Author Brendan Carroll
Like boxing king Manny Pacquiao, Jersey City is punching above its weight class -- the list includes cultural centers New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles. So how did Jersey City, population 250,000 -- a city without a museum, music venue or dedicated bookstore -- manage to edge out the likes of Boston and Philadelphia?
Richard Florida, the senior editor of The Atlantic, used data from the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey to rank cities based on the number of artists who live there compared to the overall population.
“We wanted to examine which metros have the largest concentration of artists relative to their population,” Florida notes. “We use a measure called a ‘location quotient,’ or LQ, which is basically a ratio that compares a region’s share of artists to the national share of artists.”
Jersey City’s LQ is 2.256, which means the city has roughly twice as many artists as the national average.
“It’s time to get over the notion that only large urban cities like New York or LA can make it as artistic centers,” says Florida. “While it’s true that large cities and metros dominate in terms of sheer numbers of artists, smaller communities are home to vibrant artistic communities as well — many with national and international reputations and reach.”
Despite bleak economic realities and a lack of financial infrastructure in place to nurture, support and sustain arts venues, Jersey City residents frequently get together to run galleries, organize shows and display artwork. They transform ground-floor apartments, glass factories and garages into exhibition venues. Notable institutions include New Jersey City University’s Visual Arts and Lemmerman Galleries, 58 Gallery, _gaia, Jersey City Art School, Curious Matter, WOOLPUNKstudios and STUDIO III VII I, to name just a few. And they are why Jersey City came out a winner.
But while many artists took pride in the news, others were skeptical.
"We don't even have a museum anymore," says Hiroshi Kumagai, who has a solo exhibition on now at 58 Gallery. The Jersey City Museum went into foreclosure in July of this year and remains closed pending a possible sale to the Jersey City Medical Center, whose CEO has said he would reopen the museum in some form if the sale goes through.
"Local government is neither friendly nor supportive of the scene," says Kumagai. "I don't expect Jersey City to be artistic anymore."
Christine Goodman, the founder and head of Art House Productions, disagrees. "We have our own Division of Cultural Affairs which a lot of cities don't have," she says, "and the Special Improvement Districts are providing programs like Groove on Grove and the Central Avenue Mural Project. Local businesses exhibit art. There's a new wave of dance, music and theater programs for youth and adults."
Although Goodman did rattle off a list of reasons why Jersey City deserves to be on the list, she is still not satisfied. The city, she says, needs to grow. “The question becomes: where do we go from here?" she asks. "How do we ensure its survival? Where are our theaters, our museums, our art centers, our cinemas? How do we take this to the next level?"
Michelle Mumoli of Pop-UP Art is also looking to the future. "I can only speak for myself when I say that I would like my art organization to be a bridge to the Manhattan market and the New York art buyers," Mumoli says. "The time has come for the buyers and collectors across the Hudson, to start taking that 10- to 20-minute train ride into Jersey City, and even Newark, to start buying up-and-coming work from talented, dedicated artists who are busting their rumps to make a living doing what they love."
Performance artist and Jersey City native Nyugen E. Smith feels that artists are living here because of cheap rents, not because of a supportive environment. "[Artists] are staying probably because of the space they have to work for less money, close to NYC," he wrote in an email."DEFINITELY NOT because we have financial or exhibition opportunities for artists.”
Proximity to New York seemed to be a common factor in Jersey City's success among many artists we interviewed. Eugene Lemay, the CEO of Mana Contemporary Art Center, says he has noticed many artists moving their studios from Manhattan, Brooklyn and Long Island City.
"They are drawn to the sense of community we are able to provide," he says. "By having all of the services artists and art collectors need under one roof — studios, framing, shipping and storage, for example — we’ve created an ideal working environment for artists. And there’s no big warehouse space like this left in New York City, so we have an advantage by being off the beaten path.”
Dancer Megha Kalia, who founded the Indian performing arts company Sitarrey, jumped the fence from Queens to Jersey City this past year because of the commercial spaces the city offered to the creative community.
“Residents can find anything from Indian arts to photography clubs and guitar classes in Jersey City,” Kalia comments. “There are studios for bands that provide space to rent that is a very important resource for aspiring artists.”
Painter Jon Rappleye, who currently has a solo exhibition at NJCU, appreciates the “cheap rent” in Jersey City, as well as the "peace of mind" the city provides its artists.
"Also the fact that it is more isolated," says Rappelye, "I personally find it helpful to be away from the distraction of the city.”
Poet Jackie Clark, author of the chapbooks Office Work and Red Fortress, agrees. “Being so close to New York is great, but it is also great to leave the city and get some perspective on things, and as a writer, perspective is important,” says Clark. “There is still a sense that you are leaving ‘the city’ when you head home to Jersey City, even though my commute is quicker than certain friends of mine who live in Brooklyn."
Plus, says Clark, "There isn't the same kind of competitiveness that haunts indie/arts events in Brooklyn."
Photographer Karina Aguilera Skvirsky, who recently organized the community-based art project Ask Me: Tell Me at Lucky Laundromat says she was “in shock" that Jersey City made the list.
“When I ride the PATH I always feel like the majority of Jersey City residents work in business contexts. Clearly what I seem to see tells me nothing,” observes Skvirsky. “It actually makes sense that artists would make Jersey City their home. While Jersey City is not NYC, it has a decidedly urban sensibility and I believe that appeals to artists."
Artist Tom McGlynn, who began showing his work at Jersey City Museum prior to its move from the main branch of the Jersey City Public Library in 2001, noted that even with the absence of the museum, the arts in Jersey City are thriving.
“The Jersey City Museum closing was a real loss to the community," says McGlynn, "but it’s interesting how resilient the community remains nevertheless.”
How did Jersey City, population 250,000 — a city without a museum, music venue or dedicated bookstore — manage to edge out the likes of Boston and Philadelphia by placing tenth on The Atlantic magazine’s list of the top artistic cities in the United States?
Though it has been pigeonholed as the pastime of grandmothers, needlework has undergone a radical conversion in the last decade. Artist Do-Ho Suh presented a sewn full-scale model of his childhood home at the Lehmann Maupin Gallery in Chelsea this fall, and back in May, the artist known as Olek knitted a custom sweater for
Tokyo native Hiroshi Kumagai moved to Jersey City in 1999, left for Brooklyn, and came back in 2001. This “artist-at-large” is currently best known for his vinyl-based work, which will be on display in Near Sighted, a solo exhibition inspired by roadside billboards opening this weekend at 58 Gallery. This is Kumagai’s third solo exhibition at 58 and his first since 2009, and is viewed as a homecoming of sorts for the artist.
This summer, artists Christine DaCruz and Doris Caçoilo traveled to Nicosia, Cyprus, as part of an artist residency program. Their resulting work is as much a meditation on conflict as a physical document of it.
Like Keith Richards and Mick Jagger, photography and painting have had a hot and cold relationship over the years. In the 1840s, most painters considered photography to be a dire threat to their livelihood. Today, the perception has changed. Many painters view photography as an essential tool in their practice.
Contemporary art has a history of rousing debate and inciting censorship. Look no further than Andres Serrrano’s photograph, “Piss Christ,” which depicts a crucifix submerged in the artist’s own urine or Chris Ofili’s painting, “The Holy Virgin Mary,” which combines a depiction of the Blessed Mother with elephant dung. To these examples, we can now
Several Jersey City-based artists are featured in two exhibitions as part of the Hoboken Artists’ Studio Tour, which starts today. The event, now in its 31st year, is a four-day festival with open studios, gallery exhibitions, site-specific installations and live music. When the festival began in 1981, just ten artists participated. Today, the tour features
At first glance, local artist Jon Rappleye’s complex menageries of exotic and everyday animals can strike the viewer as flamboyant, saccharine, even playful. On repeated viewings, his work reveals an artist whose devotion to portraying the natural world borders on the religious.
Forty-eight hours before Halloween, U2, Nirvana, and the Cure will overrun the Historic Jersey City and Harsimus Cemetery, among other bands, thanks to local music promoter (Dancing) Tony Susco, who has invited local bands to dress up and perform as national music acts.
The art party is moving to Newark. The city’s Open Doors Studio Tour, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary, kicked off last night with a sneak preview of the exhibition Call & Response at 570 Broad Street. The four-day festival features more than 300 artists participating in events including group shows, site-specific exhibitions, live performances,