When JMArts, the Jordan-Matthews Arts Foundation, launched its New York Arts Adventure last year, some initially saw the trip for high school artists as a fun way to spend spring break. That may be …
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When JMArts, the Jordan-Matthews Arts Foundation, launched its New York Arts Adventure last year, some initially saw the trip for high school artists as a fun way to spend spring break. That may be true, but what the aspiring actors, musicians and visual artists have discovered is that the five-day interaction with world-class art and artists elevates their work and changes their perspectives.
Community organizations are starting to discover that, as well, with many stepping forward to provide scholarships, tickets to performances and other opportunities in the city for students who may have never even traveled far out of state.
We sat down with Chip Pate, a marketing and public relations consultant based in Pittsboro, who helped create JMArts with his wife, Rose, the media coordinator at Jordan-Matthews High School and president of the foundation. The couple plans every detail of the adventure each year, working with contacts in New York City and the eight student artists who are participating.
Let’s start with the basics. What exactly is the New York Arts Adventure and how is it different from a typical trip over spring break?
It’s the opportunity for talented high school artists in our fairly small, rural community to experience the world’s best art, learn directly from world-class artists and have new experiences that could change their work and their lives.
As far as the agenda goes, we fly to New York City and live in Manhattan for five days. We walk the city, take the subway, try new food and do a few of the tourist things everyone needs to experience, like heading to the top of the Empire State Building and visiting the 9/11 Memorial downtown.
But our real focus is art of all kinds. So, we’ll visit the Museum of Modern Art one morning to see some of the world’s contemporary masterpieces. We’ll attend a performance at the Metropolitan Opera — this year, the legendary Plácido Domingo is performing “La Traviata.” Most of the students were actors in our fall musical, so we’ll attend some shows on Broadway. We’ll have dinner during a late-night session at Jazz at Lincoln Center.
The big difference between the typical trip and this one is that JM artists will get the very rare opportunity to meet and learn from world-renowned artists.
Can you give us an example?
Sure. One of the things we did last year was sit in the orchestra to see “The Band’s Visit,” one of the best musicals I’ve ever experienced on Broadway or anywhere else. After the show ended and the theater was empty, we went on stage with Ari’el Stachel and Etai Benson, two of the show’s principal actors. For about a half hour, we discussed all kinds of topics. How they approached their characters. How they prepared each night for the performance. What it was like trying to make a living as an actor. And it wasn’t just a Q&A; it was a discussion among artists, a real give-and-take.
Ari’el and Etai were as kind and generous as they could possibly have been — honestly, two of the greatest people you could ever meet. Anyway, just a couple of months after that, “The Band’s Visit” won 10 Tony Awards and one of those was Ari’el for Best Featured Actor in a Musical. Then, just a few weeks ago, Ari’el and Etai both won Grammy Awards for the cast album. So, our JM artists had a serious, meaningful chance to learn from Tony and Grammy award-winning artists.
How are you able to arrange encounters like this?
It’s funny. Ari’el asked me if he could meet with the students! I got to know him a little bit through my interest in the show and a few months before the arts adventure, Rose and I saw him after a performance. He asked if we wanted to go downstairs to hear the band jam, so of course we did. On the way, he said, “Chip, when are you bringing the kids? I want to meet the kids.” So, that one sort of fell in our lap.
But we’ve been traveling to the city regularly for a couple of decades and have been blessed to become friends with several artists, and when they find out what we’re trying to do with the New York Arts Adventure, they ask us what they can do to help. In fact, two of them are having long lunches with students this spring to talk about different topics.
Jessie Austrian is a Broadway actress, stage director and co-founder and co-artistic director of Fiasco Theater, a prominent theater company. She will probably discuss life in the arts, but the conversation could go anywhere. Jessie has actually been an enthusiastic supporter of JMArts. When she was directing a show in Chapel Hill last fall, she and Jeri Lynn Schulke at PlayMakers helped us arrange the most incredible evening. We took about 30 students for a backstage tour, to see the play and then discuss the show with the cast.
Peter Marks, who is chief theater critic for The Washington Post, plans to have lunch with us the day before we leave to talk about what we saw during our week. He’s another world-class professional who volunteered to meet with the students and has helped us over the years make some connections for other special events at JM.
Are local people surprised when they find out that this is much more than the average trip over spring break?
It seems that way, especially when we talk with community groups that help us make everything possible. The Wren Foundation was extremely generous last year, when we had a student who couldn’t afford to participate. They provided a scholarship, and the trip made such an impact on that artist that the foundation offered another full scholarship this year. The Jordan-Matthews PTA has helped us every step of the way. The Galloway Ridge Charitable Fund gave us a grant to pay for two of our arts experiences this year, and the trip has helped inspire organizations like the Chatham Arts Council and Rotary Club of Siler City to become involved with JMArts.
Other than the lunch sessions with Jessie Austrian and Peter Marks, are there any other special activities planned for this year’s trip?
Some really exciting ones. We have ninth-row seats on Broadway to see the new musical, “Tootsie,” and after the show, we’re meeting with Andy Grotelueschen, one of the principal actors who plays Jeff Slater. If anyone saw the movie version from a while back, that’s the character who was played by Bill Murray.
We’re also taking a street art tour of the Lower East Side with an acclaimed graffiti artist known as JCORP and, after the tour, she’s leading a hands-on workshop for our artists, so they can try their hand at graffiti. All of our activities are based on what each year’s group wants to experience, and we have several visual artists traveling this year along with the actors and musicians.
Oh, and I can’t leave out the real star of our show, which is our son, Kirby! He’s a JM graduate who studied music and journalism at NYU. Since graduating a couple of years ago, he’s been producing podcasts, including “Three On the Aisle,” a show featuring Peter Marks and two other theater critics: Terry Teachout from The Wall Street Journal and Elisabeth Vincentelli, who writes for a few publications, including The New York Times and New Yorker magazine. Kirby is going to have dim sum with us to talk about life in the city. Though, to be honest, he’s really funny and we want everyone to meet him.
An overview of the New York Arts Adventure, including a link to a more detailed description, is available at jmarts.org/events.