CAMDEN, NJ—A group of Camden arts organizations are coming together under one roof in Parkside with the hope that a collaborative space sparks the growth of the arts along Haddon Avenue.
The Parkside Business and Community in Partnership [PBCIP] has partnered with Urban Development Partners and three local arts organizations to open the Parkside Arts Pavilion in the former Laborers Local 222 building at 1366 Haddon Ave.
The 8,000-square-feet space, which is expected to be open in April, will house three arts organizations and a fashion design co-op — Superior Arts Institute, Camden Repertory Theatre, IDEA [Institute for the Development of Education in the Arts] and fashion designer Terina Nicole — and include a dance studio, black box theater, fashion studio and community conference room.
Bridgit Phifer, PBCIP executive director, envisions the space to also serve as an incubator for local, grassroots arts organizations that are without a home. Phifer said that the total cost of the project is around $325,000 and funded by Neighborhood Revitalization Tax Credit grants from 2017 and the PBCIP’s partner in the project, Urban Development Partners, who will own 70 percent.
“We see this as an opportunity to bring what we know is currently in Parkside to create a focal point for the arts,” Phifer said. “We’re really excited about it.”
The idea for the space was started by Phifer and 23-year-old Samir Nichols, executive director of the Superior Arts Institute, a nonprofit that provides dance and performance programming for Camden youth. Nichols has long been an advocate for the arts in Camden, and was a founder of the Camden City Arts, Cultural, and Heritage Commission.
Nichols hopes the pavilion not only provides a space for art organizations, but also brings revitalization both to the arts in Camden and to Haddon Avenue, a long-neglected corridor that is the heart of the Parkside neighborhood.
“Arts are vital to the quality of life in the City of Camden,” Nichols said. “And not just the quality of life here, but if the arts grow across New Jersey in smaller municipalities, the economic status of those smaller communities is going to grow because you have total revitalization happening.”
Nichols, a current undergraduate student studying Theater at Rutgers University—Camden, said his mission is to change the people’s attitude toward the arts in Camden from it being Camden’s “worst kept secret” to its “most known asset.” He brought both IDEA and the Camden Repertory Theatre on board for the pavilion.
“We’re finding innovative ways to continue to be in a collective mindset for leveraging support for the arts in the city, because arts are here, and it needs to be known because people don’t know,” said Nichols.
The Parkside Arts Pavilion could not come at a better time for IDEA, who does not have a home for it to provide its multi-media arts training programs such as graphic design, video skills and production.
IDEA founder Cynthia Primas said she is excited to not only have a home, but also about the opportunities that are now available to the arts groups through collaboration.
“We will be able to go after funding together, share in the marketing of our organizations, and at the same time grow because of the fact that our organizations have affected so many young lives through the years,” Primas said. “We thought this was a great opportunity for the arts organizations who have been struggling for years to have access to a place — a place to come to where we can begin to have our artists give back and be able to use their creativity to change the lives of our kids.”
In the basement of the Parkside Arts Pavilion will be a dance studio for programming from Superior Arts Institute, a small incubator space for new nonprofits or arts organizations and a conference room for the community. On the ground floor will be the IDEA space along with Camden Repertory Theatre’s black box. According to Phifer, the black box may not be ready in April due to the need to extend the space to a second floor to provide adequate lighting and space
“We have been searching and searching for a home, and the pavilion will give us a lighthouse to come to,” Primas said, who added that she hopes to one day grow and find its own performing arts center. In the meantime, she said she is happy to be a part of an effort she hopes makes a difference in the lives of Camden children.
“We look at it as a way to reawaken the arts,” Primas said. “By these arts organizations coming together and collaborating to show the community how powerful the arts can be, it's good for our development as human beings.”
“The arts really open you up to understanding freedom inside of yourself, how free you can be to create and feel that opportunity to create coming out of yourself,” Primas said.