NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ -- Middlesex County Freeholder Director Ronald G. Rios told a crowd of about 100 arts professionals and enthusiasts that the County is committed to enhancing and expanding arts, cultural and historic offerings to its residents and visitors and to working with private, non-profit and municipal partners to strengthen these offerings.

Rios participated in a panel discussion entitled “Arts Partnerships: Building Better Communities Together,” sponsored by State Theatre New Jersey and moderated by the Theatre’s President and CEO Tom Carto.

Rios explained that in 2013 he noticed a decrease in federal and state funding for the arts and proposed to the other members of the Freeholder Board putting a public question on the November 2014 ballot asking voters if they wanted us to establish a Cultural and Arts Trust Fund to increase opportunities to participate in and experience arts, culture and history in Middlesex County. Voters overwhelmingly supported the initiative, he said.

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“Through the Cultural and Arts Trust Fund we look to provide all County residents with access to the broadest range of cultural activities, encourage awareness of and enjoyment of the arts and support cultural initiatives designed to preserve and promote the history of the County,” he said.

The County allocates $10 million each year to fund projects to improve, expand or build facilities and venues or to enhance arts and cultural programming. The first three grant recipients were the Borough of Carteret, which is working with the Central Jersey Arts Council, to restore the Vaudeville-era Ritz Theater into a 1,500-seat, modern facility that can play host to professional and community troupes. The theater also has gallery space and a multi-purpose area. Future plans call for a roof-top restaurant and expanded parking opportunities adjacent to the theater district.

New Brunswick, the second recipient of a grant, is helping the New Brunswick Cultural Center to build a new performance space, rehearsal space and classrooms to be used by the State Theatre New Jersey, George Street Playhouse, Crossroads Theater, American Repertory Ballet, Rutgers University Mason Gross School of the Arts.

The third recipient, Woodbridge Township will use grant funding to establish The Avenel Arts Center at Station Village. The $50 million project will transform the 27-acre former industrial site into mixed-use community centered on arts-related retail. The village will include more than 50,000 square feet of arts-themed retail space and a performing arts center with artist studios, galleries, and rehearsal and performance space.

Rios was joined on the panel by Etta Denk, Senior Vice President and NJ Market Manager for Bank of America; Bill Engel, President of the Hyde & Watson Foundation, and Susan Stucker, Interim President and CEO of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra.

Rios and his fellow panelists agreed that projects to expand and enhance the arts and cultural offerings and venues are more successful when partnerships are built.

Rios said: “By all of us working together – government, private businesses and non-profit foundations – we can make a much larger impact on the lives of our residents and customers.”