by Miriam Rinn
Former Communications Director, JCC Association
One hundred seventy-five Jewish teens from around the U.S., Israel, and Ukraine came together in August to celebrate the Art of Creation, the central theme that inspired seven specialty groups—vocal music, musical theater, visual arts, digital video, instrumental music (jazz and rock), techies, and reporting. At the opening ceremony, each group took on one of the biblical days of creation, and their interpretations ranged from an interview with God by the reporters to a light show by the techies. On the last day of ArtsFest, the groups performed for an enthusiastic public, which raced from the musical theater show in the Gordon Performing Arts Center to the rock and jazz bands in the early childhood wing, to the funny short film created by the digital video crew, and back to the Gordon Center to hear teens interpreting their own songs and those of others. Then people pored over that week’s issue of the Baltimore Jewish Times, which published the articles the star reporters wrote about the whole thing.
Besides giving form to an inchoate idea, the JCC of Greater Baltimore’s ArtsFest committee chose a select group of accomplished professionals, which everyone agreed made ArtsFest such an extraordinary experience. Playwright and composer Liz Swados wrote six songs for the musical theater group and somehow pushed and pulled 60 disparate teens with different talents into a cohesive performance troupe. Singer-songwriter Stacy Beyer worked one-on-one with singers to help each express deep feelings through lyrics and song interpretation. Multi-instrumentalist Josh Nelson hopped from room to room in the early-childhood wing, guiding the different rock bands to really rock, and Israeli Jazz flutist Mattan Klein brought together 13 musicians to form a jazz band in what was usually the preschool library. Visual artist Jay Wolf Schlossberg-Cohen, artistic consultant for the event, encouraged his young artists to conceive, then draw, and finally paint a brilliantly colored permanent mural on an interior hallway of the JCC. Technical Director of the Gordon Center David Eske guided technically-gifted teens to design a lighting scheme. Videographer Paul Santomenna brought his own editing equipment to show his teens how to cut and pace video to make an arresting film. And Phil Jacobs, editor of the Jewish Times, took his young writers on a tour of the newspaper’s offices and then assigned them stories, helped them edit, and finally published their articles in the paper. “Counting the website stories, they produced about nine thousand words of copy in four days,” Jacobs said. “I can’t get my professional staff to do that. They were amazing.”
Participants traveled long distances to take part in ArtsFest. Fifteen-year-old Helen Leibman from San Francisco came to ArtsFest already a veteran of the JCC Maccabi Games and JCC Maccabi Israel. Another visual artist, Yulia Kursakova, traveled even farther. Along with five others, she came from Odessa, Ukraine, by way of Paris! Participants came from Ashkelon, Israel, northern New Jersey, New York City, and Chicago. Just as at the JCC Maccabi Games, the teens stayed with local host families.
“Both of my kids are artists,” said Betty & Milton Katz JCC delegation head Harriet Kirsch Pozen. “I would have given anything to give them this opportunity.” Outgoing and enthusiastic, Pozen is a champion of the arts in her own JCC, and a long-time chair of the Book Fair Committee. Recently, she took the staff position of cultural and Judaic director. “I can’t believe I’m getting paid to do this,” she bubbled. For her, it was the Judaic component that made the event so special. After all, arts camps are not that unusual, but Jewish arts programs are. Like the JCC Maccabi Games, ArtsFest made its impact at least partially through numbers. This was the most young Jewish artists many of the teens had ever seen.
The JCC of Greater Monmouth County in Deal, New Jersey and the Adolph & Rose Levis JCC in Boca Raton, Florida are hosting the 2007 JCC Maccabi ArtsFest, and their representatives were watching closely in Baltimore. “This has been an incredible week,” said Stephanie Owitz Greenberg, the 2007 ArtsFest chair from the Levis JCC. Both JCCs are considering collaborating with universities in their areas, which would be a slightly different model than the one used in Baltimore. That’s as it should be, according to Lenny Rubin, JCC Association executive VP of program services. The idea was to let the first communities develop the models and see what worked best. “Does geography matter? What is the optimal size?” asked Alan Solow, chair of JCC Association. “We are learning the numbers we can handle. We don’t know the answers yet.” Judging by the excitement and enthusiasm at the first ArtsFest, the problem will be one of abundance.