The Grounds For Sculpture of the future must be seen in light of its remarkable history and the founder’s vision—the structures that still stand from its days as the New Jersey State Fairgrounds; the founding of a renowned Atelier, and the hundreds of artists whose lives were shaped by their Atelier experience; the singular vision of Seward Johnson to draw people into a landscape with sculpture and then to engage them in a “self-guided journey” through the landscape; and the dedicated work of the founder’s colleagues to speedily transform derelict land and create a sculpture park like no other.
Through 20 years, the realization of this vision has been driven by the founder working with trusted colleagues and a cluster of nonprofit charitable organizations that have built on the remains of the historic fairgrounds and alongside the Atelier a meticulously landscaped 42-acre sculpture park with more a than 260 diverse contemporary works. Since 2000, Grounds For Sculpture, Inc. (GFS) has assumed a progressively larger role in park programming and operations. It has grown to a $4.7 million, 60-person operation providing a robust year-round calendar of exhibitions, workshops, tours, concerts, and family events attracting 150,000+ visitors annually and managing a $5 million, 4-star restaurant.
In 2015, ownership and responsibility for the bulk of the physical and artistic assets of the sculpture park (buildings, grounds, sculptures) will transfer to GFS from three other of the founder’s foundations. At that time the substantial annual funding derived from the founder’s family trust will cease; but, GFS will then begin to receive annual distributions from a $19 million fund being built by the Johnson Art and Education Foundation.
This strategic planning process was launched in January 2012 to establish a roadmap through this organizational transition, set the future direction of GFS programming and operations, and align priorities of the various entities so that programmatic and artistic activities, capital investments, and operational decisions are mutually supportive in carrying the founder’s vision in a sustainable way.
The process, designed and shepherded by WolfBrown under the direction of planner Laura Mandeles and cultural tourism specialist Cheryl Hargrove of HTC Partners, involved the entire GFS staff and board, the related foundations and scores volunteers, visitors, funders, artistic partners, and tourism and community representatives. The plan is based on extensive research and consultation, including individual interviews, focus groups, a visitor experience assessment, a visitor intercept survey, a comparable organizations study, and several retreats and task forces.
The plan addresses three broad themes as a framework for looking at the future of Grounds For Sculpture: DISCOVERY, which is the essence of the founder’s vision that will guide artistic and programmatic decision making; GUEST EXPERIENCE, which will focus on the highest standards of customer-focused operations; and SUSTAINABILITY, which ultimately will be the greatest tribute to the value and importance of Seward Johnson’s vision and accomplishment in creating an extraordinary and magical place from the ruins of the New Jersey State Fairgrounds.
The plan was adopted by the GFS Board of Trustees on December 7, 2012.
Our Strategic Plan Summary is available for download:
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