Arts & Entertainment

New SOPAC Director Hopes to Put Center on Firm Financial Ground, Expand Arts Education

New SOPAC Director Mark Parker addresses the South Orange Board of Trustees at a recent meeting. Credits: Amy Kiste Nyberg

SOUTH ORANGE, NJ – Mark Packer is no stranger to revolutionizing an arts organization.

After joining Elmer’s Appel Farm Arts and Music Center in 1984 and rising through the ranks to become its executive director, Packer expanded the business to make it year-round and created community outreach and therapeutic arts programs. He’s also long been involved in arts advocacy, founding the South Jersey Cultural Alliance, co-founding the Arts & Business Partnership of Southern New Jersey and serving as president of ArtPride New Jersey from 2006-2012.

Now he’s hoping his nearly 30 years of experience will benefit him as he takes on the role of executive director of the South Orange Performing Arts Center. He started his job on March 1, and Packer has clear goals in mind to make the arts center a success.

Sign Up for E-News

“(My) plans are to ensure that the organization is financially stable and sustainable,” Packer said. “Building cash reserves is going to be very important to me. Ensuring that the organization lives within its means is going to be very important to me and to the organization.”

Since its inception, SOPAC has faltered under the burden of a $15 million debt to South Orange, which has still not been paid off. At a meeting of the village Board of Trustees last year, a financial consultant recommended the village take ownership of the building, an idea that Packer welcomes.

“I fervently hope that that happens because I think it is a critical step towards the organization becoming financially viable,” Packer said.

Packer also mentioned that during his time as president of ArtPride New Jersey he’s built a cadre of friends and funders of the arts who could prove very beneficial to the center.

Outside of financial plans, Packer said he’s really interested in building a strong arts education program “to expand SOPAC’s footprint.” Additionally, he said he’s working with a programming consultant to create a niche for singer-songwriters at the center while also providing a diverse array of shows.

Another major component of Packer’s revitalization strategy is for SOPAC to become more involved in the village.

“I hope to build bridges, to make friends, to enlist the opinions and insights from key community leaders and from the public so that we better understand what the interests are of the community and how they’d like to see SOPAC serve as their arts center,” Packer said. “(I hope) they feel a real connection in the sense of pride that this is a cultural icon in their community.”

Excluding his arts advocacy work, SOPAC is only Packer’s second job after his decades at Appel Farm. Though he admits there was a feeling of “shock and dismay” from his former organization when he announced he was leaving, he said he definitely thinks he made the right decision in joining SOPAC.

“I felt it was time for a change,” Packer said. “It was a great opportunity for me, and I’m really excited about this organization. I’m really enamored with the board of governors and of the staff. The physical space, I think, is extraordinary. And I think that the community itself is dynamic and interesting, so I’m really looking forward to it.”   

The reporter is participating in a hyperlocal journalism partnership between The Alternative Press and Seton Hall University's Department of Communication & The Arts.

TAP Into Another Town's News:

Sign Up for E-News



AtlantiCast: Episode 15

On this week’s AtlantiCast, learn some important tips for controlling and avoiding diabetes from an Atlantic Health System expert, see how Atlantic Health is advancing cutting-edge research, hear what’s being done to keep health care environmentally friendly and much more!


Maplewood Police Blotter - Two Motor Vehicle Thefts Reported, One Recovered

May 16, 2018

May 7 - Burglary; Sometime during the prior two days, entry was forced to a business on Newark Way.  The keys to a GMC van were then taken from inside the business and the van was stolen.


May 7 - Motor Vehicle Theft; At approximately 9:30 p.m., a Jeep left unattended and running in the parking lot of 7-11 on Irvington Ave was stolen. The vehicle was later recovered in ...

South Orange Police Blotter - More Than 10 Vehicle Burglaries Reported

South Orange Police Blotter as of May 14

Auto Theft - A Roland Ave resident reported that sometime between 10:30 pm, Thursday 5-10-18 & 7:30 am, Friday 5-11-18 actor(s) unknown stole his vehicle (2016 Mitsubishi), which was parked in his driveway of his residence at the time.

Burglary to Auto - A Vose Ave resident reported that sometime between 10:45 pm, Wednesday 5-2-18 & 8:00 ...

Food, Fun, Music and Murals at MayFest in Maplewood on Sunday {Photos}

May 22, 2018

MAPLEWOOD, NJ - Crowds came out to enjoy MayFest on Springfield Avenue on Sunday, with plenty of food, live music and performances, and a chance to see the new murals and meet the artists who created them, as well as local residents Michael and Viktorija painting their mural “I Am Maplewood." 

Thank you to Carl Patterson of CP Photo Op Photography for use of ...

South Orange Community Pool Will Not Be Open Memorial Day Weekend; Opening Day Planned for June 2

SOUTH ORANGE, NJ - The South Orange Community Pool will have a delayed season opening, and will not be open Memorial Day Weekend, according to an update from the Department of Recreation and Cultural Affairs.

According to the Recreation Department, "weather issues, both the early spring snow and the ongoing spring rain, have caused delays in the construction project underway to ...

Upcoming Events

Wed, May 23, 12:00 PM

Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel, South Orange

The Purposes and Rhythms of Jewish Living

Education Religions And Spirituality


Wed, May 23, 7:00 PM

Par 440 Restaurant & Lounge, Short Hills

The Extra Rich In Class Dinner Show with E.R.I.C.

Arts & Entertainment Food & Drink


Fri, May 25, 7:00 PM

Par 440 Restaurant & Lounge, Short Hills

The Extra Rich In Class Dinner Show with E.R.I.C.

Arts & Entertainment Food & Drink


Fri, May 25, 7:00 PM

Par 440 Restaurant & Lounge, Short Hills

The Extra Rich In Class Dinner Show with E.R.I.C.

Arts & Entertainment Food & Drink

SURVIVING A STROKE: Quick Medical Response Gives Mom Her Life Back

Carotid artery dissection. It’s one of the most common causes of stroke in younger adults.

And while you might not associate the word “stroke” with younger patients, the condition – if not treated immediately – could lead to paralysis and even death.

Lindsey Singh can attest to the importance of immediacy. The 31-year-old mother of two from Flanders experienced ...

Uniacke Named Bridges Outreach Executive Director as Bhatt, Tulloch Announce Retirement

May 18, 2018

SUMMIT, NJ - Bridges Outreach, Inc. Executive Director Lois Bhatt and Deputy Executive Director Bethany Tulloch have announced their retirement and, effective May 29, Richard J. Uniacke will begin his tenure as the Summit-based nonprofit's new Executive Director.

Uniacke, who will become just the organization's third executive director in three decades, was ...

Bus Accident in Livingston Kills One Wednesday

LIVINGSTON, NJ - Livingston police are investigating a fatal bus accident in the township Wednesday afternoon.

The police department has confirmed a death in the accident, which occurred shortly before 1:30 p.m. near the intersection of Latham Court and South Orange Avenue.

As of 4:30 p.m., detectives were still on the scene investigating the crash. A full report has not yet been released ...

Phase II of the Stuyvesant Avenue Streetscape Project Set to Begin in Union

May 22, 2018

UNION, NJ – A groundbreaking ceremony took place Monday morning for Phase II of the Stuyvesant Avenue Streetscape Project which is set to begin soon.

“Phase I is complete and everyone loves it,” said Deputy Mayor Joseph Florio.  Florio said construction on the south end of Stuyvesant Avenue, from Morris Ave. to the cannon turnaround near Elmwood, should be complete by ...

DAWN of a New Day: New Treatment Insights Shared at Atlantic Health's 18th Annual 'Stroke Symposium'

MORRISTOWN, NJ - Time is of the essence when it comes to identifying and treating symptoms of stroke and it’s widely accepted that the sooner treatment is provided the better the outcome will be, however new research suggests that all hope isn’t lost for certain types of stroke victims whose symptoms aren’t treated until later in time after last being seen as ...

2nd Annual Theater in The Park Returns to Founders Park in South Orange on June 3

May 22, 2018

The 2nd Annual Theater in The Park is coming to Founders Park on Sunday, June 3, from noon to 4 p.m.

Bring your blankets and chairs, grab some food and fun from one of our vendors and enjoy one or all of the performances by local talent. The event is free and open to everyone who wants to stop in and enjoy some entertainment.

Founders Park is located at 265 Valley St. in South ...

Career Change for Working Moms Presentation at Millburn Library

The Millburn Free Public Library is pleased to offer a program on changing careers for working moms, presented by local career coach Tracey Gutierrez. This program will be held on Thursday, June 14 at 7:00pm.

Are you looking for a career change that better fits the lifestyle you want? Do you leave your children every day to slog away at a job you don't enjoy? You CAN escape from an unhappy ...

Third Annual South Orange Food Stroll & Pub Crawl is Sunday, May 20

The South Orange Food Stroll & Pub Crawl is back!

On Sunday, May 20, from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., the South Orange Village Center Alliance hosts its third annual South Orange Food Stroll & Pub Crawl, a tasting event that showcases the diverse restaurants and unique retailers in our Village Center.

With the purchase of a wristband, you'll stroll and sample delectable bites and ...