Photo caption: SOPAC teaching artist-in-residence Aurora Mendez, instructs Orange Township School District students as part of the SOPAC music residency program.

The South Orange Performing Arts Center has been approved for a $10,000 Challenge America award to support SOPAC’s music residency program.

SOPAC’s music residency program is among 168 projects across America totaling $1,680,000 that were selected to receive fiscal year 2022 funding in the Challenge America grant category. SOPAC is 1 of 20 New Jersey institutions to receive funding from the National Endowment for the Arts this cycle.

SOPAC’s music residency launched in 2016 to bring Classical music instruction to children in under-funded school districts. Through this program, teaching artists engage with elementary, middle and high school students to provide one-on-one strings instruction, primarily for violin.

As part of the SOPAC music residency, teaching artist-in-residence Aurora Mendez brings her expertise and love of music to Jhi-Eun Gu’s music class in the Orange Township School District.

“Having that second pair of hands in my classroom is invaluable,” says Gu. “This program is such a vital resource for my students. It elevates the level of musical instruction and learning opportunities available to my students.”

With this funding, SOPAC aims to enrich the program by expanding the teaching artist’s schedule and introducing more robust cello instruction to the residency.

“I’m thrilled to have a national organization recognize the work that we’re doing,” says Linda Beard, SOPAC’s Director of Community Engagement. “These two teachers are so dedicated to their students. They are a remarkable team and I’m so glad that the SOPAC music residency and this grant will continue to provide support to these talented music students.”

About Challenge America:

Challenge America grants offer support primarily to small and mid-sized organizations for projects that extend the reach of the arts to populations that have limited access to the arts due to geography, ethnicity, economics, or disability. There are 168 organizations recommended in this funding category for a total of $1,680,000. Each grant is for $10,000 and requires a minimum $10,000 cost share/match. For more information on other projects included in the grant announcement, visit

About the National Endowment for the Arts:

Established by Congress in 1965, the National Endowment for the Arts is the independent federal agency whose funding and support gives Americans the opportunity to participate in the arts, exercise their imaginations, and develop their creative capacities. Through partnerships with state arts agencies, local leaders, other federal agencies, and the philanthropic sector, the Arts Endowment supports arts learning, affirms and celebrates America’s rich and diverse cultural heritage, and extends its work to promote equal access to the arts in every community across America.