Morris organizations team to promote ‘LatinX’ art and culture

Morris County Arts And Culture Collaborative Logo
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Nearly two dozen organizations from across Morris County will highlight Hispanic arts and culture over the next year, as their first joint effort in a new Arts & Culture Collaborative.

Organizers hope, among other things, to ease the polarization that is cleaving society.

“I think the arts can help,” said Alan Levitan, a trustee of the nonprofit Morris Arts and co-founder of the Collaborative. “By exposing all of us to each other’s cultures, it can be the start of a solution.”

“Our community becomes stronger when we better understand each other. The arts are a highly effective way to bring us together and promote that understanding,” added Tom Werder, executive director of Morris Arts.

About a year in the making, the Collaborative is scheduled to launch before Saturday’s performance by Ballet Folklórico de Mexico at Morristown’s Mayo Performing Arts Center, a member of the new consortium.

Latinx Conexiones logoLatinX ConeXiónes is the Collaborative’s initial venture. LatinX is a gender-neutral reference; the Spanish phrase translates to Latin Connections.

A host of events encompassing Hispanic fine arts, crafts, dance, education, food, history, installations, literature, music and poetry are anticipated, mostly for autumn 2019.

The idea is to promote contributions of Latino- and Latina artists and their under-served communities, and introduce them to the entire community, said Marcela Claros, who is working on the project for Morris Arts.

Ginny Fabbri Butera, who chairs the art department at the College of Saint Elizabeth in Morris Township, said the Collaborative “will help us all ‘meet new neighbors,’ learn about artistic expressions, cultures, customs and ideas different from our own, and celebrate the mix that forms and enriches life in New Jersey.”

Offerings of many arts organizations often remain unknown beyond their circle of patrons; Butera expressed hopes that a joint website and combined marketing by the Collaborative will stir interest from all segments of the population.

FROM BEAUTIFUL GLASS, AN IDEA

In addition to the College of Saint Elizabeth, participating colleges include the County College of Morris, Drew University and Fairleigh Dickinson University.

Participants also include a school district (Morris) and high school (Morriston), two churches (Morristown United Methodist Church and First United Methodist in Dover, and a library (Morristown & Morris Township).

Museums include the Macculloch Hall Historical Museum, the Morris County Historical Society at Acorn Hall, the Museum of Early Trades and Crafts in Madison, and the Morris Museum in Morris Township.

Along with the Mayo Performing Arts Center, the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, the Baroque Orchestra of New Jersey and the Madison Arts and Culture Alliance are involved. So is the Morristown National Historical Park.

The Morris County Organization for Hispanic Affairs, the Wind of the Spirit Immigrant Resource Center and the Zufall Health Center are charter members, too.

Many types of collaboration are envisioned. Levitan said the Morris Museum is offering its 300-seat Bickford Theatre for special events. The Macculloch Hall Historical Museum intends to donate vegetables from its garden for food presentations by the Zufall Health Center.

Studies done for Morris Arts indicate Latinos comprise more than 70 percent of Dover’s population, approximately 43 percent of Morristown’s, and 20 percent of Morris County’s, Levitan said. 

One goal of the ConeXiónes project is to address obstacles that have hindered attendance by Latin American groups at area artistic events: Outreach, price and transportation.

Collaborative members will ramp up efforts to promote special events to this audience via social media, Levitan said. Many events will be free. Transportation services are being explored, he said.

Lino Tagliapietra, left, and Alan Levitan at Lino's exhibition at the Morris Museum, March 11, 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Glass master Lino Tagliapietra, left, and Morris Arts trustee Alan Levitan at Lino’s exhibition at the Morris Museum, March 11, 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Levitan was inspired by Italian glass master Lino Tagliapietra‘s exhibition last winter at the Morris Museum. The show spun off a series of local lectures and was studied by art students.

Afterward, Levitan suggested similar multi-pronged events to Werder and Butera.

“They said, ‘Let’s flip things around and get all the organizations together for a common cause,” Levitan said. A steering committee of about a dozen people started fleshing out plans.

Although the Collaborative is county-wide, many of its members are based in Greater Morristown, an emerging cultural hub thanks to such annual events as First Night Morris, the Morristown Jazz & Blues Festival, and the Morristown Festival of Books.

Morris Arts has spearheaded summertime collaborations including Music Beyond Borders, (with MPAC) and Meet Me in Morristown (with the Morristown Partnership).

Separately, MPAC and the Morristown & Township Library last year teamed with the Presbyterian Church in Morristown, St. Peter’s Episcopal Church and the Jockey Hollow Bar & Kitchen to create the Morristown Cultural District.

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