The past year has been difficult for arts institutions everywhere. Mainstage Center for the Arts, for instance, was hit particularly hard by the pandemic. The theater group for children and young people, located in Blackwood, relies on live, in-person classes and performances for income. These haven’t happened since last March.
“The pandemic has been devastating,” says Mainstage executive director Joe Bretschneider, who has cut staff salaries, expenses and programs “to the bare minimum.”
But thanks in part to ArtPride NJ, Mainstage is still afloat. The statewide nonprofit has advocated and provided funding for numerous arts institutions, as well as hosted webinars centered around Covid-19–related topics, helping to keep members up to date about changing government regulations. Since last spring, ArtPride NJ has focused on “supplying essential information” about relief funding and advocacy, as well as “the promotion of safe cultural experiences,” says ArtPride NJ president and CEO Adam Perle.
Started in 1986 as an independent group representing Jersey’s arts community to the state Legislature, the nonprofit is dedicated to advancing arts programs, providing marketing and promotion support to members, and public advocacy. Today, ArtPride NJ has about 220 members, including theaters, museums, galleries, arts councils, universities, and small businesses such as Bloomfield’s 4th Wall Theatre, the Princeton Symphony Orchestra and Healing Arts in Morristown.
In 2000, ArtPride NJ and its partner, the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, launched Discover Jersey Arts, a public-awareness campaign featuring Jersey-bred talents, including Meryl Streep and Susan Sarandon. The campaign has over 50,000 members.
Since the onset of the pandemic, ArtPride NJ has been a beacon of hope for struggling arts institutions. According to a survey by the organization, New Jersey’s nonprofit arts industry reported losses of more than $100 million due to pandemic-related closures and cancellations. ArtPride NJ has kept members abreast of grants available through the New Jersey Arts and Cultural Recovery Fund (NJACRF).
In March, Mainstage announced a $7,500 grant from the NJACRF, supplementing a $90,500 grant it received from the Council of the Arts. Funding will go toward rent, staff payroll and general business operations.
ArtPride NJ’s pivot has helped Mainstage survive. “[Our] core focus and mission remains the same,” says Perle. “But those goals, and then of course the tactics to achieve those goals, have changed.”