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State Theatre New Jersey

Sightlines

What’s In a Name? (More than you might think.)

Our department has a new name! Education & Outreach is now Education & Community Engagement. The change grew out of some thoughtful conversations with the State Theatre’s new CEO, Sarah Chaplin, about the fundamental role and objectives of our education programs—both as they are now and where we envision them in the future. It quickly became clear that the word ‘outreach’ was too small an umbrella to cover all the programs that fall under State Theatre Education. So we set ourselves the task of finding a new name. Like the fairytale prince and his glass slipper, we went through a lot of candidates before finding the perfect fit. After our internet searches, creative brainstorming, and lively semantical debates, we finally arrived at ‘community engagement.’

What’s the difference between ‘community engagement’ and ‘outreach’?

The clearest definition I found comes from arts management consultant Doug Borwick, who suggests that “outreach is…done for; community engagement is done with.” He describes outreach as a one-way process: the organization shares a program or resource with a target group—most often a group or community outside the organization’s traditional base. The State Theatre does a lot of outreach, such as providing free tickets for disadvantaged groups, hosting special events like our Pride Nights, programming artists  who appeal to a specific audience that doesn’t typically come to the theater (recent examples include Grupo Niche and Black Violin). These kinds of outreach initiatives make the arts more accessible for thousands of people each year, and help us build future audiences.

“It is from community that the arts developed and it is in serving communities that the arts will thrive.” —Doug Borwick

Where outreach helps build audiences, community engagement is all about building relationships. It’s a two-way process; programs and activities grow out of the shared goals, needs, and interests of the organization and its community partners. In bringing together their collective knowledge, perspective, and resources, the partnerships have the power to transform both the organization and its community partners. The State Theatre’s community encompasses a wide network of people and organizations—not just our audience, but also students, families, schools, businesses, partner organizations, government agencies, donors, and more.

The State Theatre’s annual residency with poet Glenis Redmond is an example of community engagement at its very best. The program is built on a collection of partnerships developed over the years with a core group of schools, senior centers, residential treatment facilities, and other organizations. Each year, the theater takes Glenis into these disparate settings to lead poetry workshops. Participants write poems inspired by their own lives: childhood memories, family, cultural heritage, personal triumphs and tragedies. The residency culminates in a public reading, where this diverse group of writers—spanning generations, cultures, conditions, and life experiences—share their poems with the community. Hearing all these voices, the poets and audience discover that we have more in common than we think.

So what’s in a name? I’ll have to disagree with Shakespeare’s Juliet and say, “a lot.”

By Lian Farrer, Vice President of Education & Community Engagement

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