ORANGE, NJ — The final curtain has fallen for Arts Unbound, the Orange organization founded in 2000 to provide artistic services for disabled individuals and senior citizens. “Opulent Mobility,” the nonprofit’s final exhibition, took place Saturday, Sept. 14, after which it closed its doors for good. The organization was geared toward the principle that art is for all and its closure is a hard pill to swallow for many in the community.
Arts Unbound founder Cate Lazen said in a recent press release: “We are not able to recover from what we are calling a perfect storm of financial and organizational changes, but the viability, quality and impact of our core programs remain intact. So, while I am disappointed that Arts Unbound can no longer exist on its own, I am hopeful that our mission can endure and that our programs can continue with a new home, under the umbrella of another entity.”
“I am unrelenting in my efforts, so that the mission of empowerment through visual arts of education and professional development can endure,” Lazen told the Record-Transcript in a recent interview. “Nineteen years ago, I founded this organization to earn and achieve through quality education and vocational training. It’s a bittersweet moment for me.”
In the release, Lazen stated: “As the founder of Arts Unbound, I am, with great sadness, announcing the closure of Arts Unbound as an independent, nonprofit organization. For 19 years, Arts Unbound has been providing visual arts education and professional development support to seniors and people living with disabilities. In the beginning, I taught classes out of my minivan filled with art supplies and held board meetings in my attic. Because of dedicated staff and teachers, and the enormous generosity of donors, vendors, volunteers and retail customers, Arts Unbound changed the lives of thousands, yes, thousands of people: the artists, their families and the communities where they live. I am proud of the work we did together and I am inspired and humbled by our artists and the countless works of art that were produced, exhibited and sold across the country.”
Barbara Bornstein, wife of Leonard Bornstein, who served on the Arts Unbound board for many years, fondly remembers her husband and his connection to the program.
“My husband was incredibly involved with Arts Unbound,” said Bornstein in an interview with the Record-Transcript at the Sept. 14 exhibition. “He died last July. As long as the program was here, there was a part of him that was still alive.”
Lazen expressed her thanks for Bornstein’s work in the press release. “I am particularly grateful to the late Lenny Bornstein, whose leadership and love for Arts Unbound was a sustainable force, and to Arnold Stern, who gave generously to Arts Unbound,” she stated. “Mr. Stern’s gifts honor both his late wife and his friend, Lenny, with the naming of the Dora Stern Gallery and the Dr. Leonard Bornstein Education Center at Arts Unbound.
“Our impact extended far beyond our mission to support artistic expression, achievement and earning for people who live with the challenges of aging, chronic illness and disability. Communities are at their strongest when they look for and invest in the strengths of those living on the margins. The return on your generous and compassionate investment is immeasurable.
Artists who have gained notoriety through Arts Unbound, such as Amy Charmatz, can’t imagine what life will be like without the program.
“I was in the Star-Ledger for my work. My painting, ‘Getting Ahead of the Game,’ was featured in the Smithsonian Museum and I’ve been waiting to be discovered,” she said in an interview with the Record-Transcript. “The fact that it’s closing is devastating.”
Even as it closed down, Arts Unbound still had one final hurrah, “Opulent Mobility,” on Saturday, Sept. 14, from 2 to 4 p.m., at the Dora Stern Gallery at Arts Unbound, 544 Freeman St., Orange. The show was launched in 2013 in Los Angeles by artist and curator A. Laura Brody and the 2019 show is co-curated with photographer and disability arts activist Anthony Tusler. It features more than 30 artworks by artists from around the globe with reimaginings of mobility and devices used by people with disabilities in the form of sculpture, photography, painting, collage and video.
“So bittersweet. Really glad to go out on a passionate note but sad that it’s closing. We need more programs like this,” Brody told the Record-Transcript.
Katelyn Webb, whose art was showcased at the event, was also affected by the closing of Arts Unbound.
“It feels like being punched in the gut,” Webb said. “This was my second artistic home.”
Others said they feel the same way. Although there are talks about salvaging the program into a school or finding a place to implement the program, Arts Unbound will be missed.
According to the press release from Arts Unbound, anyone with personal artwork or property at one of its locations can contact Celene Ryan at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn the dates and times available to come and reclaim them by Wednesday, Sept. 25.
“As of today, all scheduled classes have been cancelled and we are currently in the process of initiating refunds for those who have already paid,” said Lazen in the press release. “Moving forward, Arts Unbound will be working to re-home our still vibrant programs. News about restructuring and/or new offerings will be posted on the Arts Unbound website, www.artsunbound.org.”
Photos by EmilyAnn Jackman.