This month the New Brunswick-based arts organization, coLAB Arts, will present Still Segues, a photography exhibition of works by seven artists from the Rutgers Photography Club. The exhibition kicks off with an Opening Reception this Friday, April 22, and a Second-Look Reception (what a concept!) next Friday, April 29, at the arts group’s space located on the 3rd floor, above a Middle Eastern restaurant, at 49 Bayard Street in downtown New Brunswick. In addition to the requisite food and wine, these two opening events will include entertainment by musicians Alex Denman-Brice, Jeff Deppa and Damian Kulikowski.
And while coLAB has put on many gallery shows during its 5 year lifespan, visual art is just one of the many types of creative endeavors supported and nurtured by the organization.
The original group was primarily comprised of Rutgers students, said Dan Swern, coLAB co-founder and Producing Director, but the make-up of the organization has expanded over the years to include graduates and others from the area.
The scope has changed as well. Not only is coLAB an active arts presenter – of everything from dance, puppet slams, artists’ dinners, and more – but the organization has a vital educational component as well.
Swern, who speaks passionately about coLAB, explained to me about the “very different theater programs” that coLAB is doing at two local high schools. At New Brunswick High School, students learn advanced acting craft and Shakespeare, and then work as an apprentice company on a professional theater company production. At the other school, in Perth Amboy, students learn how to create original pieces that are based on personal experiences, and then they have an opportunity to perform these works.
While coLAB is consistently searching for new ways to cultivate art in New Brunswick, Swern says that the city already has a fairly lively cultural scene. “We like to tap into the community,” he says. “Often we find out about something that another organization is doing, and we figure out how we can collaborate”, he explains. For example, when George Street Theatre put on “Sight Unseen” in 2009, coLAB did a gallery exhibit in the theater. And when the State Theatre presented a major outdoor art festival, coLAB was a part of that.
The group is proud of its many successes, such as last summer’s dance festival that featured nearly a dozen pieces by talented young local choreographers and the grant-funded puppet slams that have become so popular that they may outgrow the current performance space. But, according to Swern, the group is still trying to “find itself”. “We see ourselves in many roles – resource, advocate, and presenter,” Swern says, “but the actual organization is still taking shape.”
Art exhibitions often center on a preselected idea or subject, but the theme for this show developed naturally from the works themselves. “We didn’t specify what we were looking for”, says Francisco, “because we wanted the artists to select what they thought were their best works. But, as we were looking through the pieces, we began to notice a definite focus on movement – human motion, motion in nature, energy, the absence of energy – in the works.”
The artists – Matt Drews, Samantha Kelly, Emily Kohl-Mattingley, Mary Kate Riecks, Pablo Ruiz, and Ceaphas Stubbs – all attend Rutgers and are members of the school’s Photography Club, and artist Skyla Pojednic is the Club president and co-curator of the show. But, each of have specific interests – geology for one, meteorology for another – and those definitely come through in the art. Iin spite of the commonality, Francisco says the theme is implemented in “very different and dynamic ways”.
Aside from just being a place to display work, Francisco says that an exhibit like is an expansive experience for student artists. Unlike a student show that is directly related to the Rutgers arts program, this exhibit – in an off-campus gallery space – will likely attract a new audience. “It is a great opportunity for these artists to connect with the public.”
Francisco started working, as an intern, with coLAB about a year ago. Her first task was to put on the intern art show, and after that, she was eager to assume more responsibilities with the group. She now, with the help of interns and volunteers, oversees the operation of the gallery, curates the exhibits, and manages the press and marketing. A recent effort to establish regular hours was a success, Francisco told me, so the gallery is now open from 3 PM to 10 PM on Fridays and 6 PM to 10 PM on Sundays.
Even though her work and class schedule keep Francisco extremely busy, she is satisfied with her choice to become involved with coLAB. “I could have been just sitting in a gallery someplace”, Francisco says, “but this is a totally hands-on experience.”