By JOHN T. WARD
Old-timers will recall its days as a WaWa, but its future is as a laboratory for the arts.
So say officials at Red Bank’s Count Basie Theatre Performing Arts Academy about the onetime convenience store that is now the academy’s home.
The Basie acquired the property, at 111 Monmouth Street, from Phoenix Productions last year for $725,000, according to Monmouth County records. On Monday, Basie officials held a ceremonial unveiling of the space, which abuts the theater.
Phoenix, a community theater nonprofit, had called the site home for 17 years. Boosted by the proceeds of the sale, Phoenix — which had itself outgrown the space — acquired a new home three times its size at 59 Chestnut Street for $1.8 million.
The performing arts center connects with about 1,000 children a year through its Rockit, Jazz Arts Academy and other training programs, said education director Yvonne Lamb Scudiery. It also offers professional development to arts teachers, and outreach to kids in their own classrooms at the theater and through the Basie Awards.
Mayor Pasquale Menna called the arts “a civilizing and educational tool for future generations,” and Scudiery said the acquisition promotes the goal of ensuring local kids are “saturated with the arts.”
Basie executive director Adam Philipson told redbankgreen that the 850-square-foot space will take off some pressure from six classrooms in the theater building that have been fully utilized in recent years. It also advances the Basie’s goal of serving as a regional cultural center, he said.
“When you have a performing arts venue like the Basie, it’s about the entertainment,” Philipson said, “but when you’re a center for the arts, it’s much different.”
The new space is all available to arts groups that partner with the Basie, hosting poetry slams, jazz and other types of performance. By zoning ordinance, no admission may be charged at the facility, so events are free, Scudiery said.