visual arts

Award-winning Visual Arts alum Christopher Benincasa reports on the arts for NJN

When it comes to New Jersey, Christopher Benincasa has seen just about everything.Christopher Benincasa

As an award-winning associate producer of NJN Public Television’s State of the Arts series, Benincasa crisscrosses the state, telling unusual or affecting stories about creative people and places in the New Jersey area.

He and his crew have traveled the Hudson River, circling Manhattan aboard a realization of the late earthworks artist Robert Smithson’s Floating Island project. They’ve hung out with jazz musicians, trudged through the woods at the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival, and trailed behind a local car-art legend named Hoop on the New Jersey Turnpike. The Hoop mission: report on his fantastical vehicles, often festooned with fur, Matchbox cars, and aluminum cans.      

“You end up in these corners of the world—you would never go there,” says Benincasa, 32, of Stockton. Benincasa was born in New Brunswick, grew up in Flemington and is a 2000 visual-arts graduate of the Mason Gross School of the Arts. 

“You find stories in all kinds of places,” he says. “I’ve done stories on all kinds of things I never thought (about). It’s still surprising after all this time.” Benincasa has won several Mid-Atlantic Emmy Awards, as well as a national CINE Golden Eagle Award in the arts.

Benincasa says majoring in art was inevitable. He concentrated in sculpture at Mason Gross but worked in a variety of genres, including drawing and video.

“I’d been making art for as long as I could remember,” Benincasa says. “I didn’t think there was any other place I could go. (Art) was so wrapped up in my identity.”

Benincasa’s family didn’t blanch when he decided to pursue a fine-arts degree at Mason Gross; in fact, certain relatives felt an abiding affection for the school. Benincasa is a grandson of Constantino “Jim” Benincasa, who was instrumental in establishing one of the university’s earliest labor unions. The elder Benincasa was the founding president of the Rutgers branch of AFSCME, known as the largest public-employee and health-care-workers union in the United States.

According to Benincasa, when his labor-activist grandfather led a group march on then-President Mason Gross’ office, Gross was said to have asked the workers, “What took you guys so long?”

Benincasa says Gross’ apparent acceptance of organized labor in that moment “was endearing to (my grandfather) for his whole life.”

Benincasa, who also writes about art for a variety of professional publications, says segueing from studying art to reporting on it has been relatively seamless.

“Journalists don’t stop until it makes sense to them,” says Benincasa, whose probing nature once prompted a Rutgers professor to declare him “guile-less.”

“So much in the world of art you don’t understand. It’s a mystery,” he continues. “For me, it’s always fun to pick it apart and put it back together…There’s this myth of artists as savants. That doesn’t have to be the case.”

Benincasa is loath to liken his day job to art; according to him, he’s more of an artisan, crafting a functional product.

“It’s such a rare opportunity to work on a project like this,” he says. “For me, it makes a lot of sense to be doing. I enjoy the content but I also enjoy the practice of the craft.”

And that craft—turning out an award-winning televised arts magazine that has aired for nearly three decades—seems to bring its own rewards.

“You lock yourself in a dark cave with an editing system for days on end. It can be torturous,” he says. “After a while, something develops and takes shape after being a mess for months. It’s a really good feeling."