History of the Watchung Arts Center
In the 1970s, Mr. Otto and his wife Dorothea were involved with The Village Players, an early theatrical group which directed productions at The Arts Center. At that time, Mr. Otto remarked that the building looked like it could be something, and so was encouraged to become involved. Both Mr. and Mrs. Otto are award-winning photographers who have shown their work in exhibits throughout the world.
Board Treasurer Joan Plasner is a music teacher at Watchung's Bayberry School and was recently selected to enter the Master Teacher Collaborative Workshop in Newark sponsored by the Geraldine Dodge Foundation. The workshop lets music teachers meet and share knowledge with professional musicians from the NJ Symphony Orchestra. Mrs. Plasner said, "The Watchung Arts Center provides a warm and encouraging home for artists who are able to exhibit their art, and also those who are learning about art."
Vice President of Visual Arts Jim Fuess of Berkeley Heights calls The Watchung Arts Center, the scrappy little Arts Center that could. Fuess, an artist himself, has been quite instrumental in reaching out to the artists and helping expand the gallery space in the Center.
Over 139 Years of Rich History
In 1859, the little white Watchung schoolhouse, which now serves as home to The Watchung Arts Center, was built. Today, 139 years later, the structure still stands proudly on the hill on the Watchung Village Circle. The building is full of warm memories for the many people who have climbed the hill to attend school, enjoy an art lesson or exhibit, and take in a performance. But most of the thousands of people who pass by the structure each day are unaware of its rich history.
The schoolhouse was built by Watchung resident Mr. Spencer, who transferred it to the Watchung Board of Education with the stipulation that the building be used for educational purposes. In the 1930s more room was needed, so the original building was raised and a lower floor with masonry walls was constructed beneath it. In 1977 the Arts Council organized and rented space from the Watchung Board of Education along with other tenants such as The Watchung Public Library, The Watchung Rescue Squad and the Watchung Recreation Committee. Then, in 1987, Watchung Borough took title of the building and leased it exclusively to The Watchung Arts Center with the parameters of use being for artistic, cultural and educational activities.Today, The Arts Center boasts a full slate of activities throughout the year. And we keep growing and getting better; just last year a large deck was built at the entrance for intermission during warm weather events.
99% Funded by Members and Events
1997 was a record year for The Watchung Arts Center financially. Revenues and expenses came in at about $100,000, with 99% coming from ticket sales and memberships. Just a few years ago, the budget was $25,000 per year. "The interesting point is that only 1% comes from a Somerset County grant, the remainder given by those who enjoy our events and activities." noted past Executive Director and Watchung resident Mr. Bruce Gast. We receive no operating funds from local taxpayers, allowing us to be regional in our outlook and in the scope of our operations he added.
As The Watchung Arts Center looks forward to the next twenty-years, members of the Board and Directors hope to encourage new members and artists to step forward and participate in shows and classes. The leadership is dedicated to helping The Arts Center grow and prosper to fulfill its original purpose. The community continues to participate in programs and support the development of new activities. We hope to make Arts accessible and attainable to all in our community. "Not everyone can make it to New York City, but there is no reason not to stop into our nearby gallery, or sign up for a class." said Director Sandy Joren. We'll be working to help our children enjoy and appreciate the Arts, and we hope to have a wide-range of new offerings when we celebrate our 25th Anniversary in 2003!