Events include the Columbia High School Jazz Ensemble’s Final Gala Concert, the presentation of the second-annual Paul Bartick Award, and the opening of the Columbia High School AP Art Class’s exhibition in the Herb + Milly Iris Gallery.

Throughout the month of April, South Orange Performing Arts Center (SOPAC) will celebrate its Arts Education Programs with Columbia High School Jazz Ensemble’s Final Gala Concert on April 1 at 7PM, the presentation of the second-annual Paul Bartick Emerging Artist Award on April 3, and Columbia High School AP Art Showcase in the Herb + Milly Iris Gallery opening on April 10.

For many years, SOPAC has partnered with the South Orange-Maplewood School District (SOMSD) to provide transformative arts experiences that fuel creativity and artistic growth among the students. Each year, more than 150 South Orange-Maplewood students across grades 7 through 12 participate in SOPAC’s Arts Education Programs, which include a Jazz Residency program, Alvin Ailey DanceKids Residency program, and numerous student fine art exhibitions in the Herb + Milly Iris Gallery at SOPAC.

“Throughout the years, SOPAC has been diligently working behind the scenes to support the arts education programs offered to the students in our community,” explains Linda Beard, SOPAC’s Education Programs Manager.  “Today, I am thrilled to have the opportunity to shine a light on the partnership between SOMSD and SOPAC that has been instrumental in providing support to these programs.”

James A. Manno, SOMSD Fine & Performing Arts Supervisor continues, “It is my opinion that our partnership with SOPAC affirms the central role of imagination, creativity, and the arts in our SOMA community and schools, along with the power of the arts to enliven and transform education.”


April 1: Columbia High School (CHS) Jazz Ensemble

Currently in its second year, SOPAC’s Jazz Residency Program gives students in Columbia High School’s extracurricular Jazz Ensemble the opportunity to learn from expert Teaching Artists and local Jazz legends John Lee (bass guitar), Alex Collins (piano), Mark Gross (saxophone), Freddie Hendrix (trumpet), Jason Jackson (trombone), Karl Latham (drums), Courtney Sappington (guitar), and Tim Ries (saxophone), among others.  These professional, award-winning musicians devote their time visiting rehearsals and coaching sectionals, indelibly impacting, and inspiring the ensemble of talented and aspiring musicians.

Prior to its partnership with SOPAC, CHS supported a robust Jazz program that received national recognition on numerous occasions.  However, the program experienced a sharp decline in participation after the COVID-19 pandemic.  Since returning to in-person learning, CHS teacher Peter Bauer has been working to rebuild the program. This year, the program includes 36 students, who have been rehearsing twice a week since December to prepare music by Miles Davis, Tommy Dorsey, Buddy Rich, and more Jazz greats for their culminating performance.

SOPAC is thrilled to be hosting these dedicated students for their Final Gala Concert on April 1 at 7PM.  This concert is the culmination of months of rehearsals where the students studied various styles and genres of Jazz and reinforced essential concepts of advanced musicianship.

Purchase tickets for this performance HERE


April 3: Second-Annual Paul Bartick Emerging Artist Award Ceremony

On April 3, SOPAC will present the second Paul Bartick Emerging Artist Award to Columbia High School senior Simone McCrear.  Open to all students who are involved in SOPAC Arts Education Programs, the Bartick Award recognizes the hard work and dedication of young artists who have demonstrated a passion for their craft and outstanding artistic ability.

Simone McCrear

McCrear is an accomplished dancer in an extensive range of styles, including Modern, Contemporary, Jazz, Tap, Hip-Fop, Salsa, Street styles, and Ballet.  She began dancing at four years old, taking weekly classes at Inspirational Dance in Maplewood, New Jersey.  In 2019, she won the High Gold, High Score, Technical Difficulty, and First Place awards for her contemporary solo at the National Association of Dance and Affiliated Arts (NADAA) competition.  Then, in 2023, she received the New Jersey Governor’s Award in Arts Education for Exceptional Artistry and Community Leadership in Dance. McCrear has studied in Joffrey Ballet School’s Jazz & Contemporary Summer Intensive and regularly takes Street-style classes at Broadway Dance Center and Brickhouse Studio.  As a student at Columbia High School, McCrear participated in SOPAC’s Alvin Ailey DanceKids Residency, studying under professional dancer, Noibis Licea, from Alvin Ailey Dance Foundation.

McCrear’s dedication to dance and the arts extends outside of her own training, as she has both taught and assisted classes for children ages 4-10 at her local studio for the past three years.  After college, she intends to pursue a career as a professional dancer.  As a recipient of the Paul Bartick Emerging Artist Award, SOPAC recognizes McCrear’s exceptional commitment to and talent in the arts.

“SOPAC is my happy place for so many reasons,” said Paul Bartick, the award’s namesake. “SOPAC is the cultural heartbeat of the greater SOMA area and an education center that touches many students each year with arts experiences that transform. We are grateful to work with so many talented students—I imagine SOPAC is becoming their happy place too!”

SOPAC will present McCrear with the award at the Moving into the Future: New Jersey Choreographers’ Festival on April 3, where she will perform an original choreographed dance.  This three-day festival is co-presented by SOPAC and the New Jersey State Council on the Arts and will include performances from 14 of the 2023 Arts Council Individual Choreography Fellows.

In preparation for her performance at the festival, McCrear worked with her mentor Noibis Licea from Alvin Ailey to refine her choreography and style.  “I’m so happy to be working with Simone,” Licea says.  “I noticed her right away and pulled her to the front to let her shine.  She is a special dancer with star quality.”

Purchase tickets for this event HERE


April 11-May 4: Columbia High School Advanced Placement Art Showcase

Finally, on April 11, SOPAC will host the Opening Reception of the inaugural Columbia High School AP Art Year-End Showcase. Having outgrown Columbia High School’s Domareki Art Gallery, the students’ devoted teacher, Alexandra Cappucci, spearheaded the shift to a professional exhibition experience in the Herb + Milly Iris Gallery on SOPAC’s second and third floors.

“Last year, I came to CHS as the AP Art teacher in October,” Cappucci said, “The belated start to the school year, along with scheduling conflicts, meant that students did not have a proper showcase in 2023. This year, I wanted to change that. We have amazing students who are going to some of the best art colleges in the country. This year, we have students accepted into Parsons, Pratt, MICA, SCAD, SVA, and more acceptances are coming in every day. These students are the future artists of America, and this showcase is a celebration of them and all of their work.”

In her classroom, Cappucci fostered a student-centric environment that nurtured a sense of belonging and creative freedom. The program flourished under her guidance, with students excelling and garnering accolades, including perfect AP scores. Thanks to her leadership, students were empowered to take creative risks and explore their passions, resulting in an incredible display of talent and dedication.

All the students in Cappucci’s class will also be encouraged to submit other works to SOPAC’s annual exhibition INSPIRED MINDS, a juried art exhibition featuring work by high school students from across Essex County.

RSVP to the free opening reception HERE


“It is truly a serendipitous moment to acknowledge the excellent work being done to empower the youth through art and creativity as these three separate programs come together in April,” Beard said.

SOPAC thanks the Hearst Foundation, the Orange Orphan Society, and its members and patrons for their continued generous support of SOPAC’s Arts Education Programs throughout the years.  Get your tickets to support the artists of tomorrow TODAY!