Newark’s artists help spur its development, but will they benefit?

Pictured above: Artisan Collective co-owner Jae hangs an Open Doors Arts Festival banner outside her Halsey Street store, October 2013. Photo by Andaiye Taylor

For decades, Newark has been synonymous, in the popular imagination, with urban decay and crime. Now the city is experiencing its largest period of economic growth – as measured by the pipeline of current and pending development here – since the 1950s.

The arts are playing a crucial role in rebranding the city, attracting creative people here, and helping to spur investment. But it remains to be seen whether the artists who’ve helped facilitate that development will benefit from the cultural context they helped create.

“Artists have been a big part of the reemergence of the city as a place that is attractive to people, and creating an identity for the city,” explained Linwood Oglesby, executive director of the Newark Arts Council. Founded in 1981 as an advocacy organization to promote and expand the artistic and cultural resources of the city, the Newark Arts Council sponsors arts education programs, gives grants to local artists, and hosts the annual Open Doors Studio Tour, which is a citywide arts tour and community celebration of the arts in Newark. 

“[The art scene] really became an attraction for people outside the city. It gives the city a new light. It has helped to brand Newark as a really hip and happening place,” Oglesby said. 

When the Newark Arts Council held its first Open Doors in 2002, there were only twelve galleries in the city. But Oglesby credits that first studio tour with galvanizing the Newark art scene: “I think that became a rallying point for the artists who were in the city at the time, but also to the artists who were being attracted into the city at that point,” he said.

After that, Olgesby explained, “More galleries began to crop up. More artists began to move in. Artists began to work together and to collaborate and to create their own spaces and their own galleries, and through the process, more people began to be attracted to the city. So it kind of fed itself: the more artists who came, the more artists came.”

The 2013 Open Doors featured roughly 40 galleries and pop-up spaces, and showcased the work of approximately 300 artists. As the arts community in Newark continues to thrive, Open Doors gets bigger every year. Oglesby calls it “the centerpiece of this new emergence of the arts in Newark.” 

This community of artists is what attracted Brendan Mahoney to Newark. A practicing artist and trained architect, Mahoney, 31, left Jersey City two years ago to move to a loft in Newark’s Ironbound district. “I came here specifically as an artist, making artwork and wanting to engage in a community that really had a sense, from an art standpoint, that there was a community, and the community was really building something,” he said. 

Mahoney hosts community events and potlucks in his loft space, which he calls Apartment 16. He is currently doing a residency at the Newark Print Shop, and has showcased his work in three Open Doors so far.

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Brendan Mahoney at Newark Print Shop. Photo by Caroline McCaughey.

And it’s not just Mahoney who’s moving to Newark. As rising rents are pushing artists out of traditional artistic strongholds like Williamsburg, Bushwick, Hoboken, and even Jersey City, some are starting to move to Newark. Just a short PATH train ride from the center of the art world in Manhattan, Newark’s raw industrial spaces and cheaper rents are proving a lure. “There has been a steady influx of artists coming into Newark and choosing to make it home,” Oglesby said.

But Newark wasn’t always a regional destination for the arts. In fact, when New Jersey Governor Thomas H. Kean proposed building a world-class performing arts center in downtown Newark in 1986, many of his critics and supporters thought the idea was crazy, that no New Jersey suburbanite would choose to spend an evening in Newark when they could drive a little further to Manhattan’s Lincoln Center, or to Broadway.

But Governor Kean pushed ahead with the proposal anyway. After receiving major federal and state economic development funds, as well as corporate sponsorships, most notably from Prudential, construction of the $187 million New Jersey Performance Art Center (NJPAC) broke ground in 1993. The concert hall opened in 1997 to great fanfare and rave reviews of the space.

A major claim of then-Governor Kean and other NJPAC advocates was that building a major arts complex in downtown Newark would spark more development and a revitalization of the city. In fact, explicitly stated in NJPAC’s mission is just that: “Help drive Newark’s revitalization.” But would a performance center be enough to spawn real development in Newark’s downtown? Maybe not single-handedly, but it has definitely helped. 

Gizem Bacaz, 32, a painter and founder of Seed Gallery on Market Street, first thought of moving to Newark after seeing a show at NJPAC. “I had this experience walking around and looking at the architecture. And that kind of planted a seed in my head,” Ms. Bacaz said, adjusting her thick, black rimmed glasses and lighting a stick of incense inside her gallery. In 2005, she moved to Newark. Two years later, she opened Seed Gallery. She recently moved her gallery to Market Street, a hub of the Newark scene, and the focus of much of the 2013 Open Doors.

“I could have just moved to Brooklyn and gotten a spot and had all of these artist friends around that were all doing the same thing. But instead, I thought it would be much more valuable to be in an environment where it is a blank canvas…If you really want to do something, it’s better to go to a place like Newark, where it isn’t developed. It’s just a blank slate,” said Bacaz. 

In fact, Newark’s art scene is nothing new, and it well preceded the gravitational pull of anchor institutions like NJPAC. The late Amiri Baraka, a Newark legend and former poet laureate of New Jersey, is widely reputed to be the founder of the Black Arts Movement; Arts High School has been a fixture in Newark for over eight decades; Newark School of the Arts has educated tens of thousands of people in all forms of artistic expression; and individual artists – renowned Newark native Jerry Gant is one who continues to make waves – have been contributing to the city’s art context for years.

(We reached out to Mr. Gant via email for comment, but were unable to reach him as of this publishing.)

Still, there is a renewed energy around the arts in Newark, with relative newcomers like Bacaz injecting fresh energy into the scene, and collaborations birthing exciting projects and exhibits. Aferro, one of the larger Newark galleries, is also located on Market Street. Recently, Aferro partnered with RBH Group, a large property owner and developer, to fill vacant storefronts on Market Street with art. They call the project “Activate: Market Street”. Jerry Gant’s art fills several storefronts on Market Street right now. Of course, both Aferro and RBH benefit from this partnership: Aferro gets increased exposure, and RBH profits from increased property values. 

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Boris Bernard, artist and member of Newark artist collective Poor Kingz, poses outside Jerry Gant exhibit on Market Street. Photo by Caroline McCaughey.

The Lincoln Park Coast Cultural District (LPCCD) is another example of the arts driving revitalization in the city. Founded in 2000, the LPCCD is a not-for-profit organization whose mission is to transform the once-blighted Lincoln Park neighborhood into an arts and cultural district. The organization has purchased swaths of vacant properties and built sustainable mixed-income residential and commercial units for artists and, mainly, minority-owned businesses. They also host the annual Lincoln Park Music Festival featuring hip-hop, jazz, and house music, and do green jobs training, cultural programming, and urban organic farming.

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Lincoln Park Coast Cultural District church façade, where concerts are held and organic vegetables grown. Photo by Caroline McCaughey.

“[We’re] using creative models to deal with economic issues,” explained Josiah Johnson, 26, an artist and native Newark resident who works for LPCCD. “The neighborhood was depleted. Most of the community, the residents, were either low-income or below low-income…As a little kid who grows up in this area, instead of walking around and only seeing crack vials on the ground, they can see art.”

But some Newark artists fear that while they’re making the city more attractive for investment and development now, they’ll soon be priced out, as happened in SoHo and, more recently, Williamsburg, Brooklyn. 

“The city has become more aware of the value that artists bring, so even developers have begun to open up more spaces for galleries, for workshop spaces, for studios for artists throughout the city, “ explained Oglesby. “So we can only hope that that continues. But there is clearly a need for some permanent development spaces for artists to ensure that artists have a long-term future in this city.” 

Oglesby’s hopes are rooted in a by-now well accepted theory of urban gentrification: artists make neighborhoods feel more welcoming by renovating and reusing old spaces for studios or dwellings, and investment soon follows. Eventually, rents rise so much that the artists can no longer afford to live there. Creative people are “the storm troopers of gentrification,” explains Steve Englander, director or ABC No Rio, a nonprofit arts space in Manhattan’s once-seedy Lower East Side, where rents now rival some of the city’s toniest neighborhoods. So although Newark is actively courting the arts to help reinvent the city, the artists themselves are also trying to stake a claim now to ensure their place in a more prosperous Newark’s future.

“The conversation going on in New York [City] is very relevant here,” said Mahoney. “There are lots of spaces owned by larger scale developers, and I think they see the arts community as an asset in some ways. And they’re trying to utilize the artists to fill the spaces, probably so that they eventually sell them or rent them out at market rates. It’s beneficial to the arts community now, but artists are aware of that.”

Recently, Mahoney held “meet and greets” with mayoral candidates Shavar Jeffries and Ras Baraka at his loft space. “It’s just a conversation,” Mahoney said. But one he wants the next mayor to hear. 

Mahoney continued: “Hopefully we can work with the city government or with the developers to perform partnerships that allow Newark to develop in a way that allows for a lasting arts community in greater Newark. Whether that’s possible is yet to be determined.”

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Norman Rockwell American Chronicles At Newark Museum Until May 26

The traveling exhibition of Norman Rockwell, America’s most famous illustrator, will show until May 26 at the Newark Museum, before it goes to Italy for it’s next stop. American Chronicles: The Art of Norman Rockwell is a traveling exhibition of 363 illustrations and 50 paintings.

Rockwell is considered the best illustrator of the 20th century, and yet you won’t see any of his work at the MoMa or the MET.  In the 1920’s, Rockwell became famous for capturing American life through his illustrations, at a time when the most respected artists were doing abstract art. 

Earlier this month, Dr. Joyce Schiller, a curator of the Rockwell Center for American Art, the institution responsible for the exhibition, gave a lecture on Rockwell at the Newark Museum to a modest crowd of about 30 people.  

“This exhibition is important for Newark because you won’t see the art of illustrators in the museums in New York City,” said Dr. Schiller in an interview after the lecture. “Rockwell was the best illustrator of the time, but he wasn’t considered an artist.”

Rockwell’s illustrations for the cover of the Saturday Evening Post, the magazine with the largest subscriptions in the U.S. at the time, could be easily mistaken for real photographs due to his precision and detail. His first cover, “Boy and The Baby Carriage”, which appeared in 1916, has a playful look and feel and vivid characters.  The painting illustrates a well-dressed boy pushing what was considered a fancy baby carriage at the time, and two other boys in less formal clothes on their way to a baseball game. All three boys in the painting were recurring characters in Rockwell’s art.

In his biography, My Life As An Illustrator, Rockwell writes, “The most difficult problem is thinking up the ideas which a majority of the readers will understand and is damn hard to be universal to find some situation which will strike the housewife, the farmer and the gossip and be understandable by all.” For Rockwell, painting the same characters in different situations helped overcome part of that challenge.

In the beginning of Rockwell’s career, he wanted to capture life as he wanted it to be, excluding the ugly parts of it, but his goal changed overtime, especially during the Civil Rights era.

Another high point in the exhibit is Rockwell’s “Four Freedoms” paintings, which were inspired by a speech from President Franklin D. Roosevelt.  After publishing the illustrations on the Post, the paintings were commissioned by the U.S. government during World War II to raise money and persuade the public to favor the war. The four freedoms paintings – freedom of speech, freedom to worship, freedom from want and freedom of fear – were scenes of American life capturing each one of those themes.

After gaining popularity through his work on the post, Rockwell began doing work for other magazines like Lady’s Home Journal and Life magazine, and worked on ads for clients like Colgate.

“All the elements in his illustrations tell the same story,” said Dr. Schiller, in reference to the collection. “He often used furniture and clothing to tell the story about the characters.” 

While Dr. Schiller’s lecture generated a lot of positive reactions from the audience. A man approached Dr. Schiller to ask a somewhat controversial question during a coffee and snack reception after the talk. “Was Norman Rockwell a racist?” asked the unidentified man. It was a fair question given that there are very few people of color in his illustrations.

Dr. Schiller explained that Rockwell had been asked not to paint people of color in the covers for the Post unless they were in service roles, and that he became increasingly frustrated with the Post and their censoring of his political views. 

Rockwell eventually left the Post to work for Look magazine, where he published, “The Problem We All Live With,” an illustration of Ruby Bridges, the first black student to attend an all-white school. The partnership between Rockwell and Look magazine made it easier for Rockwell to express scenes from the civil rights movement. 

The American Chronicles exhibition attracts anywhere between 10,000 to 70,000 people at each location, said Dr. Schiller. The Newark Museum curators declined to respond to our questions about admissions, or why they chose to showcase the Rockwell exhibit work. 

But what is without question is that the exhibition is  one of a kind and won’t be found anywhere else outside of Newark. At least not until May 26. 

#iVideography: Gifts East West gifts art to ‘biz neighbor’ Green Chicpea


I was recently in to see Marty Green, owner of Halsey Street newcomer Green Chicpea, when I was struck by the vibrant artwork on the walls. Green Chicpea serves kosher Moroccan cuisine, but the artwork didn't strike me as particularly North African.

It turns out the works are paintings by his next door business neighbor, Gifts East West. I grabbed my iPhone to get a quick take on how his neighbor's artwork wound up on his walls, in his words (forgive the hum of restaurant equipment in the back – we went for it without a mic).

Green Chicpea is located at 57 Halsey Street. Try the falafel and the mint lemonade.


#BrickCity: Boris Bernard Pops Sh%t at SEED Gallery


It's the newest monthly mashup of art, music, and open gallery space in town. The invites for Boris Bernard's first monthly Pop Sh%t art show went out last week, along with this promo video.

The first Pop Sh%t, which will be held the third Wednesday of the month at SEED Gallery (Downtown Newark – 210 Market Street, 3rd floor, between Broad and Mulberry), was last night. Boris mingled with attendees with his usual kinetic energy on full display. His host (and the muse for a few of the pieces), Kasper Vargas, arrived soon after.

boris pop sh-t

SEED also hosts the CO-LAB open mic every Tuesday from 8PM to 1AM. See Boris' work from the show in the slideshow below:

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Garden State Ultras host fourth annual art auction

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New York Red Bulls supporter group the Garden State Ultras hosted their fourth annual art auction at mmmBello's Pub on Market Street yesterday. The event, organized by artist Hope McCarthy, also raised money for Aaron Alonso, a New Jerseyan who lost both of his legs when he stepped on an IED in Afghanistan earlier this month. The auction featured work by dozens of artists, two DJs spinning eclectic music, and a packed house of attendees.

Painter Sophia Domeville makes a profession out of her passion

I first met abstract painter Sophia Domeville last year, at the offices of Medina=Citi in the Richardson Lofts here in Newark. I went home and checked out her website, fell in love with one of her paintings, and bought it. It now hangs in my apartment.

When I met Sophia that first time, she was still figuring out how to make a living as an artist. Not long after that, it seemed like new opportunities were happening for her left and right. Quite often, social media would light up with news of a new opportunity being afforded Sophia because of her art.

In the conversation below, we discuss her inspiration, how her creativity called her into a career as a painter, how Newark helps her to create, and more. (Check out Sophia’s recent street style spread here.)

Andaiye Taylor: How would you describe yourself as an artist?

Sophia Domeville: I would describe myself as an abstract painter. I use colors, shapes, various designs, and mixed media to express my emotions, and to talk about what’s going on in society.

How long have you been painting?

I started painting when I was five, so 25 years.

And why did you start painting?

I used to draw on the walls as a child. And I remember even in kindergarten, I would mix colors just to get the right shade of green 0r the right shade of yellow I saw when I went to the park the other day. So art has always my voice, refuge, and therapy.

I always had an issue speaking in general – like letting out my emotions and trying to find the right words. Art in itself was my voice, and I rediscovered my love of painting in middle school and high school, then again in college.

Now you’re a professional artist. How did you go from painting on the walls as a child to being a professional artist. Did you decide to make that happen, or did it just happen to you?

After I finished college – I got my BFA – I basically had a breakdown, and I gave away 90 percent of my work. I gave it to people I knew: friends, campus ministry. One friend of mine in South Jersey was holding my work, but her basement was flooded, so a lot of my work was destroyed.

Giving away the work was me trying not to care anymore. At that time, I  didn’t know where I was going with my creativity. I wanted to get MFA at Art Institute of Chicago, but that fell through, and I felt really stressed out between graduating from college, not knowing where I was going, and thinking about how to pay for school.

So what did you professionally after college?

I dove into the corporate world for the first time. I was working at a law firm for a family friend and was training to be a legal secretary, but I was not happy. Then I got a job working at a huge cosmetic company in New York as a receptionist and HR assistant. That was my first real corporate job. During that time, I would love to go out and party, and I started hanging with promoters and bouncers. So I started doing party promotions, and I realized I loved to plan. In 2007, I dove into being an event planner. I created “Ms. Phia Presents…”, and did event planning for years.

What kind of events did you do?

I did everything: charity events, spoken word, poetry was my thing, concerts, and was working with Urban Pro Group, which introduced me to the urban market scene. I was doing events in New York, Jersey, Long Island, and Miami. Those events really boosted my popularity at that time.

Were you making a living at this, or still working at the cosmetics company?

I was still working at the cosmetics company, and doing this on the side, as hobby.

In ‘o8, I left [the cosmetics company] and started working with LinkShare as their purchasing coordinator. I was still working there in 2011, but by that time I was becoming more depressed, because I wasn’t happy with work anymore, and didn’t understand what was going on with me. It was my friend Simone who said to me, “You need to create art.” She’d known me since I was 19. So she gave me her sister’s old paint and brushes, and said, “Here, paint.” But I had no canvas.

So I painted the walls within my entire apartment. My creativity started haunting me in my sleep, and I couldn’t sleep anymore. I wasn’t happy. I knew something was missing, and I knew what it was, but I just wasn’t ready for it. And it wasn’t until I basically had a small heart attack (a reaction related to hypertension) that I took two weeks off of work. During that two weeks, I made the decision to leave my job, and pursue my passion for the arts.

I wasn’t working for almost a year after I decided to leave. My savings were depleted. I was living in Brooklyn the whole time. and it wasn’t easy, because it was expensive. I lost my apartment, and I was living couch to couch.

During that time, I received an opportunity to showcase at Jade Lounge in Queens. It was my first exhibition in 8 years. I had no money at that point, so my friend Kimberly asked if I wanted to do Kickstarter campaign. Initially I didn’t like to ask for money, but she said I needed to do it. My ex was a videographer, and he helped me make three short documentaries in one day: in my home, walking around Brooklyn in front of murals, saying why I was doing this exhibition. I wound up raising $1,300.

The exhibition I did was called “Soliloquy of Chaos”, and it discussed what I went through those past two years: not having a job, pursuing my passion, falling in love, realizing I was falling in love, pursuing that dream. That exhibition was for the people, by the people. Everything – the paint, brushes, canvases – was paid for by others. Some of them didn’t even know me, but they said, “I heard about you, I want to support you.”

How did you get the opportunity to show there in the first place?

My friend Kimberly went the lounge and noticed a gallery space. I still remember when she texted me and said, “There’s a gallery space. You need to check it out.” At first I was like, “I don’t want to do this – I’m scared.” But when I saw the space, I knew my work was going to be there. I could see it. I didn’t even know what I was going to create, but I knew, “That’s mine.” And that’s how it’s always been. As an artist, I know when it’s right.

I sent an email to the event coordinator with the only three images I had. He responded the same night, and said he had an open spot in January. Because of that exhibit, I was on WPIX11 news, I interviewed and got featured in Amour Creole magazine, I had my work in Philadelphia – all in one year. I realized at that point that I could no longer do a nine-to-five.

That was 2011. When I first met you [in 2012], you were on your way, but still figuring things out. Then I looked up, and it seemed like you had tons of opportunities all over the place. How did that happen?

[The year] 2012 was a whirlwind. I’m like, “How did I get here!”  I was asked to be featured in Amour Creole by Valerie Brutus, who is also my publicist. She believed in me, and she said, “Ok, let’s see if we can get you out there. I need to see you everywhere.” And honestly, all the exposure was between her and people hearing about my story. A lot of the gigs, the articles, the blogs, the magazines, newspapers, going to Dartmouth, going to Haiti — it was just referrals.

I remember a couple weeks ago, I did a fundraiser for the Haitian American Caucus. I had one of my large paintings called “Emotional Combustion” there — it’s always grabbed people’s attention. There was one lady who was like, “That’s mine. I need that in my house right now.” She had one of the attendants spy and make sure no one else entered bids. To see that – it’s fulfilling as an artist. Especially because I want to change the world through art.

How specifically do you want to do that?

I’ve done creative art workshops for nonprofits and schools. The workshop is called “Discover Your Voice”, and at that workshop, students rediscover who they are as a person. I discuss media and how it affects who you are as a person. We discuss the fundamentals of art, the meaning of art. We also discuss its history. We dive into how art is revolutionary. That’s how I feel I’m going to change the world: using art as a tool, as a medium to open the eyes of others, and inspire others to think, “my voice is important”.

Can you talk about the importance of getting started? Do you think your artistic career took on a momentum of its own once you put yourself out there?

Like, immediately. I was so used to being in the background, doing the events and not being in the public eye. So once I decided it’s time for me to say my story, and understand the purpose of my point of view, and not be scared of being a leader or success, things started happening.

Success is a whole different responsibility. I really have to be a leader and say, “This is my art. This is my vision.” Honestly, it’s not about the money. To me, success is knowing that I’m inspiring others. Money and recognition is cool, but just to know you’re inspiring others – it’s wonderful.

What primary emotions and themes inspire your artwork?

Everything. Love, life, and understanding the world. Understanding why things happen, and understanding ways that my vision can have an effect on someone. And my voice – I have to let it out.

What is it about the abstract style in particular that’s so conducive to talking about the themes you care about?

There are no rules. I tell my students: there are no mistakes.

Right now I’m into breaking things apart, like wood. I used to deconstruct canvas when I was 19. I’m literally going back to that old style of mine, what I learned 11 years ago. It’s just about finding ways to communicate that are not so obvious. Abstract art makes you think. It makes you feel. It makes you understand. It makes people question things: “Why did she do that?” It makes people ask themselves, “Why do I feel so strongly about that one piece?”

As an artist in today’s climate, what would you say about opportunities to exhibit your work? I’ve noticed a lot of artwork in spaces that aren’t necessarily galleries. Have opportunities to show your work become more diverse?

Opportunities to show my work have definitely become more diverse. Showcasing at restaurants and lounges is a good opportunity, but the issue is, you don’t want to get stuck. That’s the thing: it’s great, but I need to get out to a broader audience. I need to be in Chelsea. I need to be in Jersey City. I need to be in LA. I want people knowing who I am – like, “Oh, that’s a Domeville.” It’s starting to get like that in Brooklyn, I notice. I want to continue that, but at a larger scale. I’m going to try to get my kit together and see if I can show my work at the Brooklyn Museum, or even the Newark Museum. I really want to do a show at the MOMA San Francisco. New York is cool, but San Franscisco…I actually want to live there eventually. I want to show my work not only domestically, but internationally. That’s the goal. I want to be out there.

How do you break into those opportunities?

It was [Citi] Medina that said this: you have to go places where you don’t feel comfortable. One place like that for me was Dartmouth College (Sophia taught at the Rassias center recently).  It was different not to see people who look like me, and to understand it didn’t matter. I had to break out of my own shell and comfort zone, and say, “You know what? I’m just gonna be Sophia.” I know that to get myself out there, I’m going to have to put myself in situations like that.

How did you come to be in Newark from Brooklyn, and what has your experience been here?

A friend of mine let me sublet his apartment because he was getting married last year. I’m still, a year later, getting to know Newark, because I got so comfortable being in Brooklyn. Now, I’m trying to make Newark my new home. I’m still trying to figure out what are the ins and happenings of the artists here. But Newark helped me focus — being in Newark, it is a different world for me. I’ve created much more work being here. Newark is my refuge — I go home, and I create art.

What is your impression of the town? What do you observe about Newark as someone who moved here fairly recently?

People are very different than in Brooklyn – the energy is different. In Brooklyn, there’s a creative energy that can be very distracting and suck you in. It’s about being an individual and standing out. Crocheting your own sweater, creating your own earrings. In Newark, I notice people are more similar to each other. There’s a little bit of individuality here – hopefully there’ll be more. When I first moved here, people would look at me like, “You’re not from around here. Are you from Brooklyn?” And I would say, “How did you know?!”

In Brooklyn, everybody’s always ready – Jay-Z might do another pop-up concert somewhere, or somebody’s taking photos down the street for a magazine. There’s always something happening. And I can see that happening in Newark in time.

If you had the opportunity, would you move back to Brooklyn, or could you see yourself staying here?

Part of me says yes, and part of me says no. I want to see how much of an impact I can make in Newark. I feel like with Newark, I’m starting over, and I have a platform to really sustain an actual impact here, and be known for it. Brooklyn is a little saturated. Here, it’s like you can make your own pond. So I would stay in Newark. I want to build first before leaving.

Tim Dingman: The upside of being an artist

Love in the arts community is as precipitous, precarious, pernicious, preposterous and….given to pretension as it is anywhere else in the human community.  Only more so.

It is not my intent to guess, discuss or disclose whom is sleeping with whom in the Chelsea or Newark arts community.  I’m remarkably inept at making such assumptions.

I’m more interested in wondering why people outside of the community are attracted to artists. Why does a 30-plus-year-old woman at a pop-up show in the basement of the Chelsea Hotel decided that she wants to buy a 60-year-old-plus artist like me drinks?

Why does a brilliant 38 year old call to pick me up in a Mercedes to take me (as her “date”) to a party?  People in the arts community have simply been given permission, or, rather, given themselves permission to give way to their passion, often at the cost of financial, emotional and philosophical security.  Artists are people who have stopped reminding themselves that the society at large expects them to be “normal.”  By the way; “passion” is equal to, but not the equivalent of, sex.  Just to remind you.

My favorite self descriptor is “Bohemian”.  It’s a somewhat archaic term, but it explains what goes on in an artist’s life and in the arts community more generally. (Read about it as defined in Wikipedia.)

Any good mixer of convivial habits considers he has a right to be called a Bohemian. But that is not a valid claim. There are two elements; at least, that are essential to Bohemianism. The first is devotion or addiction to one or more of the Seven Arts. The other is poverty.

And other factors suggest themselves. For instance, I like to think of my Bohemians as young, as radical in their outlook on art and life, as unconventional, and, though this is debatable, as dwellers in a city large enough to have the somewhat cruel atmosphere of all great cities.

Literary “Bohemians” were associated in the French imagination with roving Romani people (called “bohemians” because they were believed to have arrived from Bohemia), outsiders apart from conventional society and untroubled by its disapproval. The term carries a connotation of arcane enlightenment (the opposite of Philistines), and also carries a less frequently intended, pejorative connotation of carelessness about personal hygiene and marital fidelity.

That’s it.  “…a connotation of arcane enlightenment.”  The artists are the “smartest people in the room.”  Artists know something that the rest of the populous doesn’t – and can’t – ever know. Sound arrogant?  Sure is. Don’t you have to be to put your favorite creation on a wall in public for everyone to see, comment on, deride, and judge?  After coming to terms with that, what could possibly frighten you?

Working artist’s rag: The good, the not so good, and the sort of outrageous

Ah.  A subject about which even I  am  somewhat  tentative: the New York/New Jersey art comparison.  Who does it better? Can New Jersey – Newark specifically – overcome the self imposed inferiority complex?  Can we ever get out of the penumbra of the Myth of the New York Art Scene?

OK: They have the money. If art were only about money (Southeby’s thinks so) that would trump all arguments. “They got the guns but we got the numbers.” As a maker and not just a consumer of art, I’ll tell you, art is not all about money. It’s not all about “slick” and “shiny” and a receptionist at the front desk with a fake British accent.

Aljira on Washington and Aferro on Market are as slick as any Chelsea or midtown New York gallery. I like those galleries, and I’m proud to have them in Newark. I’m impressed with the local artists and student outreach that Aljira and Aferro do, but they aren’t my favorites.  As stated here earlier, I think art should be accessible, affordable, and scary.  I stand by the “scary” wholeheartedly.  If you go far enough south in Manhattan, you will eventually encounter the kind of raucous, imaginative material that you will see permeates the Newark arts community.  Walk down Halsey street and drop in the Coffee Cave, Artisan Collective or most of the barber shops and you will get art that has passion over salesmanship.

Both communities have the commonality of the activist LGBT community.  In both Chelsea and Newark, a Venn diagram of the arts and LGBT communities would be pretty much a circle with a few fringy outliers who are generously accepted by the majority tribes.

I transition from Newark to Chelsea with relative ease and frequency.  I have dear friends, collaborators and fond memories of and in both communities. There is a fundamental difference in “attitude” the makes the difference for me in deciding where to call home, and this is an example:

Last Wednesday, I had the great good fortune to be invited to show at a one night “pop-up”  at the LGTB center on west 13th St. I brought 40 prints and made a minor sale. A large turnout, few buyers, and lots of family and friends.  Towards the end of the two-hour show, all of the participating artists were called to the stage to make a brief statement about the show, their work and…about anything else.  The remarks may be summarized thusly:

“I’m (insert name here) I do (insert medium here)  I am proud to be a member of the LGBT community.  We are strong; we are ascendant; we have changed society.  Yea, us.”  It was theatrical, it was self congratulatory and it was justly and correctly so.

Do not misunderstand me. I love this Chelsea set of artists.  I support them. I love their art and their fearless, fierce approach to art and life.

On Saturday, I went to the monthly “open mic” event at Artisan Collective (25 Halsey Street. Look for their monthly wine tastings. Brutally good, and  Burley is a wine font of information). It was organized, this month, around a visit by Newark mayoral candidate Darrin Sharif. Before Shye Sales and her friend Danielle read poetry, Sharif spoke one on one with people from the audience. Every comment, every question from the artists ended in, “What will you do, and what can we do for rest the community?” Shocking and good poetry. Good art. And that is why I live here. And that is why I love this grimy, smoggy, dirty, tough city and its artists.

The images this post are Geary Marcello (fashion designer and madman) and Rob Ordonetz II (photographer and actor).  They are activists members of the arts and LGBT community in NYC and graciously left the security of Manhattan to pose for portraits last Saturday.  I’m looking for a wall to show the prints.

Editor’s note: Some of the images in the slideshow contain nudity.

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Newark mayoral candidate Darrin Sharif drops into Artisan Collective

Saturday night, 2014 Newark mayoral candidate Darrin Sharif came early to the monthly open mic night at Artistan Collective. He spoke informally, one on one, to community members about new construction and new businesses coming to Newark. His emphasis was on inclusion of local workers in construction and full-time employment in these businesses.

Specifically, Sharif talked about the new Whole Foods coming to Halsey Street, the Shop Rite to be constructed a dozen blocks west of there on Springfield Avenue, and new ownership of the New Jersey Devils. In each case, he described efforts to ensure inclusion of local workers and even local artists into the mix.

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Working artist’s rag: Oh. My Daughter. Oh. My ducats.

The Merchant of Venice.  Act 2 scene 8 in which Solanio mocks Shylock’s Lament.  Shylock stands on the dock watching his daughter sail away with her lover and his “two sealed bags of gold.”  At this moment, Shakespeare shows us a tragic character learning the true balance of his love for money and his love for his daughter.

I’m having one of those “Shylock” moments. My photo projects are successful beyond what I could have imaged when I lost my state funded budget with DDD backin Septemer. Every Sunday I do portraits of Newark based artists, writers and performers. This will culminate on a 15 to 25 piece show sometime in the next year.  I am doing documentary photos for the Newark Fire Department of the obstacle course/sculpture garden that they build every year for the April Disaster Drills.  I’m doing portraits of members of the LGBT community in the fashion industry in NYC.  I have three shows coming up.  Yeah, I’m struggling to pay rent on time. It’s a tough act to balance ink, paper and food, but things are fantastic.  I’m more productive than any time in the last three years. I love this work and I love the work I am producing.

I had an interview last week, and I’m afraid someone is going to offer me a job. It’s a pretty good job and if they actually offer, I will actually have to take it. I have a “sixties” definition of the “social contract”, right out of Rousseau and Locke. I pay into the New Jersey unemployment fund. When I’m out of work, The State of New Jersey pays me back some on the condition that I report my status every week, search for work, and take it if I can get it. I never should have read David Hume. I never should have out grown Ayn Rand.

This is this week’s photo shoot:

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