Culturally, South Jersey is bookended by Rocky Balboa and Bruce Springsteen: blue-collar long-shots whose successes were built on passion and a relentless work ethic; beloved of their neighbors because they were never out of touch with their neighborhoods. The undercurrent of such people-packed places produces an artistic response that is similarly varied and complex, but always driving, motivated by that hustle. It provides the foundation upon which vintage theaters that have seen the biggest names in the business for nearly 100 years were built, as were a 35-year-old, non-profit community art center and a 54-year-old private arts camp for children.
That pulse beckoned artist William Butler to relocate his family from Des Moines, Iowa, to Camden City, where he established Gallery Eleven One in an old firehouse. There, he creates works “to help bring restoration to the people of Camden,” donating a portion of his revenues to support human justice causes.
The backbeat of South Jersey drove the establishment of Symphony in C, a nationally recognized training orchestra that has made its mission to develop the careers of young professional musicians. The organization has sent forth alumni from its South Jersey headquarters to orchestras as far-flung as the New York Philharmonic, the Seattle Symphony, and the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic.
Those performing artists who have put down roots in South Jersey are well supported too, by a number of local theater companies across the region. Setting up shop in longstanding venues like the Ritz in Oaklyn, the Broadway Theater in Pitman, or the Grand Theater, local players routinely deliver high-caliber performances throughout their seasons.
And how could they fail to do so in such dramatic settings as the Scottish Rite Theater and Ballroom in Collingswood? The 1,050-seat, art-deco auditorium was originally constructed for Masonic rituals, and is furnished with imported Florentine stained glass windows and original mohair seats. Concerts that once featured its three-story pipe organ now are accented by a state-of-the-art sound and lighting system, and have included such notable acts as Steve Hackett of Genesis, Gordon Lightfoot, and Pat Benatar.
Fine arts in South Jersey are also underpinned by a cottage-industry culture of skilled crafters, jewelry-makers, photographers, painters, and glass workers. These home-based entrepreneurs unite for special neighborhood events, like the Art Within Reach seasonal show and reception and 4Towns4Art home studio tours. They also are setting up in permanent spaces, like the SoHa Arts Building in Haddon Township and The Factory in Collingswood, where they collaborate and educate, inspiring the next wave of young artists who will someday take their places.
Mullica Hill, NJ