If you call Len and Arlene Lieberman a “power couple,” the pair will quickly demur. But their modesty doesn’t mask their achievements at NJPAC and the Newark Museum, respectively.
The two have helped those institutions triumph over hurdles by stewarding, fundraising, and cheerleading for them, and ergo for the city of Newark. Consider how the vibrancy of these arts centers has sparked the city’s renaissance, and it’s easy to see that the Liebermans are part of something big.
The duo met when Len was CEO of Supermarkets General Corporation, and Arlene, an interior designer at its Baltimore department-store subsidiary, worked on his Secaucus apartment. After getting married and moving to Hoboken, Arlene (a painter who had attended the Maryland Institute of the Arts) found her niche as a volunteer docent at the Newark Museum in 1988. Ten years later, she became the museum’s first female and first artist president. During her tenure, she oversaw the restoration of the 1885 Ballantine House and the opening of the Victoria Hall of Science, among other projects. Last year, the museum, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary, exceeded its fundraising goal. “When you have something you know is so good and so right,” she says, “it’s really not hard to ask for donations.”
“During fundraising, there is a clear Chinese wall of communication,” says Len with a laugh. “If [NJPAC] gets a donation from someone who’s also on Arlene’s hit-list, I don’t come home and say, ‘Nah, nah, nah—look what we did!’” In addition to being part of the original team of NJPAC visionaries twenty years ago, Len was chairman of Newark Beth Israel Hospital during its 1970s expansion, is chairman emeritus of the Fund for New Jersey, and has served on numerous other boards, government commissions, and political campaigns.
“The common thread has been helping new institutions get enough vigor to come alive,” says Len. Indeed, NJPAC has done that. It has completed a $180 million fundraising campaign and is planning an ambitious mixed-use residential and retail development. Yet when asked his biggest accomplishment, the sweetly self-effacing Len defers to his partner: “The best thing I did was bring Arlene up here.”