Originally posted on the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation Blog.
The City of Orange Township, NJ has a powerful spirit that is fueled by its passionate, committed residents, nonprofit leaders, business owners, teachers, and local officials. Last Friday and Saturday, nearly 100 of these community leaders assembled for a Call to Collaboration to answer the question: Making Orange Pop: How Can We Embrace Culture, Nurture Creativity, and Drive Innovation?
Following in the footsteps of Creative New Jersey’s other “creative communities” Creative Orange’s Host Team achieved great success in assembling an incredibly diverse group of participants. The folks who joined the Call to Collaboration represented arts & cultural organizations, the Orange school system, community development organizations, city government (thank you to Mayor Dwayne Warren for joining us!), healthcare, local businesses, financial institutions, higher education and a host of community nonprofits, and ranged in age from 16 to 86 years old!
The organizations represented included HANDS, Inc.; ValleyArts; Church of the Epiphany; Orange Board of Education; City of Orange (Mayor’s Office and Dept. Of Recreation); New Jersey Institute of Technology; Rising Tide Capital; Arts Unbound; Investor’s Savings Bank; ORNG, Ink.; FAMILYConnections; South Orange Performing Arts Center; TerraNoble Design, P.A.; Hat City Kitchen; Luna Stage Company; Greater Newark LISC; Montclair State University; Catholic Charities; Millburn Public Schools; MBD Strategic Communications, and dozens of other companies, organizations and institutions. The cultural and racial diversity in the room was also very exciting as a mix of African-American, Latino, Caucasian, and Native American voices spoke in a unified manner about the future of this urban center.
The multi-cultural Church of the Epiphany, under the leadership of Reverend Miguelina Howell, hosted our convening. This center of community life was a perfect location in which to hold our Creative Orange convening. Over the course of two days, the participants created their own agenda, and 34 breakout sessions occurred. These intentional, action-oriented discussions focused on topics such as:
- The creation of an Arts Alliance for The Oranges;
- The development of meaningful, sustainable and engaged community involvement in program development, community solutions and political accountability is vital for the success of Orange and its exciting future. Lack of an informed citizenry perpetuates status quo as well as deprives those with ideas and a desire to participate in their community from any meaningful community engagement.
- The development of a robust branding and communications strategy for Orange.
There were also several discussions which embraced a cross-sector approach to solving challenges; one such example focuses on the health and wellness of Orange residents. Participants discussed a variety of ways to combat community health issues (not the least of which is a high rate of diabetes and obesity) ranging from establishing community vegetable gardens, to promoting healthy physical activity through the arts (i.e. dance and theatre), to insisting city officials enforce codes relating to freshness expiration dates, to establishing a Creating Healthy Families program using the creative industries to promote and champion affordable and accessible healthy food choices for all Orange residents.
Several sessions focused on the city’s youth and opportunities for bringing the youth together with the senior population. This multi-generational approach was present throughout the convening and it was exciting to witness the synergy between the generations as the conversations ensued.
Throughout the convening, several individuals expressed themselves creatively in haiku, sketches, and in song. One member played two songs on his harmonica for us during the opening session of day 2 while others left their creative mark on a large white canvas.
By Saturday afternoon, small teams coalesced around specific issues and immediate, short-term action steps were established. In the coming weeks, these teams are gathering to continue developing their strategies for effecting change in Orange in a creative, cooperative and sustainable manner.
All of us at Creative New Jersey applaud our Creative Orange colleagues. Personally, I feel very grateful to have worked alongside the members of the Creative Orange Host Team (led by our friends at HANDS, Inc. and ValleyArts) and am equally excited for the privilege of engaging with the larger group of Creative Orange participants. Their passion is infectious. Their spirit is overwhelmingly positive. We know they can create the prosperous, healthy, and sustainable future they deserve and we stand at their side ready to assist in whatever way we can. Congratulations Creative Orange!
Elizabeth Murphy is the Director of Creative New Jersey. She is also currently assisting the Council of New Jersey Grantmakers with their coordination of the Post-Sandy Philanthropic Response in NJ.
Creative New Jersey is dedicated to fostering creativity, innovation, and sustainability by empowering cross-sector partnerships in commerce, education, philanthropy, government, and culture in order to ensure dynamic communities and a thriving economy.