Prudential’s Lowrey, Merck’s Villar elected co-chairs of NJPAC

Executives say they are eager, enthusiastic about helping arts center return to full schedule, break ground on key initiatives in 2023

Charles Lowrey and Carmen Villar, two top New Jersey executives who share a passion for the arts and a vision for what an anchor arts institution can do, have been elected the new co-chairs of the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark.

Lowrey, the CEO of Prudential Financial, and Villar, the vice president of social business innovation at Merck, have served on NJPAC’s board of directors for a handful of years. They assumed their new roles Jan. 1, succeeding outgoing co-Chairs Barry Ostrowsky and Steven Goldman.

They assume the role during one of the most impactful and important periods for NJPAC, which celebrated its 25th anniversary last fall. In addition to returning to a full schedule for the first time since the pre-pandemic year of 2019, NJPAC is hopeful to break ground on two key projects:

  • Lionsgate Newark Studios: A 350,000-square-foot facility that will anchor a 12-acre TV and film production facility in the South Ward (and is expected to create 600 jobs and $800 million of annual economic impact).

A formal announcement will be made later Tuesday. NJPAC CEO John Schreiber said he is eager to share the news.

Lowrey, Villar up close

Prudential CEO Charles Lowrey said the New Jersey Performing Arts Center showed its incredible impact during the pandemic. Click here for story.

Merck Vice President Carmen Villar said NJPAC’s ability to impact the community at all levels cannot be overstated. Click here for story.

“At a nonprofit, the relationship between volunteer leaders and management is indispensable and the key to success,” he said. “If the board and management are aligned — as far as the vision and what’s feasible and practical — then anything’s possible.

“As we look toward the future, this combination of Charlie and Carmen feels really special to me.”

Schreiber said the skillsets of Lowrey and Villar, their past relationship with NJPAC — as well as the longstanding connection of the companies they represent — is important. In addition, both have been part of the planning of NJPAC’s big initiatives, so they both already are up to speed on the projects.

“Certainly, Prudential’s investment in Newark and the types of community initiatives that are authentic to NJPAC, means we are mission-aligned,” Schreiber said. “And Charlie’s an architect by training. So, as a real estate developer, it’s good to have an architect when decisions are being made.”

Villar, who served as chief of staff at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta before coming to Merck in 2017, also can provide valuable insights on health and safety in a post-pandemic world. She already has, Schreiber said.

“In the height of pandemic, I would speak to Carmen regularly about the circumstances we were dealing with — getting her analysis of where the pandemic was and where it was going,” he said. “She was always available and always provided useful information.

“She’s the first female co-chair of the board, and she’s the first woman of color. So, that’s noteworthy to me and important for our future, because we’re the most diverse performing arts center in the country in terms of our programming, our staff and our audiences. Having diversity at the top of our volunteer leadership is something that is important to all of us.”

Just as important is the genuine business acumen the two bring, Schreiber said.

Ostrowsky, Goldman honored

New Jersey Performing Arts Center CEO John Schreiber said the institution always will owe a debt of gratitude to outgoing co-Chairs Barry Ostrowsky and Steven Goldman.

Ostrowsky, the now-retired CEO of RWJBarnabas Health, and Goldman, a senior partner at Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel, assumed their roles just months before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the state.

“They guided us through the worst of the pandemic with compassion and with skill and empathy and expertise,” Schreiber said. “It was a terrible time for everybody. Our business at the arts center transformed during pandemic.

“We produced over 500 virtual events, even while our earned revenues dropped 95%. People got terminated and furloughed, took pay cuts — all these dreadful things happened. But we kept going and the volunteer leadership of Barry and Steve during this time was indispensable. We are forever grateful.”

“We’re not Merck, we’re not Prudential — we’re a small business, relative to them, that’s for sure,” he said. “But we’re a business. We have to run like a business. We have to be sustainable, like a business, and we have to operate with best practices. These two know best practices inside and out. So, I couldn’t be happier about the future.”

Lowrey and Villar said they are happy and eager to take on the new role.

“I have very strong views about the board and what the board does,” Lowrey said. “The board doesn’t meddle in management. Our responsibility is to make sure that NJPAC is strong, it’s sustainable and will continue to be an anchor institution of the future.”

Lowrey said the board’s role is to act as a servant leader to NJPAC.

“To support John and his vision, and to make sure that he has the runway and the funds he needs in order to execute on that vision,” he said.

Villar agreed. She said making sure the community is strong — whether it be the arts community or the Newark community — is her top priority.

“That is very core to our company, but it’s also very important to me as a person,” she said. “Giving back is how I think about life. And that’s the case for Merck, as well.

“We’re here for the long term. We’ve been here for over 130 years; we’re going to continue to invest in our own neighborhood.”

Schreiber said the two bring one other key attribute.

“They’re really nice people,” he said. “They’re kind and generous, they’re funny and energetic and optimistic. They’re people you want to hang out with.

“We’ve got a shared mission here. And that mission cannot get accomplished without volunteers who are excited about what’s next — and excited about the opportunity to help make it happen in the best fashion.”