Mission & History
Bergen Performing Arts Center (bergenPAC) is a theater of and for the community that it serves throughout northern New Jersey, by being a creative focus, educational resource, and engine of economic vitality. A not-for-profit 501 (c)(3) organization, bergenPAC’s mission is to make the live performing arts accessible to all by building a creative home and education center that guides and liberates the imagination of our young, inspires and expands the lives of our adults, and attracts established and emerging artists of excellence and relevance.
In the fall of 2004, the Bergen Performing Arts Center reopened the doors of the former John Harms Center, long considered one of the leading cultural institutions in North Jersey. Founded on April 30, 2003, a small group of dedicated individuals led by Frank Huttle III, were determined to preserve this special theater that had brought some of the world’s finest performing artists “right next door” for so many years.
The theater originally opened as the Englewood Plaza movie theater on November 22, 1926. United Artists purchased the building in 1967 and kept the doors open through 1973, when it closed. Through the efforts of a group of local citizens under the leadership of John Harms, the John Harms Center came to life on October 10, 1976 with the performance of the Russian pianist, Lazar Berman.
John Harms (1906-1981) an organist and teacher, began his career as an impresario in 1941, arranging concert appearances in North Jersey of many famous and lesser-known artists. A one-man operation, he selected and booked performers, rented the performance space, wrote press releases, and personally telephoned or corralled over 1,200 contacts. His dream of a concert hall of his own became a reality when The Plaza came on the market. In the 1990s, two major renovation projects turned the Plaza into a modern concert hall and media facility, while preserving the vintage acoustics that made it a unique sought-after performance and recording site. The John Harms Center was one of the largest performing arts centers in New Jersey and the largest arts center in northern New Jersey. Its closing on April 14, 2003 left a gaping hole in the area’s cultural life.
Through the creativity and commitment of bergenPAC’s founders, the doors of this historic institution were reopened, enhancing the spirit and tradition of its original founders. A new public/private partnership was formed that could coordinate and leverage the resources of community bodies such as the city, county and state, as well as private performing arts patrons and donors. Working together with its supporters, bergenPAC has built the framework to enhance the quality of life for cultural devotees, families, and the community at large seeking entertainment and inspiration close to home.
The Bergen Performing Arts Center became a recognized home for recordings through its partnership with the former Bennett Studios, a state-of-the-art recording studio with whom the theater was fiber-optically linked. Thus, this vintage acoustic hall became the home of a media production system that was unique and unparalleled. The former studio, at One Depot Square, now hosts bergenPAC’s Performing Arts School providing students with unique and “hands-on” arts training by industry professionals that allow them to gain real world experience and enhance academic achievement through the arts as well as opportunities to perform on the theater’s main stage and throughout the county. Programs extend to school districts and special needs for all ages, from infant to adult.
Thanks to the dedication of Frank Huttle and the many who have worked along side him, bergenPAC is now a leader in bringing world class cultural and educational opportunities to its community. bergenPAC works with its board, staff, volunteers and partners to ensure there is a world class Home for Arts and Education that is accessible and affordable to all.
The Performing Arts School provides arts education to students age 3 months to 21 years throughout Northern New Jersey. With classes in all types of performing arts, outreach programs throughout the state, and programming for children with special needs, every donation helps create more opportunities for new artists.