It was the perfect merging of arts and education during this year’s Open Doors Citywide Arts Festival, with Link Community Charter School (LCCS) joining forces with one of the city's most vibrant art organizations for the largest multi-day celebration of the visual and performing arts.
Selected as a designated “art gallery," students and alumni from LCCS participated in this year's four-day arts celebration and—with the school being chosen through the festival's highly selective application process—LCCS is reaping the rewards of its commitment to the arts through its general curriculum and its art-focused electives program.
The gallery exhibit and reception, held on Oct. 14 at the school, located in the city’s Lincoln Park neighborhood, celebrated their ongoing mission with artwork created by Link students and recent alumni under the guidance of the school’s art teachers and several local artists-in-residence.
The exhibit featured student work inspired by master artists, as well as original works.
LCCS, which serves students from Newark, Irvington, Orange and East Orange, opened in 1969 as Project Link, an independent middle school in the heart of Newark, intended as a temporary response to surging dropout rates, a widening achievement gap and injustices that led to the social unrest of 1967.
While the city suffered through years of unrest, with many businesses and families fleeing Newark, Link’s founders stayed on, and in 1992, its leaders changed its name to Link Community School as a way to establish its commitment to the community.
In the mid-2000s, Link developed a strategic plan which included moving to a larger, better structured school building, removing tuition as a barrier to families, applying to the New Jersey Department of Education to convert to a charter school and adding 5th and 6th grades to its existing 7th and 8th grade program.
In 2015, charter approval was granted and the school operations transitioned to Link Community Charter School. Today, LCCS is only the second independent school approved to convert to a public charter school in New Jersey and one of only two schools in Newark exclusively for middle grades.
Upon conversion to a charter school, the existing nonprofit was renamed Link Education Partners, a separate public charity that builds upon its founders’ commitment to social justice and excellence in urban education.
Since 2014, the school has more than doubled in size, from approximately 130 to 288 students annually.
LCCS Head of School Maria Paradiso said she is proud that the school was selected to take part in the Open Doors Arts Festival—which draws thousands of visitors each year—indicating the school’s strong arts programming over the years.
“I think we’re a little unique,” she said of the school’s involvement, noting that LCCS is one of just a handful of schools who participated in the event. “We thought it would be kind of cool to get our kids involved and bring visibility to the arts and in Lincoln Park. There is an arts component in Lincoln Park. Arts in general have a pretty deep base in here and we are right on the cusp of that.”
The arts program at LCCS is comprised of traditional instruction in music, art, performing arts and creative writing, while an electives program exposes students to the arts through partnerships with local artists and organizations, with classes taught by an artist-in-residence or a trained arts educator.
“Students take the arts for eight or nine weeks for four days a week,” Paradiso said. “They deep-dive into each area. There’s a lot of exposure. It’s not an arts and crafts program. This is a true arts program.”
Link Education Partners’ partnership with LCCS provide students with a vibrant electives program that provide a variety of hands-on classes each academic quarter such as 3D printing, chess, boat building, mosaics, mural painting, debate, African drumming, contemporary dance, photography and more.
The electives program offers students a wide array of arts disciplines, including photography and pottery.
Works on display at the Open Doors exhibit represented work coming out of both the traditional and electives program.
Executive Director Newark Charter School Fund Michele Mason lauded LCCS’s participation in the event.
“Newark’s Open Doors Arts Festival builds a stronger community by bringing people together around beauty and creativity,” Mason said. “Link’s participation through its student-alumni exhibition continues that tradition by bridging generations through the arts, and reminding us that our city’s artistic expression begins with our youth.”
Jeremy Johnson, executive director of Newark Arts which hosts the Open Doors festival, said the festival speaks to the vibrancy of the arts scene in Newark and will impact generations of artists and art enthusiasts.
“It’s really important that we support and nurture the next generation of arts lovers,” he said. "Newark Arts is extremely proud of the youth participants in the Open Doors Citywide Arts Festival. I was particularly moved by the students at Link Community Charter School who created artwork inspired by such giants as Jackson Pollack, Lawrence Jacobs and Faith Ringgold. It was awesome."
The exhibit will run through Friday, Oct. 20, with a reception to be held on Thursday, Oct. 19 at 5 pm.