Johnson & Johnson’s Unwavering Commitment to the Arts
Posted on 12/21/2021
As State Theatre New Jersey celebrates its 100th anniversary, it is important to look back and appreciate the people and organizations who have helped us thrive along the way.
State Theatre shares the city of New Brunswick with the global headquarters of Johnson & Johnson, an American multinational medical and pharmaceutical corporation founded in 1886 whose products are a part of every American’s life. Johnson & Johnson has supported the growth of arts and culture in New Brunswick from its inception, which has spawned a strong and meaningful partnership between J&J and State Theatre.
In the 1930s, State Theatre, known as “The RKO State Theatre” at the time, was an elegant movie palace that community members would go to for both films and live performances. The theater drew large crowds until the 1970s, when the building was sold and converted to a rental facility. After years of neglect, the once-glamorous building was in ruins, New Brunswick itself was in decline, and J&J was considering leaving the city as part of a national exodus of big businesses from America’s cities. Fortunately, government officials convinced the corporation to stay by presenting a plan for New Brunswick's revitalization. The State Theatre was an instrumental part of the city's plan. In 1979, the theater was purchased by the New Brunswick Development Corporation (DEVCO) as part of New Brunswick’s revitalization project.
A few years later, in 1983, Johnson & Johnson was looking for a large, off-site meeting space for its annual Shareholders Meeting because the Tylenol tampering crisis was to be discussed and higher than usual attendance was anticipated. J&J, committed to helping bring the city back to its lively and colorful self, saw what the theater could be with a little TLC. It believed the theater could once again be a cultural hub and a positive force in revitalizing New Brunswick.
In preparation for the 1983 Shareholders Meeting, Johnson & Johnson had State Theatre's interior, which had been painted black in its movie days, completely whitewashed, and its leadership, including then-Chairman and CEO Richard Sellars and Corporate Vice President of Administration John J. Heldrich, saw its potential. State Theatre opened back up as a non-profit performing arts center in 1988, something it could not have done without Johnson & Johnson’s support.
Since the State Theatre's 1988 reopening, Johnson & Johnson executives have served on State Theatre’s board and committees, sustaining the theater in innumerable ways. The corporation has helped the theater to reach new audiences and establish it as one of the finest theaters in the country.
Over the years, generous annual support from Johnson & Johnson has helped to underwrite a wide variety of State Theatre programs, including the Orchestra Series, Performances for Schools, Sensory-Friendly Performances, the Artist-in-Residence Program, Symphony Scholars, and a host of Community Engagement initiatives.
In 2010, State Theatre honored former Johnson & Johnson Chief Executive Richard Sellars when he passed away at the age of 94, and his portrait remained in the outer lobby for more than 10 years. Additionally, State Theatre’s second floor lobby is named The Heldrich Room in honor of John Heldrich, who passed away in 2014.
Also in 2014, State Theatre celebrated the 25th anniversary of its reopening with a benefit concert by Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. State Theatre honored Johnson & Johnson as a silver anniversary honoree for the corporation’s continued support and commitment to the city of New Brunswick.
Annually, State Theatre holds an employee reception and performance for Johnson & Johnson, hosted by Michael Sneed, J&J's Executive Vice President, Global Corporate Affairs and Chief Communication Officer.
In addition to its generous annual support, Johnson & Johnson is a supporter of State Theatre’s 2021 centennial renovation project, as are numerous retired executives, including former Vice-Chair Bob Campbell, former Treasurer Andy Markey, former Vice President Sal Romano, and many other retirees and current employees. And coincidentally, 2021 also marks the 100th anniversary of J&J’s BAND-AID Brand Adhesive Bandages, which changed the world!