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New Newark non-profit aims to become hub for artists and musicians

The Newark Organization for Creative Arts, or NOCA, opened its doors last month.

NEWARK, Ohio — Paul Richards comes alive behind his drum set.

He’s been at it for more than 50 years, much of that time teaching. But he lost the place he called home for so many years back in the summer of 2019.

That’s when Martin Music closed after more than 70 years in business.

“Personally it was a loss in the sense that I lost the opportunity to teach in a studio and to have that opportunity to work with kids and also continue to do what I do, which is to play music,” Richards said. “It really affected everything.”

That loss created a hole for musicians and music lovers in the community, and the folks there have been trying to fill it ever since.

And then the pandemic hit, creating even more challenges.

“Since then, it’s been a bit of a journey getting to a place where I could actually be settled in and have a nice, beautiful space to teach at, so I am so happy and excited and grateful for that,” he said.

That new space is the Newark Organization for Creative Arts, or NOCA. The goal is to create a space to bring together those interested in the music and the arts, from digital photography to video production and more.

Angela Smith is the executive director. She ended up back in her hometown during the pandemic.

“Growing up here, you always felt as if you possibly had to leave to get more access to the arts, and so I think a lot of what NOCA is, is it started out as a place of wanting people to feel as if they can be creative here and make a living here and not have to leave, she said. “So it’s kind of a dream of giving back to the community everything we wished we had as kids.”

NOCA has a vinyl record store that also will soon sell music and art accessories. There also are spaces for private music lessons, along with a lab space lined with computers. The goal is to offer students an accessible space to learn digital arts, from design to photography to video production.

“We definitely have education rolling out in the new year, February,” Smith said. “The music coming to town, that’s essential. We want to give access to people for events to come, and then making sure our music teachers have a home and our students feel like they have a home. That’s most important.”

NOCA is partnering with Thirty One West, a music venue just next door on West Church Street. Several musical acts, including John Scofield, Bettye Lavette and the Superwolves, are headed to town in the new year. And NOCA also has taken over the organizing of the Hot Licks Blues Festival in Granville.

“I’m totally in,” Richards said. “This is an opportunity that, in this community, is a part of, I think, a restoration, or whatever you want to call it, of this area. And the investment that’s gone behind this, in terms of the financial investment, in terms of the people, in terms of the organization are all showing me that this is something real, that means something to the community, and I want to be a part of that. And I’m really appreciative and grateful for that opportunity.”

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