We Do Windows
NJPAC’s version of Spring cleaning takes place during the Summer months, when the campus is primped and primed for the busy Fall season ahead. A small army is dispatched to fix and replace, whether that warrants pulling a weed or rappelling the building’s façade to erase smudges on a window.
A typical household to-do list might include buying a new coffeemaker, but when the espresso machine at NICO Kitchen + Bar gave up the beans this Summer, NJPAC upgraded to a highly automated model that practically speaks Italian. That’s considered a small appliance here. Light boards, dock lifts, hot water heaters and audio equipment all have shelf lives and all are essential to keeping the Arts Center humming.
Unlike the scribbled notes left on the kitchen counter, though, a capital database keeps NJPAC’s Operations Department in the loop. Detailed records, projecting 15 to 20 years from now, list major components, the date of purchase and life expectancy. Corrosion and age are enemies of the infrastructure.
Chad Spies, Assistant Vice President of Site Operations, manages to describe a load of laborious duties that played out this Summer – while smiling. Apply fresh coats of paint, stay on task with the Center for Arts Education and Site Offices buildings, spruce up the landscaping and install new plantings, inspect brick walkways and paving to prevent tripping … check, check and check. Operations staff moved the vending machines from the Performers’ Lounge so artists’ assistants now have a cubbyhole office equipped with a computer. The job wasn’t anticipated – “it was an opportunity,” says Spies.
Outside, the rolling green turf battered by thousands of happy, dancing feet at this Summer’s Horizon Foundation Sounds of the City concerts has been restored to its usual luster. NJPAC maintains the cleanliness of the New Jersey Walk of Fame and its plaques – only to the bottom of the brick stairs near the Newark Light Rail. (The Arts Center takes care of Bruce Springsteen, but NJ Transit looks after Danny DeVito.)
The high exteriors of the main building’s spectacular, soaring windows are cleaned biannually and the high interiors are done each Summer. Like a badly-costumed version of Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark, safety-conscious workers rappel up and down the façade, more than four stories above the ground. A lift is parked inside the Rotunda for those hard to reach spots in the ceiling’s dome.
During these months, Elaine Manna also makes an appearance. A museum exhibitions designer, she is NJPAC’s steward for art and artifacts. She was recently spotted brushing particles of dust from an architectural model of Downtown Newark with a fine paintbrush and inspecting the tiny artificial shrubbery for signs of deterioration. Manna also ensures that NJPAC’s collection of African art is clean, hung properly and displayed safely.
And then there’s all that copper, which contributes to the glowing, warm quality of NJPAC’s interiors. Because it is unsealed (aside from some elements like lighting fixtures), housekeepers have to glide cloths along the surfaces of handrails and handles to prevent oxidation – after every show. “Anything copper that you touch, if it’s not sealed, tends to turn black quickly, within a day or two,” Spies explains.
You might compare TLC at the Arts Center to maintaining a luxury car that always needs repairs in order to “transport” its passengers.
A glance at the gleaming marble floor in the Rotunda (where even the engraved names of benefactors are cleaned periodically) reveals an acknowledgment to Betty Wold Johnson, NJPAC’s patron saint of honest work. The philanthropist’s 2008 gift of $11 million was dedicated to the building’s upkeep – not a glamorous aspect to fund, but undoubtedly a vital one.
“She asked me a question that I never get asked: ‘What is the hardest category for which you’re seeking money?’,” Founding President and CEO Lawrence P. Goldman told The Star-Ledger at the time. “I said, ‘Nobody wants to support keeping the building in “like new” condition.’ (She said) ‘That’s exactly what I want to give the money for, then.’”
Sept. 26, 2013