Lieutenant governor calls the Institute of Music for Children the ‘best-kept secret in New Jersey’ at ribbon-cutting event

Photo Courtesy of Tierney Fitzmartin
Lt. Gov. Sheila Y. Oliver; Union County Commissioner Angela Garretson; Elizabeth Mayor J. Christian Bollwage; the Institute of Music for Children’s executive director, Alysia Souder; and students stand together at a ribbon-cutting event on Wednesday, Oct. 6, as the Institute of Music for Children celebrates a property donation from the Elizabeth Presbytery of a 2.5-acre campus at 780 Salem Ave. in Elizabeth.

ELIZABETH, NJ — Imagine 2025 was a magical night under the stars in support of the nonprofit organization the Institute of Music for Children, with performances from the school’s students, speeches from state and local dignitaries, and a reception catered by the organization’s culinary program. The institute provides 1,000 underserved children with high-quality classes and programming in music, theater, dance, media and fine arts. The institute’s teachers are professional artists who have performed and taught at Dance Theatre of Harlem, Lincoln Center, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and other prestigious arts organizations.

Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver, Union County Commissioner Angela Garretson, Elizabeth Mayor J. Christian Bollwage, Assemblywoman Annette Quijano, state Sen. Joseph P. Cryan and other local officials toured the grounds to watch dance, theater, and percussion performances at three outdoor locations. The institute’s executive director, Alysia Souder, spoke of the need for funding to renovate the church and other buildings into appropriate classrooms, studios, and performance spaces. Information on the Institute of Music for Children can be found at www.instituteofmusic.org; Development Director Jennifer North can be reached at 908-469-1211 or jnorth@instituteofmusic.org for donation information.

The institute provides financial assistance to a diverse population of youths ages 5-18 from Essex, Union and Middlesex counties. Students of color make up 95 percent of enrollment; 75 percent of the students live in low- to moderate-income households, 38 percent are from single-parent households and 40 percent come from Spanish-speaking households. The afterschool program offers 30- to 90-minute private instruction or group classes, and the summer camp is a five-week, full-day intensive program. The institute has three other programs.

Two serve teens in need. The Job Training and Readiness Program hires 25-35 teens and embeds them in classrooms and administrative departments. Youths receive personalized mentorship, and many alumni have gone on to attend universities, such as Montclair State, Kean and Carnegie Mellon. Teen Arts Nights provides a safe place for teens to socialize and share a meal of fellowship each week.

The property acquisition is an important milestone for this anchor institution, as it sets the stage for future growth and provides an opportunity to serve more vulnerable children throughout the region. The institute will be transforming a religious space into an arts-education center. Located on a well-trafficked state road, the school is raising funds to construct a highly visible entranceway to the campus. Visual artist Cesar Viveros will design a mural to create a cultural identity for the campus.

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