FLEMINGTON, NJ - The stellar variety and key role of performing arts and cultural programming available throughout Hunterdon County were highlighted at the Board of Chosen Freeholders’ Feb. 18, with a total of $64,464 in 2020 New Jersey State Council on the Arts’ Local Arts Program (LAP) grant awards approved by the freeholder board and administered through the Hunterdon County Cultural & Heritage Commission.

Carrie Fellows, executive director of the Cultural & Heritage Commission, announced that LAP re-grants for 2020 have $5,000 more allocated than in past years. For administration of the Local Arts Development Program, the Cultural & Heritage Commission will spend $16,464 on local arts programming, with $50,000 in re-grants to multiple nonprofits and arts organizations.

The county amount of $16,464 supports events, including the downtown Flemington Salsa Night in July, live music in local parks and the free Central Jersey Jazz Festival, which will be held Sept. 11 on Stangl Road in Flemington's Artisans District.

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Representing the Hunterdon Harmonizers barbershop chorus (also known as Hunterdon County Chorus) was Rusty Williams, the immediate past president. The organization received a LAP re-grant of $7,000 this year.

The Harmonizers meet in Flemington at Stangl Stage every Tuesday evening at 7:45 p.m. At Hunterdon Central Regional High School, on Dec. 14, 2019, the Hunterdon Harmonizers performed two theatre shows of “A Christmas Toy's Story - An Original Holiday Musical” in front of capacity audiences.

Williams said the LAP grant will assist the organization with educational efforts for the organization’s members and leadership so they can sing even better.

“This funding goes right back into the community, as when the Harmonizers sing better, that is a give-back to the people in the community doing this,” he said. “We sing for veterans, the mobility-impaired and elderly, and at various locations including music programs for schools with the Whitehouse Wind Symphony and for the first time at Hunterdon Care Center.”

The wind symphony was the recipient of a $1,500 LAP re-grant for 2020.

The re-grant also provides the Harmonizers with funding for a new hire, a recent Westminster Choir College graduate, in the role of assistant director.

“We added the assistant director, who’s extremely qualified to help with our public music lessons, which are sequential lessons, over six weeks and open to anybody,” Williams said. “The object is to tell people who’ve been told they can’t sing or they lack encouragement, 'yes you can sing.’ When they join us and discover their voices, it’s really a beautiful thing and that is our point. People go on to sing for any church choir, group or anywhere else.”

Beginning on April 28, the Harmonizers will begin their next “Ready-Set-Sing” series of free singing lessons over six weeks, led by vocal singers.

“We welcome everybody who is a first-time singer and welcome back any post-graduates who want to brush up on the basics and learn a new song,” Williams said. “Lessons culminate with a ceremony, certificate, literature of singing groups that desire your participation and an opportunity to perform a song with the Hunterdon Harmonizers during its summer concert series.”

For more information, call 908-806-NOTE (6683) or visit the Harmonizers’ website at njharmonizers.org.

The popular community art space and multi-faceted events venue Flemington DIY at 90 Main Street, a 501c3 nonprofit, received a LAP re-grant of $1,000, approved by the county freeholder board. The DIY was represented by Judd Roth, of Alexandria Township, a DIY board of directors member who runs the jazz series.

“For many DIY programs I am aware of, half the participants come from outside of Flemington,” he said. “The DIY has an all-volunteer board, as well as many volunteers for all the programs, totaling about 25 to 26 volunteers. This is the second year of pursuing and receiving a LAP grant, and in 2018, we had applied for a smaller grant for just one program which was also awarded by the freeholders. The DIY has many programs and music performances on weeknights and weekends, starting at 6 or 7 p.m.”

The DIY was founded in 2014 by a group of young local artists and musicians, who later settled into 90 Main Street, a borough-owned building, with support from the now-disbanded Flemington BID (Business Improvement District). The (volunteer) executive director of Flemington DIY is Jeff Hersch.

Without any supplemental staging and settings, Flemington DIY holds a capacity of 90 people, with usual attendance of over 70.

On March 21 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. the Flemington DIY will host workshops and activities for all ages, including screenprinting, collaging, vision boarding, knitting and sewing as part of New Jersey Makers’ Day. The DIY also hosts KickstART art classes twice a month for kids, adolescents and adults with varying neurological and physical disabilities, generally from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m., with a $5 to $10 suggested donation per class.

Also at Flemington DIY, every Saturday morning at 8 a.m. Guy DeRosa, who has taught yoga in the Flemington area for more than 30 years, instructs a free yoga class.

“Basically the DIY sponsors some programs directly, and also partners with other community organizations, some formal, some informal, as those organizations run their own programs,” Roth said. "The LAP grants help pay overhead, insurance, maintenance of plant with lights and utilities, as we get the building donated by Flemington Borough through a written lease.”

The largest Local Arts Program grant amount approved was $10,000 for Hunterdon Musical Arts, the umbrella nonprofit organization that sponsors Hunterdon Symphony, Hunterdon Choral Union, Hunterdon Chamber Players, Saturday Strings and Hunterdon Youth Orchestra Camp.

The next musical arts program will be on April 25 at Hunterdon Central Regional High School, featuring Hunterdon Symphony and Hunterdon Choral Union performing Beethoven and Boulanger and Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 5 “Emperor” for the organization’s 40th anniversary concert.

With freeholders’ approval, ShowKids Invitational Theatre, Inc. (SKIT) received a LAP re-grant of $8,000. Tom Newman represented SKIT in front of the freeholder board, and his wife Carolyn B. Newman, founder plus director and producer of SKIT since its inception in 1986, was inducted into the New Jersey Association of Community Theater’s (NJACT) Perry Award Hall of Fame in 2015.

Newman said that, for over 33 years, they’ve been based out of High Bridge Borough. The next ShowKids performance will be “High School Musical” over two weekends, April 25 through May 3 at Voorhees High School.

“We pick shows that we know for the most part kids can take the lead in,” he said. “There’s exceptions such as “Fiddler on the Roof,” which we did 15 years ago, where I was the lead, but for the most part our shows are all featuring kids. We just completed a run of “Frozen, Jr.,” and, by contract, every performer needs to be under 18. We throw in some adults in supporting roles as we find the adults to be excellent teaching role models for the kids.”

River Union Stage in Frenchtown is described as the Delaware River Valley’s professional equity theatre. The county freeholder board approved a LAP re-grant of $5,000 for the organization. Co-founder and managing director Keith Strunk, who earned his MFA at Rutgers’ Mason Gross School of the Arts, thanked the county freeholders and Fellows, and explained that the theatre “has flourished in an artful way over 19 years because of grant funding.”

Strunk said grants support puppet shows and programs at schools, including “bringing literature alive” and Shakespeare play readings, as well as arts festivals.

River Union Stage volunteers perform the annual “Say Humbug to Hunger” reading of Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol,” with the 11th installment held Dec. 14, 2019, at the Presbyterian Church of Milford. Strunk explained that admission for the holiday-themed event is by donation of a non-perishable food item for local food pantries in Frenchtown and Milford.

“The theatre has attempted to interlace itself into the Hunterdon community for almost 20 years,” he said. “What we are vowing for is our connections to the community and now in our 19th year with our Shakespeare plays for schools. With our five-year plan, we’re looking toward becoming nationally-recognized as a ‘New Works Theatre,’ as the type of venue to draw new playwrights in, from locals to people around the country. Eventually, we will build this niche up as a place for new playwrights to come to, showcase their work and go through the process with playwriting and workshops, and end up with a play fine-tuned they can take to stages in New York.

ACME Screening Room in Lambertville, the local art house cinema in the city’s Pittore Justice Center, was the recipient of a $5,000 LAP re-grant. ACME runs independent films and documentaries, and “supports emerging and professional filmmakers, sometimes partnering events with themed dinners and art exhibits, different things to enjoy a whole evening at the ACME,” said executive director Donna Muchnicki.

She said that, in 2019, the grant funding was targeted to include more arts-related films, including a documentary titled “Fire in Ashes,” a ballet that talked about the creative arts process, and the showing opened the door for collaboration with Roxey Ballet as the troupe provided ballet dancers for a performance at ACME.

For 2020, ACME sought a general grant “to reach more people through the film genre involving different themes, and to bring well-rounded programming to the region and community,” Muchnicki said.

The Hunterdon County Division of Senior Services at Gauntt Place in Flemington received a LAP re-grant of $6,000 this year, described as an opportunity to introduce culture to seniors who otherwise may not have the opportunity.  

Rounding out 2020 LAP grants, the Hunterdon County Library System received a LAP re-grant of $5,000 and Readington Community Theatre received a $1,500 re-grant.