With the support of the Jersey City Independent, three Jersey City non-profit arts organizations, Nimbus Dance Works, Pro Arts, and Art House Productions have spearheaded an effort to identify common challenges, needs, and strategic goals shared by the three organizations and by many other arts groups in Jersey City. Though arts organizations throughout Jersey City differ in many ways in terms of art forms, target audiences, locations and type of programming, we share common needs including a general desire for productive relations with the mayor’s office and Jersey City government in general. We assert that the health and vitality of the arts in Jersey City is a strong indicator of the city’s general welfare. This relation is reciprocal: an environment and city government that is supportive of the arts allows artists and arts organizations to flourish and grow; consequently those artists and organizations contribute back through improvements to the city’s quality of life, vibrancy, reputation, and economic development. However, by and large, Jersey City artists and arts organizations face considerable challenges in today’s environment, especially with regards to funding and performance/exhibition space. We are eager to hear how candidates for mayor of Jersey City view the arts with respect to the city’s continued growth and renewal.
To this end, Pro Arts, Art House Productions and Nimbus Dance Works prepared questions in order to better understand each candidates policies and positions with regards to the most acute issues faced by Jersey City artists and arts organizations today. These questions have broad support by many non-profit arts organizations from throughout Jersey City, including: Attic Ensemble, The Distillery Gallery, Actor’s Shakespeare Company, Jersey City Children’s Theater, Fish With Braids Gallery, Con Vivo, Riverview Neighborhood Association, Curious Matter, The Kennedy Dancers, Jersey City Fashion Week, Golden Door International Film Festival, Victory Hall, 4th Street Arts, and JCity Theater. Many voters in the upcoming mayoral election value highly the cultural and artistic character of our city and are eager to hear candidates’ views and planned policies on arts and the issues facing artists and arts organizations currently.
Each of the four mayoral candidates was provided with a set of questions related to arts policy. See below for their responses.
Special thanks to all the arts organizations who lent their support to this effort, to the Jersey City Independent and to Charles Kessler for his valuable advice.
1. Where and how do the arts fit with your vision for the future of Jersey City? What policies would you propose and enact that would provide a supportive environment for successful Jersey City artists and arts organizations.
Fulop: First I want to say thank you for asking. Too often, votes are cast based on buzzwords and branding, rather than issues. The fact that you’re taking the time to learn about the candidates’ plans shows an investment in Jersey City, something which I share.
The arts are integral to my vision for the future of this city. If we look at what’s happened in Brooklyn over the last fifteen years, or what’s beginning to happen in the South Bronx, Philadelphia and even Detroit, it is clear that the arts can have a revitalizing effect on cities suffering from problems like from population decreases and job shortages, I believe a vibrant arts community is crucial.
Generally speaking, my approach to fostering an even stronger arts community has three components: education, incubation, and implementation. We will accomplish art education in partnership with our schools. Helping them to find their creative voices while they’re young will bring about a new generation of artists who consider Jersey City home. As mayor, I will work closely with our new superintendent and our teachers to make sure that schools are kept open after class is out, offering music, art, drama, and dance classes, as well as incentivizing participation in these activities by offering coveted summer jobs to those who have participated the most.
Art incubation means creating an atmosphere in Jersey City government which is supportive and helpful to aspiring artists. This element of my vision for the arts in Jersey City is especially relevant your fifth question, so I’ll go into more detail below.
I will accomplish my third goal, implementation, with what I like to call the NewSpace program — a collaboration between the Jersey City Economic Development Corporation, the Division of Cultural affairs, local artists, and investors.
Healy: My administration is committed to promoting and expanding the arts in all our neighborhoods. Jersey City’s arts community is unique, active and vibrant, making our City a better place to live and visit, and earning us a long standing reputation as a viable alternative to the NYC and Brooklyn art scenes. The arts are also a vital component for maintaining the economic stability of Jersey City. We promise an aggressive effort to maintain and preserve Jersey City’s existing art institutions, as well as encourage the growth of new art related development in all wards of the city.
These are just some of the programs which we count as important priorities in our City to promote and sustain our thriving Arts Community:
The Annual Jersey City Artists Studio Tour, co-sponsored by our Division of Cultural Affairs and ProArts, is one of the largest and most respected arts events in the State of New Jersey. I view it to be one of our most important events, aimed at marketing Jersey City as an Arts Market and cultural destination. It is important that we continue to provide opportunities for artists to make a living here, and the Tour provides that exposure. The City of Jersey City provides significant financial and logistical support to the tour, and even in these trying times the tour remains a top funding priority for us. The Jersey City Division of Cultural Affairs coordinates the all important Tour Map and artists guide with our Sponsor the Hudson Reporter. Cultural Affairs also creates and coordinates bus routes, provides event staffing, rentals and furnishings for tour weekend, and handles a multitude of other tour related tasks including purchasing and placing advertising to market the tour throughout the tri-state area. Together with ProArts, Cultural Affairs has also worked to expand Tour Promotions in the past few years to include more digital promotions in concert with the Jersey City Independent, an outlet which promotes the arts and works to provide up to the minute changes to venues when necessary. Not only that, the Tour committee has added a Phone App with the help of Infinite Monkey to promote the tour as well. During my tenure as Mayor of Jersey City, the Jersey City Artists Studio Tour has grown exponentially in participation. That could not be done without the diligence of our administration working together in concert with Pro Arts and our creative community to expand and innovate Tour promotions.
In 2007, I recognized the important role that Art House Productions plays in our city and presented Executive Christine Goodman with a key to the City for initiating JC Fridays. I am most fond of the JC Friday’s Program which links local artists needing venue space with local business for seasonal tours throughout Jersey City. The program is a win-win for local artists and our main street businesses and that is why I fully support sponsorship of this program through our Jersey City Division of Cultural Affairs and Economic Development Corporation.
In addition to the Artists Studio Tour, our Jersey City Division of Cultural Affairs sponsors the Creative Grove Arts Market — Jersey City’s first ever year round open air arts market. We are proud of Uta Brauser and Arts In Action for initiating this program and we help sustain this important event through marketing and co-sponsorship of Green Week events and more.
In 2011, the Jersey City Division of Cultural Affairs led the effort to expand the Jersey City Mural program, making our city more attractive to visual artists and muralists, and making our City’s tapestry more creative. I am proud of that and am currently expanding that program further through the Division of Cultural Affairs and in cooperation with the Jersey City Redevelopment Agency – which has sponsored mural projects with small grants and wall space.
Our Division of Cultural Affairs also maintains the John Meagher Rotunda Gallery in City Hall, sponsoring approximately 18 shows annually. This public gallery gives local emerging and established artists the opportunity to exhibit their work publically in a historic venue.
Also, my administration has worked tirelessly on the Entertainment Ordinance to insure that artists are not only protected by code, but are encouraged to expand their opportunities throughout Jersey City. The entertainment ordinance is an ongoing work in progress, and there is more work to be done in this vein, but it has already led to an expanded Restaurant Row, allowing more restaurants and businesses to hire local artists and offer entertainment to our community.
I am proud that my administration has maintained the long standing tradition of providing free concert series’ throughout Jersey City. I happen to be a music lover. I play the piano and guitar and most know that I love to sing. So the performing arts are near and dear to my heart. It fosters community and brings people together. The Division of Cultural Affairs plans, funds and promotes the Free Summerfest Concert Series at Liberty State Park, the Free Jazz for Lunch Concert Series on J. Owen Grundy Pier and the Free MLK Hub Concert Series each summer. These concert series provide an outlet to thousands of residents city-wide and supports local musicians and performers.
We also sponsor various other performing arts events including Summer Dance Fest, Dance Week. We have also supported Nimbus Dance’s Nutcracker when the budget allowed. Additionally, Cultural Affairs supported the recent Stagefest Fundraising Event at the Landmark Loews Theater.
One relatively new addition to our arts agenda is the aggressive promotion of film and filmmakers. My administration rolled out the welcome mat to the Golden Door International Film Festival in 2010 to promote Jersey City’s First International Film Festival with Filmmaker Bill Sorvino. The members of this Film Festival clearly love Jersey City. Folks like Jed DiMatteo of the Jedsey Journal, former Councilwoman Catherine Macchi, and more wonderful Jersey City residents who love this City, worked to bring the GDIFF to fruition in partnership with Cultural Affairs who helped the group navigate local venues and connect with media outlets. GDIFF is not only committed to promoting film, but to promoting our City as a destination. This year, the film festival will celebrate its third year and I look forward to, once again, seeing screen stars Paul Sorvino and Federico Castellucio at the Landmark Loews Theater and celebrating the art of film in Jersey City.
I look to Jersey City artists to help set the agenda and identify what they feel will best move our city forward in regards to the arts. I do not believe in reinventing the wheel. That is why I have taken on the initiatives of our local groups and provided assistance to them in the form of staffing, funding, rentals, etc. The arts community can count on my administration to continue to expand on and support the traditions established by our arts community. My administration’s focus is to foster an environment that encourages new art related development, while supporting and expanding local arts initiated programs. I will continue to do that while also looking for creative methods to address the need for new venues.
Malik: Thanks for the opportunity to address the issue that I believe has so much influence and impact on our lives in so many ways that its hard to emphasize that all. Not only this art also shows the taste and choice of the people in the community and is also part of good quality of life.
Art galleries and artists are a valuable asset of any community. Art is silent but a beautiful way of expressing an In site and providing community a way of relaxation by visiting art galleries.
I myself love nature and enjoy watching beautiful scenes even in pictures, so for me art galleries and artists need and deserve help and uplift and as a Mayor I will certainly provide needed help to vitalize different art groups which are so important for city’s cultural and artistic character.
I believe that art plays a vital role in a society and shows how vibrant and culturally diverse society is. As a Mayor I will provide needed help to the artists and different art groups both in funding as well as other support that city can provide and will encourage Department of cultural affair to work with different groups in a an encouraging and supportive way.
Jerry Walker: (What the Walker administration) would propose and enact to provide a supportive environment for JC artists and art organizations would be more collaboration between artists and organizations, (artist-organization coalitions) to strengthen the arts districts, (artists and organizations wherever and) whenever possible working (as) joint ventures…My administration would assist in seeking donations, grants and foundation funding for artist and arts organizations (and also) work with our colleges and universities.
2. Jersey City has few viable art venues. Quality venues are indispensable for a thriving art scene for multiple reasons: 1) they help to bolster an art group’s identity with a clear destination for events and practice; 2) they help build the legitimacy of arts organizations in the eyes of funders; 3) they create a focus and a buzz contributing to the sense that something is happening in Jersey City; and 4) they help with artistic quality by allowing for improved production and presentation in the areas of lighting, set design/construction, exhibition space, audio/acoustics, etc. Without professional venues for exhibition and performance, the arts are severely impeded. What will you do as mayor to address this critical need?
Healy: I am quite cognizant of the need for venues for the arts. The need for venues has been an ongoing challenge for both me and my predecessors. As Mayor, I have to meet the needs of all members of our community. I have an obligation to keep taxes stable, to meet housing needs of low income families, and address unemployment in these trying economic times. Those needs must be prioritized with the needs of local non-profits.
That said, there are plenty of things my administration has been doing to address the need for additional venues, including the previously mentioned expansion of restaurant row. New art venues can be encouraged thru zoning and property use changes, such as the new Riverview Arts District which my administration recently approved, expanding the arts into the north end of our City. This District further legitimizes the solid foundation set by artists living, working and advocating in the Heights. The district will bring new life and vitality to the neighborhood, allowing venues to promote music and visual arts programs in a more cohesive manner. We are very excited about the Riverview Arts District and commend Becky Hoffman and Heights artists for their staunch advocacy and partnership on behalf of this tremendous accomplishment.
In addition to that, my administration is committed to sustaining the majestic Landmark Loews Theater in Journal Square. We executed a lease agreement with Friends of the Loews earlier in my administration and have worked with this organization to address the long-standing issue of emergency improvements needed to expand seating and fundraising options. These improvements will attract additional professional shows to this beautiful venue and save non-profit organizations from having to expend vital financial resources on public safety personnel. Not only that, we have encouraged Friends of the Loews to partner with other local non-profit arts organizations so that this venue is even more inclusive and accessible to all. I am proud of Colin Egan, Pattie Giordan, Joanne Smith and all the Friends of the Loews Board Members for their recent partnership with local arts groups to promote Jersey City’s First Stagefest, featuring local performers and artists. Though I have been clear that we cannot expend additional City resources to fund the Loews, I am committed to seeking grants to sustain it from other sources, and to maintaining the utilities and the existing lease, while also encouraging Friends of the Loews to expand their own fundraising effort.
The long-awaited restoration of the Van Wagenen House, affectionately known as the “Apple Tree House” is near completion. (Had the previous contractor not filed for bankruptcy last year, it would be complete today.) Previous other administrations have promised the restoration and completion of this beacon of Jersey City history, but my administration is getting it done. We have obtained all the funding through Preservation and Green Acres grants and this year, the Apple Tree House will be complete. The interior Phase II is 99% done, and Phase III outdoor shall shortly follow. The Jersey City Division of Cultural Affairs is slated to run this house museum. Our vision for this house is to maintain it, not only as a house museum, but as a venue for various arts and history programs. The Jersey City Division of Cultural Affairs will partner with various arts organizations to promote open mics, history programs, exhibitions, etc. when this important landmark building opens.
Lastly, we are very excited about the new White Eagle Hall project located on Newark Avenue. This historic property has been purchased by Ben LoPiccolo Development Group, LLC. Plans are to develop the property as a mixed use arts center and performance space. This arts center is a welcome addition to downtown Jersey City.
Malik: I agree that Quality venues are indispensable for a thriving art scene for multiple reasons and I believe that Jersey City needs a fully equipped Art gallery for artists to plan exhibitions and without patronizing by the City its very difficult for the art groups to survive and I agree Without professional venues for exhibition and performance, the arts are severely impeded. As a Mayor I will do all what I can within the resources to help art groups.
Walker: JC needs a state-of-the-art performance center and cultural museum that will provide space for local groups and artists.
Fulop: The NewSpace program will address this need very effectively. NewSpace will act first as a scout, identifying properties which meet criteria such as vacancy/underutilization, size, and availability. NewSpace will then hold a public forum where businesses, organizations, and individuals will have the opportunity to present proposals for the property. There will be few restrictions on proposals; theatres, gallery space, public gardens, music venues, public studios, would all be valid proposals. If need be, NewSpace will also present a proposal. A board made up of representatives of the artistic community, city government, and neighborhoods near the property will vote on a winner. They will be judged on benefit to the artistic community, feasibility, sustainability, etc. The winner will then work closely with the JCEDC to negotiate financing and help via public private partnership. New locations should be driven by the arts community not just a select organization
The entertainment ordinance is also an opportunity to think outside the box with regards to new locations to house and showcase Jersey City’s arts community. It is my goal to have a very flexible and arts friendly ordinance that doesn’t bog down artists or venues with unnecessary city costs.
3. Toll Brothers is committed to building a 500-fixed-seat theater (a proscenium theater) in the PAD as part of a development now under construction; but the real need in Jersey City is for two or three small, flexible theatres (black box theaters, capacity 50 – 200) that would cost about the same amount of money. Two or three such spaces would create a destination, a critical mass, that would make Jersey City recognized as a major player in the art world; small theaters are inexpensive and easier to fill; black box theaters can be used for a variety of purposes such as dance, theater, music, pop music, weddings and other events, so it would be easier to support itself. Theaters of this modest size would serve local artists much more effectively – giving local artists a much needed resource for their growth and emergence. On the other hand, a 500-seat theater is expensive to rent and would only be able to show major productions that would have to compete with New York City’s theater and entertainment resources. Jersey City already has 500+ seat theaters which are underutilized because they don’t meet the needs of Jersey City artists: they’re too large to fill and no one wants to present (or attend) a production with an empty house. Would you as mayor change the Toll Brothers redevelopment plan to call for black box theaters?
Malik: I agree that Jersey City needs small theaters as, small theaters are inexpensive and easier to fill; black box theaters can be used for a variety of purposes such as dance, theater, music, pop music, weddings and other events, so it would be easier to support itself. Theaters of this modest size would serve local artists much more effectively – giving local artists a much needed resource for their growth and emergence. As a mayor I will do my best to help art groups to have a small theater by lobbying to different Developers and the State of New jersey.
Walker: My administration would go back and change the 500-seat theater and require smaller venues throughout the city that will not be underutilized.
Fulop: The development in question is symptomatic of a deeper problem with Jersey City: its relationship with developers. Unfortunately, the story of the PAD over the last decade or so is perfect example of money and connections trumping the will of the people. As a councilman, I have a track record of being tough on developers, and I intend to continue to be as Mayor. Jersey City has the busiest building department in New Jersey and we do need to incentivize things like small theatres and music venues, as you point out. NewSpace will make great strides towards that end, but in addition, I want to shift the focus JCEDC away from land and real-estate development towards small businesses and startups, I think that will help too. With regards to an overall amendment requiring black box theatres it is not clear the legal implications to require or how that would be structured. I think the city would be best served by visiting multiple redevelopment sites around the city for amendments so that the arts community will flourish not only in one small pocket of the city but rather in every corner.
Healy: I am committed to working with Toll Brothers to allow public input about the best use of the theater space and other areas included in the project before construction begins. I understand the pitch for black box theaters in this Art District Development and will ask Toll Brothers to take that into consideration. Though there is an approved preliminary site plan, I will request a meeting with Toll Brothers and the artists’ community for input on the totality of performance space included in the project.
4. The city currently owns multiple unused buildings and properties which could easily be converted for temporary use as exhibition space, studio space, and, where possible, performance space. Such use would serve artists, beautify the streetscape, and promote pedestrian foot traffic. Would you enact legislation to make such spaces available to Jersey City artists and arts groups?
Walker: My administration will allow for city-owned property to be used as temporary-use…artistic venues. Some properties may also become permanent.
Fulop: Yes. This is exactly the kind of thing NewSpace will target.
Healy: At this time there are no vacant buildings that I know of which would be appropriate for an arts center or performance space. The truth of the matter is that our Business Administrator has been charged with bringing in as many dollars as possible to balance the budget and keep taxes stable for our homeowners in this financial crisis. Part of that directive was to sell off city-owned properties and get them back on the tax rolls. Our City has experienced massive cuts from the State of New Jersey and we must make up that shortfall.
That having been said, if available city owned properties pass fire code inspections they could be made available to non- profit organizations on a case by case basis.
Malik: Yes, I think that city can and should help in this regards and as a Mayor I will provide the needed help.
5. The City’s Cultural Affairs Division is a hub for arts and culture in Jersey City. Given cut-backs in funding, how can resources be prioritized to ensure that they can effectively reach out and provide support to the diverse communities that make up Jersey City? Would you personally as mayor use your office to help artists and arts groups to reach out to corporations and individuals for funding?
Healy: In the face of staffing and budget cuts, I am proud of the work that the Jersey City Division of Cultural Affairs has done to solicit and obtain some corporate sponsorships to maintain the traditions we hold dear in Jersey City. They are working much harder with much less. Not only that, their office was decimated during the Hurricane and they are working diligently with OEM and FEMA to restore all equipment and operations in time for the busy summer season. Though some festival funding cuts were necessary, Cultural Affairs went out and raised corporate dollars to provide seed money to our ethnic groups. In addition, they have raised corporate dollars to fund some of our concert series’ and assist ProArtsannually with reaching out to corporate entities for tour sponsorships.
In addition to that, I affirm that our City grants writers will remain cognizant of grant funding available for the arts and go after it aggressively. I have instructed our grants writers to partner with local non profits in seeking funding sources for city- wide arts initiatives, and to offer year round assistance to local non profits who are writing grants. I have also encouraged our Redevelopment Agency and Economic Development Corporation to seek corporate sponsorship to help fund future art related development and projects.
Fulop: This is where the incubation component of my strategy comes in. City Hall, as well as other relevant city departments need to create an environment which fosters the arts. First, this means cutting red tape. Navigating the maze of permits and regulations is so complex and time consuming that developers pay politically connected expediters to do it for them. Those without the resources to do so, such as artists and cultural organizations, are left to fend for themselves. In addition to streamlining the city’s various approval processes, I want my office to be a resource for help securing state and federal grant funding, as well as donations and corporate investment.
Malik: (no response)
Walker: Yes, the Mayor’s Office can be utilized to support various artist endeavors including (submitting) grant applications to major corporations and foundations.
6. The Jersey City City Council by a 8 to 1 vote approved a resolution in October 2006 urging the City to set aside 1% of the hotel tax revenues (up to $100,000) for the promotion of tourism, particularly “Jersey City’s art community, its cultural resources, such as museums and theaters, and its historic sites and recreational opportunities, all of which should make Jersey City both a unique tourist and vacation destination”. To date this resolution has not been adopted. If elected, would your administration commit to making these monies available to Jersey City arts and cultural organizations? If so, what process/procedure would you propose to disburse these monies equitably?
Malik: Yes, my administration will commit to making these monies available to Jersey City arts and cultural organizations.
Walker: Under the Walker Administration the 1 percent set aside will be strictly enforced and we will review prior years’ allocation and wherever possible reallocate funds for the 1 percent set aside for arts. With regard to funding, my administration will use equal distribution of funds. For groups and or artist that demonstrate the need for additional funding, my administration will assist them in obtaining additional funds.
Fulop: I would certainly like to commit to making these funds available to the arts and cultural communities here but it would be subject to looking at the municipal budget post May 14th. Per recent Jersey Journal articles the administration has been using overtime and raises as part of their campaign strategy and I would be hesitant to 100% commit on this front till I saw what the final impact is of their decisions during that time – with that in mind I do think this sort of a funding is crucial and would do everything to see it through.
CA (Cultural Affairs) would partner with arts and culture organizations to have a better process on reviewing and allocating some of the budget dollars in CA to distribute within the community. I believe in a bottom up approach and community involvement on decisions to which allocation of cultural programming is no different
Healy: The 1% for the arts resolution has been instituted, and funding has been committed to Destination Jersey City programming. I am instructing my Budget Director to meet with the Director of the Division of Cultural Affairs to identify how much funding is available this year to support art programming in conjunction with our local arts and cultural community.