Dumont, NJ: In a world facing so much bad news it’s nice to find, every so often, a pocket of pure joy. Somewhere that strives to make life brighter on a tiny point on a quiet street. Where there’s laughter, light, art and music. Introducing Erin Calev, lifelong resident of Dumont and lifelong singer, pianist and church musician. Forming EMC Studio of Fine Arts at 75 Armour Place has been a labor of love and giving back within the community she’s grateful to have been raised in is her mission. The school is celebrating its first-year anniversary and this unassuming oasis of culture and education is thriving. “I grew up here playing in the brook down the street and playing softball on that field,” she says, pointing out the window.
“I happened upon the space before this one by accident. Most things I do are by accident. I was actually looking for an apartment for a divorced friend. What I got was a small music and arts studio for my teaching practice. This got me and my students out of the house, so my kids weren’t coming down to breakfast with strangers. We quickly outgrew that space and expanded to 75 Armour Place. It’s been a lot of fun.”
While Calev has been in music her entire life, she is currently pursuing a degree in psychology, determined to make as much of a difference for the students and the families she serves as possible. Calev believes that the arts and psychology go hand in hand and that expressing oneself through music, theater and/or art IS a form of therapy. Calev is a voracious reader of anything having to do with personal growth, motivation and psychology. She’s also in the middle of reading a particularly funny Bill Bryson novel, as laughter is medicine as well.
Having just completed a production of Shrek the Musical on July 26 and 27 with 14 elementary school students, Calev was bursting with enthusiasm. EMC Fine Arts Studio received acclaims from parents, caregivers and even children’s doctors who came to see the show. And, while they said the show was amazing, it was the experience these children received throughout the 5-week rehearsal period that the adults loved the most. A shy child who was afraid to speak to adults and to other children “came out of her shell” and was talking up a storm by the end of the rehearsal period. Another student who prior to the production was suffering from low self-esteem told Calev at the end of the production, “The thing that makes me the happiest is ME!” Another child who suffered from social anxiety wound up bonding with the other children through the collective efforts of putting on a show.
Calev says to the children, “I want you to think about your characters, not about your stress in the outside world. Let’s not think about the fact that you’re fighting with your best friend or you didn’t get invited to a birthday party. Now you’re Lord Farquaad or Princess Fiona. Forget about Snapchat.” To further a positive experience, Calev had the children turn in their cell phones prior to each class session and pick them up only after the day was done.
Calev was conscious of what working parents in her immediate community might need when designing the theater camp schedules and fees, too. For instance, she worked around the local recreation camp hours which ended around the lunch hour. Her camp was a safe and inspiring place that children could go in the afternoons. For transportation, some children rode their bikes, others were driven by older siblings and caregivers, others carpooled. According to Calev, many families would have had a difficult time paying tuition. So, she made tuition OPTIONAL. If people couldn’t pay, they could instead sell ads for the program that was distributed to audience members. It worked, and the show was funded accordingly.
Calev incorporated art into the musical theater camp experience as well. At first, some of the children balked, wondering why they had to do art when they were supposed to be singing, dancing and acting. But art was a deep way for the children to connect with their characters and design who they wanted their character to be in their imagination. Plus, during the process, several children discovered a newfound love of art.
EMC Studio of Fine Arts gives back to the community in many other ways as well. Students provided entertainment at charity functions through Calvary Methodist Church and for the Dumont Shade Tree Commission. Calev is also a big fan of employing adults with special needs, finding their strengths and helping them feel great about themselves through an excellent quality of contribution these adults make to the workplace.
She attributes much of the school’s success to the quality of her team including teachers Christine Dow and Terrence Ciccolella among others have been key to the growth, quality and financial health of the business. “It’s evolving and I’m making it work as I go. Business is a creative process,” she says.
The school provides lessons and classes in art, acting, improvisation and in music on all popular instruments and voice. Students’ art is prominently displayed in the entrance to the studio. As the EMC Fine Arts Studio grows and expands into the fall of this year, Calev plans to hire new instructors.
For information on lessons, classes and programs at EMC Studio of Fine Arts, check out EMC Fine Arts
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