NJPAC to launch new initiative using arts for wellness thanks to $3 million donation from Horizon

Grant from Horizon Foundation will help Arts Center create programs that leverage power of arts to encourage mental and physical wellbeing

John Schreiber has long said that NJPAC defines itself as more than just an anchor cultural institution in Newark.

“That means we’re so much more than simply being a presenter of performances,” the CEO told ROI-NJ.

It also means the Arts Center sees itself as a partner in the city’s efforts to recover and rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic. And it’s why Schreiber is so happy to announce Tuesday that Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey has earmarked a $3 million donation to support a new arts and programming initiative around community health.  

The contribution — made to the Arts Center’s current capital campaign through the company’s charitable arm, The Horizon Foundation — will fund the expansion of NJPAC-developed community-based programs that leverage the power of the arts to encourage mental and physical wellbeing.

NJPAC officials say the integration of the arts into health care procedures and interventions can positively impact individual and community health outcomes. They point to a recent study from Americans for the Arts about the engagement of communities of color in the arts. It indicates that BIPOC communities are more likely to seek news and information from trusted arts and culture providers in their community than other populations.

“One can say safely that one of the positive indicators of how public health can be enhanced and improved is participation in the arts,” Schreiber said. “The arts lighten our load, it makes us feel more engaged, it enables us to gather as a community. The arts really do improve public health outcomes.

“The idea of programs that integrate arts and wellness – whether it’s dance workshops or poetry workshops; just anything that gets people to move or think differently – is what we’re examining and exploring. And Horizon is helping enable the development of what we think will be an integral programming vertical.”

The programming will help set the stage for the Cooperman Family Arts Education and Community Center, a planned 60,000-square-foot facility that will provide a runway to launch new arts-infused programs and services that address community needs. The center is expected to break ground next year and open in 2024.

Horizon CEO Gary St. Hilaire said the initiative follows the mission and the vision of Horizon. 

“This grant in support of the Arts Center’s new initiative is just one way that Horizon is honoring our commitment to make lasting and positive change in the communities we serve, especially here in Newark, the town Horizon has called home for nearly ninety years,” he said.

“NJPAC’s programming, connecting wellness and the arts, will leverage NJPAC’s deep connections to the people of Newark to help improve their health and well-being. The Cooperman Center will extend NJPAC’s reach even more deeply into the neighborhoods of Newark, mirroring the approach we take at Horizon to connect with our members and guide them to the services and care they need to achieve their best health.”

These programs initially will take place at NJPAC and at locations across Greater Newark. 

The offerings – which will include presentations by nutritionists, art therapy demonstrations, programs for mothers and babies, creative aging programs for seniors and mental health counseling for all ages – will be integrated into arts training programs.

The Arts Center said the new initiative also will focus on new programs on three aspects of health and wellness which address some of the greatest health needs in the Greater Newark community: Nutrition and physical health, mental health and access to health care and information.

“We’re trying to engage in ways that are helpful to the lives of the members of our community,” Schreiber said. “If we can encourage activities and programs that advance health, that’s great. And if we can do that through the arts, that’s even greater. 

“This is new ground for us. We’re really excited about it. And we’re very thankful that Horizon is helping us with the launch.”

The initiative already is getting positive feedback.

Barry Ostrowsky, the CEO of RWJBarnabas Health and the co-chairman of NJPAC’s Board of Directors, applauded the announcement.

“Through its expanded partnerships with Horizon and other community health partners, NJPAC will be able to find new ways to tie public performances, arts education and community engagement to health and wellness,” he said. “(This will) improve outcomes for our community, reduce the stigma attached to mental health treatment and (help us) do our part to close the health gap in Newark.”

Shereef Elnahal, the CEO of University Hospital in Newark, the former state commissioner of health and a member of the Arts Center’s Board, said the initiative will have impact. 

“The barriers between underserved communities and access to health care and health information are real,” he said. “Their origins are complex, but community anchors, working together, can solve such intractable problems.

“This collaboration between Horizon and NJPAC is an inspiring example of the innovative thinking required to make genuine progress.”

Schreiber said he hopes the initiative will spur others.

“NJPAC has identified an opportunity to be more intentional in our approach to arts and wellness programming, and to take a leadership position nationally among performing arts providers in strategically developing programs that leverage NJPAC’s strengths to respond to its community’s needs,” he said.