L. Harvey Smith Discusses His Plans for the Arts in Jersey City

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Editor’s note: Due to miscommunication within the L. Harvey Smith campaign, he was unable to get back to us on his arts and culture plans by our deadline. After the story was published on Friday, we heard from the campaign and Smith soon thereafter answered our questions. Since our goal with this series is to get as much information on the record as possible, we are publishing his ideas today as a blog post — it will also be linked to from the original piece.

When asked about his plans for the arts in Jersey City, L. Harvey Smith takes a broad view.

“We really need to see the entire city as an arts district,” he says. “That’s an important mission.”

It’s a recurring theme for Smith — culture in Jersey City shouldn’t be synonymous with Downtown.

Noting that many areas of Jersey City are is no more than a half hour away from New York City, he says he would employ artists in his administration to help culture flourish in every ward of the city.

“We have commercial districts in the inner city that have wonderful loft spaces that are empty,” he says. “We just have to encourage artists to seek them out, and we have to encourage landlords to market to them.”

Noting that “market conditions can often outweigh the best of our intentions,” Smith says he will try to help first-wave artists stay in neighborhoods that may later become popular for developers.

While he laments the “lost opportunity” embodied by the closure and demolition of 111 1st St., Smith says it isn’t “the end of the war” for rental live/work space for artists. “We shouldn’t let the lack of these spaces at 111 be a stop sign for us to encourage the arts,” he says, adding that he will use incentives for developers to create new live/work spaces across the city, including in the Powerhouse Arts District (PAD).

“We should do everything we can to encourage the development of the PAD and the Powerhouse building as a cultural resource for our residents. Its location is perfect and it presents opportunities for unique ventures that could serve the arts community and economic development,” Smith says. “Arts will attract tourists and tourists help create jobs.”

But like Lou Manzo, Smith’s cultural vision for the city doesn’t end with the PAD. He points to Journal Square as a perfect home for additional arts opportunities.

“I believe the Loew’s Jersey Theatre is on the verge of becoming this city’s Lincoln Center or NJPAC,” he says. “I will take the project over the goal line as the next mayor. There should be a place for fully funding the Loew’s in any plan for revitalizing Journal Square.”

When it comes to Jersey City Museum, which, like most nonprofits, is facing a difficult economic climate, Smith says “we have to help nurture its growth any way we can,” but that doesn’t only mean money.

“I think our most effective method of assistance is through helping raise awareness about the museum and its importance as an institution,” he says. “We have to work to integrate the museum into the lives of school kids as much as possible, and just regular folks, too. We can also encourage community-based programming that takes advantage of the performance space there, for example.”

Smith’s most unique idea for cultural development in the city is his call for an international music festival.

“We have outdoor venues all throughout the city, from Downtown to Lafayette, to the Heights and to the Square, not to mention Liberty State Park,” he says. “I would propose a Jersey City International Jazz Festival as one way to showcase our great city, bringing in corporate sponsors, the music industry and responsibly dedicating city resources to making it happen. The impact would be significant and another great boost to tourism and local entrepreneurs.”

Smith says he would model the festival on the Montreal International Jazz Festival, which has grown from a small festival with 12,000 attendees in 1980 to a world-renown ten-day event that attracted 2.1 million people in 2008. He admits that getting something like this rolling is a tall order, but says his administration will be up to the challenge.

“We have to see ourselves as capable of hosting world-class events on a regular basis,” Smith says. “Ambitious in that regard is good, I think.”

Jon Whiten

co-founded the Jersey City Independent. He is currently the Deputy Director of New Jersey Policy Perspective.