WEST ORANGE, NJ — Local artists in search of feedback and encouragement need look no further than the Creative Connections program offered by the West Orange Arts Council, now located in its new home, the West Orange Arts Center at 551 Valley Road in West Orange.
The newly opened center has been in operation for about six weeks, and the WOAC is eager to make it a place the area artistic community will eventually call home.
The open and inviting space boasts the craftsmanship of council members in every place imaginable: thoughtfully arranged paintings by the coat rack and inside the restroom, a bulletin board of original poems inside a meeting room, a gallery room inviting both guests and sunlight in to view photography and paintings of all genres.
The arts center also serves as the home to Creative Connections, a monthly discussion group that welcomes all artists: painters, photographers, poets, novelists, sculptors, digital artists and others. The goal of the group is to provide not only a welcoming and friendly environment for attendees, but also a place where they can receive constructive feedback and new ideas on how to perfect their craft.
“One of the reasons why it was created was to fill a void,” co-founder Carol Lemon said in an interview with the West Orange Chronicle. “People had a creative void that they didn’t know how to fill, or even where to start to figure it out. There was a real need to have a connection with others.”
Lemon, the WOAC chairwoman, said that the idea for the Creative Connection was formed approximately 10 years ago, when she and a few other members realized that their meetings had become very administrative in nature, with little creativity involved.
“Everything was ’What are we doing and when are we doing it?’” Lemon said. “So a few of us started meeting at Panera Bread for a few years, and then we moved to meeting at each other’s homes, and then for a while we were meeting in a conference room at the Wilshire Hotel.”
Lemon said the fledgling group finally realized it needed a permanent space of their own after moving to the West Orange Public Library.
“We would just be getting into the good part of a discussion when someone would come in and let us know that the library was closing in 15 minutes,” said Aron Lifschultz, a Maplewood resident and metal artist who frequently attends the group and also volunteers at the center.
Now that Creative Connections has a home of its own, the group hopes to bring in more artists and more ideas as word spreads.
“Most of the artists are visual, but all are welcomed. It’s not really about the art, it’s about the creativity,” Lemon said. “Our goal is to nurture someone to love their work. We’re just a group of like-minded people trying to encourage each other.”
The discussion group averages between eight to 10 members each month, a number that Lemon is confident will increase as word travels about the exciting things that are taking place at the arts center.
“When we have newcomers we’re always excited to know why they came and what they’re working on,” she said.
In addition to fostering and developing the creative process for local artists, the arts center is also focused on providing tools for them to take their art to the next level by offering various workshops. Workshops range from critique and development tools to methods for properly advertising and marketing your craft to the public.
In the future, the West Orange Arts Center also hopes to offer children’s art classes and workshops, as well as adult ones.
Amelia Panico, a photographer and member of the West Orange Arts Council and frequent attendee of the Creative Connections program, spoke about the ways in which the program has broadened her horizons as both a resident and an artist.
“I had been going to West Orange Arts Council Meetings, wanting to get more involved with the community and in particular the arts,” Panico wrote in an email. “As I feel the arts adds a dimension of culture and broaden how we see things, I felt a need to share and connect with the artists in my community. Peer to peer.
“It has helped me to examine my work with more minds — hearts and minds. It has helped me to take my work in directions I did not think to go,” Panico continued. “It’s also a good source of information if you’re trying new mediums; others are very open about sharing information. Artists are also very generous about sharing information about art shows to see and art shows to submit work into.”
Panico also noted that the creative process can sometimes be a lonely one, and knowing others who understand this is powerful.
“Creating art itself can be a reclusive experience; there is a great deal of solitude one can get from that experience but at some point the art along with the artist need to make the connections to others and Creative Connections meetings are a good place to start,” she said.
That is exactly what the founders of Creative Connections had in mind, and now with their new home, they are eager to reach even more creative souls in the community.
“We want to do a lot more workshops,” Lemon said. “We want this place to be busy. We want this place to be jumping.”
Creative Connections meets the second Wednesday of each month from 7 to 9 p.m. at the West Orange Arts Center on 551 Valley Road.