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This article was prepared for the March 10, 2004 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

What Is Transcultural New Jersey?

A report from the U.S. Census Bureau inspired the December, 2003, launch of the “Transcultural New Jersey Arts and Education Initiative,” a year-long, statewide initiative spearheaded by Rutgers University, Rutgers’ Office for Intercultural Initiatives, and the Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum, in partnership with New Jersey Network (NJN) Public Television. The project is designed to move local visual artists from underrepresented populations into the mainstream art world, provide insight into the state’s immigrant population, foster cross-cultural dialogue and understanding, and enrich school curricula.

A “Census 2000” report released by the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers, underscored the fact that New Jersey stands in the midst of a profound demographic transformation. Over the last five years, the state’s Asian community increased 71 percent, the Latino community 39 percent, and the African-American community 15 percent, resulting in an additional 2.5 million residents.

“These census statistics, combined with the older African-American and multiethnic population already residing here, position New Jersey as one of the most diverse states in the nation,” says Isabel Nazario, director of the Office for Intercultural Initiatives and the Latino Arts and Cultural Center at Rutgers. “Further research revealed that New Jersey artists from these ethnic groups were also underrepresented and highlighted the need to recognize their contributions in shaping the state’s culture and communities.”

Transcultural New Jersey is believed to be the first art exhibition program in the country to carry a central statewide theme. More than 20 of the state’s educational institutions, arts organizations, museums, galleries and libraries have collaborated to explore and promote the works of African-American, Asian-American, Hispanic/Latino and Native-American Garden State artists. The first exhibit opened at the Morris Museum in Morristown in December. Additional exhibitions, educational programs, and community events are taking place at venues in Atlantic, Bergen, Camden, Essex, Hudson, Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Monmouth, Morris, Passaic, and Union counties.

Jeffrey Wechsler, senior curator of the Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum, along with Nazario and colleagues from the university’s Center for Innovative Print and Paper, and cultural centers at Rutgers, developed the project with NJN and the Jersey City Museum.

Exhibit themes explore, for example, how works by recently emigrated artists compare to those who have lived here many years, how these works embody their former and new homelands, and the role played by multi-ethnic artists and teachers in educating the next generations of artists. Corresponding activities include panel discussions with the artists, artist-in-residence programs, and performances.

Currently on exhibit at Rutgers’ Mason Gross School for the Arts is “The Legacy and Influence of Artist/Educators from New Jersey’s Multiple Ethnic & Racial Communities,” on view at the Center for Innovative Print and Paper, Civic Square Building, 33 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick. For information call 732-932-9360. Show runs to June 30. Opening Sunday, April 4, at the Jane Vorhees Zimmerli Museum is “Transcultural New Jersey: The Mainstream and the Margins,” on view to July 31. 732-932-7237.

For complete exhibition schedule, go to www.transculturalNJorg.

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