STUDIO 371 Brings New Life to the Powerhouse Arts District

The Powerhouse Arts District (PAD) is not the cultural jewel of downtown Jersey City, but an underused stack of bricks. STUDIO 371, the neighborhood’s newest gallery, may change this dismal fact. With more than 3,500 square feet, lots of natural light and minimalist aesthetics, the venue is ideal for a range of artwork. To date, the gallery has hosted three exhibitions, artist portfolio review day, and film festival. We sat down with Stephanie Panepinto and Kara Rooney, the brain trust behind the gallery, as they made some final preparations for its next show Arc-Types and Well-Rounded Characters, which opens Friday, May 4.

Arc-Types and Well-Rounded Characters
Curated by Jeanne Brasile
Friday, May 4—Friday, June 1, 2012
Opening Reception: Friday, May 4, 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.
STUDIO 371, 371 Warren Street, 4th fl., Jersey City, NJ, 07302

JCI: Kara and Stephanie, to start, tell me a little bit about yourselves.

Kara: I am a Jersey City-based artist, writer and critic, as well as the Associate Art Editor for The Brooklyn Rail, and faculty member at School of Visual Arts where I teach art history. My visual work has been exhibited in numerous galleries and museums including the Montclair Art Museum, NJ; the Queens College Art Center, NY; Shoshana Wayne Gallery, CA; Gallery Aferro, NJ; the Chelsea Art Museum, NY; the International Women’s Museum, CA; the Jersey City Museum, NJ; and the Pera Museum, Istanbul. My critical writings have been published in The Brooklyn Rail, the Daily Constitutional and Performa Live as well as in conjunction with the collaborative writing group, Open Dialogues. I earned her M.F.A in Art Criticism and Writing from the School of Visual Arts in 2009.

Stephanie: Prior to pursuing my artistic endeavors full time, I specialized in the design and development of luxury residential real estate projects. My focus was on marketing and public relations, in addition to designing and curating art for the communal spaces, as well as furthering development and new business within Panepinto Properties. With my family now comprising 5 generations spent in Jersey City, I’ve always had a strong commitment to the art community and as such, am devoted to furthering cultural development in my area. I was a member of the Board of Trustees for the Jersey City Museum, Hudson Community College and the Walker Foundation. I’ve also been a mentor at the Cunningham Foundation and am currently involved in various charitable efforts, most recently supporting the NY River Fund and The Rose of Charity Organization in Zimbabwe. I am a graduate of Rutgers University, having received a Bachelor’s of Science and studied at NY Arts Students League and the University of the Arts London Central Saint Martin.

JCI: …And tell us about STUDIO 371.

Both: STUDIO 371 was founded by Stephanie Panepinto in 2011 as a collective space to host gallery viewings, film screenings, theatrical performances, photo shoots, art exhibitions and events of all kinds – as well as build a community for artists. Kara L. Rooney, Associate Editor for the Brooklyn Rail and an artist in her own right, is the acting co-director and curator for the space. Located in the heart of the Powerhouse Arts District in Jersey City, the gallery is only minutes from Manhattan, off of the Grove Street PATH station. The newly renovated 3500 square foot space includes 14-foot ceilings, elevator, a loading dock and convenient access for private and public transportation.

JCI: What does STUDIO 371 offer its artists and viewers that other galleries in the neighborhood do not or cannot offer its artists and viewers?

Both: What the gallery hopes to offer is a rigorous contemporary program of cutting edge performance, film and visual art aimed at facilitating a dialogue between the Manhattan art scene and its 5 “outlier” boroughs. The studio’s aim is not to be insular, but rather, to create a space within which artists and viewers from all walks of the community can come to appreciate, discuss and view the art presented. Additionally, through the occasional invitation of guest curators as well as the gallery’s unprecedented 3500 sq. foot space, Stephanie and I think we can do something unique here, offering Jersey City not only our vision of what art is and can be, but multiplicitous visions that stem from other major players in the arts community.

JCI: What type of role do you see STUDIO 371 playing in Jersey City… and New York?

Both: We sort of answered this above but overall, but we would like to see the space become a hot-bed for artistic interaction amidst the Jersey City and NY area art communities, offering underrepresented artists as well as established players, the opportunity to show and create work within a venue that espouses an alternative to the white cube confines of Chelsea, somewhere along the lines of a CUE Art Foundation. Through a series of artist “salons,” we are also hoping to offer a program of artist talks, lectures, and readings as well as, eventually, traditional art classes.

JCI: The gallery’s newest exhibition “Arc-Types and Well-Rounded Characters” opens May 4. The show has some heavy hitters—Dahlia Elsayed, Vandana Jain and Ryan Roa, to name just a few. What is the show about, and why should people come out to see it?

Both: Jeanne Brasile, director and curator for the Walsh Gallery at Seton Hall University, determined the theme of the exhibition. STUDIO 371 invited Jeanne to guest-curate “Arc Types and Well Rounded Characters,” a group exhibition of artwork based on the circle and its component, the arc. This exhibition demonstrates the ways in which this simple formal element is interpreted by the participating artists. Using the circle as a unifying element, artists address a wide spectrum of subject matter including the mathematical, astronomical, environmental, architectural and spatial. Overall, the exhibition demonstrates how a simple shape can be charged with unlimited symbolic and artistic potential.

The public should see the exhibition because, separate from its interesting conceptual premise, it represents the quality of excellence the gallery is committed to presenting. Jeanne Brasile, the guest curator for the exhibition, is a long-standing member of the NJ artist community and, therefore, has the vested interest of the artists presented and the directed demographic in mind.

JCI: Let’s get back to STUDIO 371 and your partnership. How did you two meet?

Kara: We initially met at the Jersey City Museum Gala when Stephanie was co-chairing the annual event for the museum. Fast-forward almost 5 years later, when Stephanie invited me to participate in the 2011 Pro Arts Open Studios Tour, for which she had her first exhibition in the gallery space, Empty Spaces. Through these interactions, we got to know each other’s backgrounds more and in the fall of 2011, Stephanie asked me to come on board to assist with the curatorial responsibilities of the gallery.

JCI: Do you have any goals for the gallery right now? I mean you had some really specific goals when you started out and it seems to have met those goals.

Both: To keep the momentum rolling! We also hope to implement the ‘salon’ program and art classes to the gallery’s programming by the end of this year.

JCI: What are the challenges to keeping a gallery open in a Jersey City?

*Getting people to the space
*Promoting events/effective advertising/spreading the word
*Sales/gaining a collector base

JCI: Do you have a business plan? 
(Is STUDIO 371 commercial or nonprofit?)

Both: At this time, we’d prefer not to answer this question but there are numerous avenues we are interested in exploring.

JCI: Is your plan to develop a base of artists and collectors in the neighborhood, or across the river in New York City, or both?

Both: Ideally, we would like to do both. Jersey City is in such close proximity to New York that the differentiation between the two does not seem relevant. We think this base can happen in both places without detracting from the community here. They’re all connected—the people, the art, the spaces, the collectors—it doesn’t matter where the work comes from, so long as it is given the opportunity to be seen.

JCI: How is the art business different from other businesses? Or maybe it’s not?

Both: The art business is really like any other business, but better. Everyone loves art—it’s a way of expressing yourself, its controversial, it creates dialogue. You might be dealing with the same set of logistical challenges but its more rewarding because there is an energy about the business and a passion behind the work that drives the advancement of culture.

JCI: What’s your favorite part of the gallery? 

Stephanie: Coming up with the mission and the process of going through implanting these ideas. Working in a creative environment with passionate individuals, bringing people together and seeing the end result, for me, is the most rewarding part.

Kara: It’s the opportunity to experiment and take risk with my curatorial ambitions–to think outside of the box (as well as outside of the confines of a traditional gallery program), not to mention, present the work of artists whose creative and aesthetic visions I care deeply about. Working with Stephanie’s mission from the ground up, the studio has acted a freeform space where anything can happen. This makes it an invigorating environment within which to develop new ideas, which we can then shape and see grow.

JCI: And what’s your least favorite part?

Both: In every industry there are the logistical and administrative challenges that can wear you down. The business of running a gallery is no different.

JCI: Any last words?

Both: Its extremely important to us that the word get out there about what we’re trying to do—to get people to the space, to create the community that we envision, and to present work that we care about.

© Harmony Media, NJ. All rights reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced without written permission.

Photo of artwork courtesy of Trevor Amery; portrait courtesy of STUDIO 371.

Brendan Carroll

an artist and a writer. In 2006, he cofounded Agitators Collective, which creates site-related installations in urban locales that have fallen into neglect or dereliction. He has exhibited his work at a number of museums and galleries in New York and New Jersey, and his work has been featured in several periodicals, including The New York Times, Village Voice, Art Fag City and Time Out New York. Find him online at