while I was there I started my doctorate program at Rutgers in Education, and got teaching experience as a Teacher’s Assistant. I also did a lot of research on teachers unions while I was getting my Masters in Labor Management. So I have always been around teachers and education in some respect, and coming into a school like this was not difficult.
What has the Board tasked you with? And how do you plan to accomplish that task?
I report to the Board and the main goal is stability – how do we create a plan going forward to create stability and plan for the future. In the beginning there will be a time to evaluate. We have to evaluate what is currently going on, and then go from there and build upon the things we do well and market them. Then we can branch out and get grants, all while creating the most stable environment that we can.
We have considered a lot of creative new ideas, mostly to get more bodies into the building, like wine and paint nights, art therapy and many more. We have to be stable and build upon what we have.
We are in an old building so there are a lot of challenges, but we are pushing forward with some of the improvements and we are ready to get started with renovations. Plans are in place, we have permits, and contractors are lined up. Most of what we do is through grants and donations. We are excited to get it started and it will make the facility more inviting.
In assessing the current environment, what do you think is the biggest challenge is?
Everyone says that Plainfield is New Jersey’s best kept secret, so for me the challenge is how we market ourselves to get the word out there and not be a secret anymore. Setting up the infrastructure is key so we can market ourselves. We are a very small operation here but we have a few collaborations coming up with other non-profit organizations to use the space which will draw lots of people from both in and outside of Plainfield.
During the Union County’s Four Centuries weekend in October we will be hosting a Blues & BBQ event and we are looking forward to that.
There is a lot of potential for the grounds itself to host events like a farmers market as the overall facility is improved. But we are looking at several different marketing plans.
What are the plans for growing the school and the curriculum?
Classes have just started and registration has increased over last year. We plan to heavily promote our teaching staff; many of them are amazing artists with incredible backgrounds. We plan to expand our teacher base and add new classes such as the Aerosol Art that we introduced earlier this summer.
We need to break the stereotype for Art which may not be as appealing. Art can be used in so many ways for therapy and is much more than just traditional art. A lot of people are not aware of these niches.
What type of marketing are you doing in Plainfield?
I have started to meet with businesses that will place our brochures and information and help promote our events. We plan to team up with a new local coffee shop in town that is interested in displaying student art in their shop. So working with new businesses to promote to the community is beneficial.
We are applying for grants to do after school programs, and hope to team up with the school district. We have also done professional development with teaching organizations in other communities.
How are you marketing to the younger students?
We are considering offering more weekend classes and after school programs to get the kids more excited as more programs are targeting STEM. We are trying to determine the biggest need for the area and expand from there.
Reaching out to the local art community is high on the list and we are even considering a high school art show.
Is there anything else you would like our readers to know about you?
My door is always open to suggestions and I want people to know that duCret’s door is open for them no matter what; we can find something to cater to everyone.
Board Chair Timothy Priano commented to TAPinto Plainfield, “We are truly excited. duCret is moving forward by having a youthful Director to move the school and organization into the future. We have had 93 years of staying the course but we need new, innovative ways to bring students into the building.”
About duCret School of Art: Founded in 1926, the duCret School of Art is the oldest arts school in New Jersey. For 93 years duCret has nurtured many local artists as well as art collectors. The studio-based classroom experience enables students to study basics in composition, design and color theory and to prepare their own professional portfolio. The duCret building in Plainfield, NJ was originally built in 1896 by the George Strong. Since duCret’s purchase of the building in 1977 the house has been a site for the preservation and promotion of fine art.
TAPintoPlainfield.net is Plainfield's free online daily newspaper for Plainfield, NJ news. Sign up for our daily eNews and follow us on Facebook, Twitter @PlainfieldTAP, and on Instagram @tapintoplainfield for all of your Plainfield local news.