Camden's premier theater company ousts its founder, a beloved downtown gallery closes, a respected arts education program searches for a new home, and a fledgling cultural group that struggled to take flight quietly fades away.
The city's emerging arts scene, which in recent years has created a welcome vitality downtown and beyond, seemingly has hit a rough patch.
Or has it?
"These kinds of things happen all the time at arts institutions and nonprofits," says Jack O'Byrne, executive director of the Camden County Historical Society, where new gallery space is in the works. "It's really tough to make a go of it."
The arts landscape "is evolving, not dissolving," says Cyril Reade, director of the Rutgers-Camden Center for the Arts.
He cites the recent opening of Camden FireWorks and the expected completion later this year of the Nick Virgilio Writers House, two brand-new venues in the Waterfront South neighborhood. The Camden Shipyard and Maritime Museum is scheduled to debut barely a block away on Sept. 11.
"I'm hoping these three organizations, along with the South Camden Theatre Company . . . can help brand Waterfront South as an arts destination," says O'Bryne, who also is the maritime museum's executive director.
The transformation of three formerly moribund buildings on Broadway does suggest that arts and culture have a bright future in Waterfront South.
But while the theater company plans a summer reading series, a full season of performances, and new programs, the ouster of Joe Paprzycki as producing artistic director is a major loss; his Camden-centric plays spring from an insightful affection for the city of his childhood.
And the closing of Gallery Eleven One, the exhibit space, gathering place, and epicenter of the Third Thursday Art Crawl and other events in the Cooper-Grant neighborhood, also is a significant blow.
Although the Front Street gallery will soon house an architectural firm, artist William Butler will maintain his studio in the building. And he and his family will continue to live in their nearby rowhouse.
"There are always challenges for a creative environment to take hold in a community, and to hold on to that community," Butler, an accomplished painter, says.
"We're stepping back a bit, but we love the city, and we want to continue to be supportive of the arts in the city," says his wife, Ronja. "The momentum is going to continue."
Cynthia Primas hopes the same will be true for IDEA, her 20-year-old arts education organization.
A tenant since 2008 in the ground floor black box theater in the BB&T Pavilion on the downtown waterfront, IDEA must vacate the premises by the end of this year.
"I do want to stay in the downtown area, and I have feelers out for a new location," says Primas, whose nonprofit had been paying a reduced rent to the New Jersey Economic Development Authority.
An EDA spokeswoman says via email that the authority "has been working with IDEA for the past several years to eventually bring their rent to a number that approaches market rate."
Primas says IDEA's presence has "opened the door for other arts organizations and performers to come in" and keep alive a performance space that might otherwise have stayed dark.
That has apparently been the fate of the Walt Whitman Cultural Arts Center, which had planned to provide programming in a former city library building now owned by Rutgers.
The center had been independent of the university and "is no longer a tenant in the building," Rutgers-Camden spokesman Mike Sepanic says. Its website also is defunct.
As a journalist and audience member in Camden for decades, I've been thrilled to watch a diverse and lively arts community take root.
But as is true of so much else in one of America's poorest communities, the status quo is fragile.
"In a creative community, things are always in flux. And we're a very creative community," says Cassie MacDonald, president of Camden FireWorks.
The FireWorks studio and gallery spaces, created within a beautifully restored former city firehouse, opened June 17.
"If we can all stay on the surfboard and hang ten," MacDonald says, "we're going to see some amazing things happening in the next few years."