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New Brunswick Redevelopment

Rubel, Jacque Summary

 

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 Oral History Transcript

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DISCUSSION SUMMARY (PDF Version)

Jacque Rubel, from Canada, came to New Brunswick when she married Harry, a local born and raised. [2] They met after World War II. [3] His family had a home goods store on Church Street. Harry was involved in theater with the Habema Guild, which emanated from Rutgers, and was also a photographer, with a studio in New Brunswick. In the late 1960s, Jacque and Harry started a Summer Arts Program in Griggstown, working with professional artists as faculty for young children. [3] Jacque’s interest in the arts spans back to her home in Canada, where the arts were “just somehow part of life.” [2]

When the State Arts Council was forming, she became involved because of her experience creating arts related programing for children and teenagers. [5] The first year hosted visual arts students at McCarter Theater. Jacque felt that the offerings were limited to “only people who knew an art teacher who knew somebody…it’s not representative.” [5] She expanded the program: under Rubel the New Jersey State Teen Arts Program was created. From there, Rubel went on to create the County Cultural and Heritage Commissions, working with Bernie Busch, longtime Director of the Historical Commission, and Byron Kelly. [6] The Teen Arts program was then folded into the Commission. Rubel became one of the first commissioners for the Cultural and Heritage Commission in Middlesex County. She describes it as a “whole wonderful experience.” [6-7]

In conversations with Mason Gross and then Edward J. Bloustein, Rubel spoke about establishing New Brunswick as Cultural Center. [7] Rubel speaks about being approached by a “wonderful baritone bass singer” who wanted to establish a opera company. Rubel told him that she was interested if it could serve schools. The man complied and established Opera Works, a non-profit organization. “Here’s a county government who created a theater opera company,” she recalls. [7]

Rubel mentions the role of the Arts in rehabilitating communities and how she organized workshops that were promoting this idea. [8] On a related note, she helped organize a conference called the Arts Come of Age, together with the Dean of Gerontology at Rutgers, Audrey Faulkner. The motivation was to explore “the role of the arts and aging which is not talked about a lot these days.” [9] [Rubel currently runs the Aging in Place Partnership.]

She describes the George Street Playhouse as being small and intimate and praised the vision of Eric Krebs. [10] She recalls walking up Livingston Avenue from George Street with Krebs and George Segal, “talking about what would a Cultural Center look like.” [12] Rubel describes a certain tension between artistic vision and theater programming with “the powers to be” at the George Street Playhouse. Some of the plays were “very confrontational” and “that’s what made it exciting, and slowly the Board took over and Eric was ousted.” [13] She expressed anger over how Krebs was treated and spoke about his importance, as “the key player, in my opinion, in bridging, you know, the bridges between DevCo, New Brunswick Tomorrow and the cultural folks. He was there in town. He was in the trenches. And a lot of us felt that Eric had been very badly treated and not recognizing what his contribution had been to this rejuvenation of the city.” [16] Because of this, Rubel said that “for years I never went to the George Street Playhouse.” [17]

Rubel describes “a huge kind of a wide beam in the middle of the stage” at the Crossroads Theater and how the directors and actors were “clever” and “very creative” in working around it. Her husband was the photographer for the theater. [14] She discloses that “the fact that it survived, to me, was quite miraculous. And I think it’s really a commitment of a lot of people who wanted to make sure it survived.” [15]

On the Cultural Center idea, Rubel gives examples of her greater ambitions for the area. This included using the Elks Building as a “black box where you could do poetry and experimental theater and keep the restaurants.” [18] Another idea was to draw the New Brunswick Public Library into the Cultural Center. These plans never materialized.

Rubel has strong words to say about the redevelopment process, partly colored by her husband’s background and the longtime family businesses in New Brunswick:

                        They were not happy; they were not part of the dialogue as far as I understand when these decisions were being made. And they were pushed out, bought out, I don’t know how. And you know what’s in New Brunswick now. Family businesses would have been wonderful for what’s going on now to what’s there now. Let’s face it, it was not a smart move, my opinion. [20]

She regrets that more of the older buildings were not reused, as they “had a lot of possibilities.” [21] She describes New Brunswick as having “a heavy presence of different kinds of artists, we were a large group of different kinds of arts people.” [21]

On Rutgers, Rubel describes three key players: Mason Gross, Bloustein and Bettenbender. She was involved with faculty at Mason Gross School of the Arts through youth arts programming. [22]

Rubel goes on to speak about her interest in involving the youth in the arts, the role of arts in the aging process, and impressions of important redevelopment era figures.

KEY QUOTATIONS

[Quotations have been edited for grammar and alphabetized by topic]

Elks Building Plans

We had projected that the Elks Building would be a great…like a black box where you could do poetry and experimental theater and keep the restaurants, you know. So we saw that as another form of the buildings that dont exist right now. [18]

George Street Playhouse

You know, that’s normal that somebody else takes it and they have different…it’s fine, it happened. And George Street Playhouse was taken over. That was the old “Y.” And it became a reality and then, of course, the Crossroads moved up there too. And from…this is my perspective, I’m not saying it’s a fact, but a lot of people I know felt that once the theater, especially George Street was established, the powers to be were not necessarily happy with some of the kinds of theater. Was very confrontational. That’s what made it exciting, and slowly the Board took over and Eric was ousted. [13]

Eric Krebs

Right. And actually there was a lot of anger. I was very angry the way Eric had…because he was critical. He was the voice to everybody in this. He was the key player, in my opinion, in bridging, you know, the bridges between DevCo, New Brunswick Tomorrow and the cultural folks. He was there in town. He was in the trenches. And a lot of us felt that Eric had been very badly treated and not recognizing what his contribution had been to this rejuvenation of the city… But that was the general feeling. How dare these folks come in and, you know, toss him out and this is such an important person. That was the general feeling. So for years I never went to the George Street Playhouse. [16-17]  

Middlesex County

The County was a supporter because we had…what I liked, we had a very well-informed and educated group of commissioners…[25]

 

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