Riverview Arts District Campaign Brings Six Events to the Heights for JC Fridays

If you haven’t heard of the Riverview Arts District, you can explore it tomorrow, June 1, as part of JC Fridays, a citywide day of free arts events.

The Riverview Neighborhood Association (RNA) and several other organizations aiming to improve and enrich the Jersey City Heights neighborhood have come together to organize “Discover the Riverview Arts District” campaign which features six events with music, art and more.

A resolution adopted by the City Council on May 10, 1984, designates a portion of the Heights – which was then known as Hudson City – as the Riverview Arts District, in recognition of its growing number of fine artists and performing artists there. The designation encouraged the cultural growth of the neighborhood in the 80s as artists trying to escape the soaring prices in Bayonne, Hoboken and SoHo in New York City looked for low rents and industrial spaces.

The designation, however, was never codified into the city’s zoning, says RNA President Becky Hoffman. She says she hopes the city’s Division of City Planning can make things more official by this summer, but adds that the community can do other things to get the ball rolling in the meantime.

During the last JC Fridays in March, RNA sponsored the “RNA Community Supported Art” exhibit at the Trolley Car Bar and Grill, which opened earlier this year. The exhibit featured photos, paintings, drawings and mixed media work by neighborhood artists and was the only JC Fridays event in the Heights.

This time around, the Heights will host a whopping seven events, six of which are part of the Discover the Riverview Arts District campaign. (The other is E. Jan Kounitz’s photographic essay on the Heights, “Mo ‘Me-Hood,'” which will be shown at 357 Palisade Ave.)

Christine Goodman, Founder of Art House Productions, which organizes JC Fridays, is excited about the campaign’s potential. “They’re going to have multiple venues all in a cluster within walking distance of one another… to show the potential for a really vibrant, active art scene in the Heights,” she says. “Becky Hoffman has really worked hard to bring that to life.”

Hoffman says she was inspired by the outcome of the March event.

“It was incredibly successful. We had about 200 to 300 come through and (while) it was very exciting for the community and the artists, we realized we need more dots on the JC Fridays map,” she says.

Artwork by Cheryl Sylivant

Artwork by Cheryl Sylivant

The Discover the Riverview Arts District campaign includes the following events:

  • Iron Work Studio Tour (156 Webster Ave. at Hutton, 1 to 5 pm): A tour of iron worker Greg Seliciano’s workshop, where he creates stands, melds pieces and provides finishing work. For more information, call (201) 936-8409.
  • “The Third Dimension” (7 Hutton St. between Palisade and New York, 6:30 to 10 pm): The Distillery Gallery and Artspace (shown above) hosts a group exhibit that engages the viewer and requires new ways of showing and observing artwork, featuring Joseph Chichirillo, Alanna Hutt, Lee Levine, David Medina, Marcos Rosales and others. For more information, call (908) 627-2021.
  • R.A.D. Jam (424-428 Palisade Ave. between Griffith and Hutton, 7 to 10 pm): Palisade Lumber will host outdoor live music the Benson Ridge Project and other local bands plus DJ Meghan from WFMU between sets. For more information, call (201) 876-1980.
  • “Intervention” (469 Palisade Ave. between Griffith and Bowers, 7 to 11 pm): A street-level video installation viewable by car/bus/bike or walking featuring videos by Jason Burch, William Lamson and Erin Hudak. For more information, call (917) 734-4513.
  • “Contrasts and Change” (328 Palisade Ave., at Ferry, 7 to 11 pm): The Trolley Car Bar and Grill hosts a group art show featuring works that capture the old with the new and the energy of contrasting images or emotions by Alexis Rotter, Jessica Siemens, Cheryl Sylivant (whose painting is shown at right), John Crittenden, Brooke Hansson and other locals. For more information, call (201) 360-3140.

Hoffman says a “dramatic” highlight of the campaign will be “Revitalization, Transformation and Rediscovery,” a pop-up gallery and cafe (provided by Newark Avenue’s Steam Cafe) at an 1,800-square-foot space donated by local landlord Joseph Branco at 433 Palisade Ave. The exhibit highlights the evolution of the Heights and features the art of neighborhood artists like Greg Brickey, Greg Voth (whose mixed-media work is pictured below), Anthony Delia and Craig Mahoney. Both the gallery and cafe will be open for the first three Fridays of June and on Saturdays and Sundays from 9 am to 2 pm.

“We’re bringing something that the community really wanted – a way of having art and coffee. We don’t have that up here and our hope here is to demonstrate to landlords, business owners and investors that there is potential here on Palisade Avenue that isn’t being taken advantage of yet.” She adds that while looking for a space for the pop-up gallery, she noticed at least 19 empty storefronts on Palisade which she says have been “empty for a very long time.”

Artwork by Greg Voth

Artwork by Greg Voth

Hoffman says the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs, local businesses and local artists are doing their best to support the Heights but real change would be precipitated by recognizing the Riverview Arts District in the city’s zoning.

Gabriel Pacheco of The Distillery Gallery agreed that the Heights could be so much more.

“I’ve been in the Heights for four years and moved from Williamsburg, Brooklyn,” Pacheco says. “Coming from there, I saw how arts made a huge difference and how the neighborhood was transformed. (To accommodate arts-driven) traffic, the city responded by fixing a bridge, upgrading the traffic of police officers… I see that happening in the Heights. You see more people getting involved and putting together activities.”

Most Heights events have been organized by community organizations like the RNA’s Taste of the Heights Kickoff Potluck, the Riverview Farmers Market and Friday movie nights in August run by the RNA and Washington Park Association. The recent Everything Jersey City Festival, run by the Central Avenue Special Improvement District, is also a major boon for the area.

“It brings a lot of positive attention to the area,” says Hoffman, who expresses concern that a shortfall in Urban Enterprise Zoning could nix the annual event. “Having the festival raised the profile of Central Avenue for local residents and others… it would be sad if it disappeared.”

“There are a lot of artists living and working in the Heights, but they need more space to show their work and congregate,” says Hoffman. “That need for more space can be an economic driver if we create that zoning. Art can be the basis for real change and improvement.”

The Division of City Planning could not be reached for comment.

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Click here for more information about the Riverview Neighborhood Association. For a complete list of events on JC Fridays, June 1, visit jcfridays.com.

Distillery Gallery photo courtesy of Irene Borngraeber. Artwork from top, Cheryl Sylivant and Greg Voth.

More JC Fridays coverage:

Summer Dawn Hortillosa

is a freelance arts and entertainment writer whose work has appeared in the Jersey City Independent, The Jersey Journal, the International and other publications. She is also a creative writer and theatrical director.