With the scent of fresh paint still lingering in the air of the old building at 339 Newark Ave. in Jersey City, you have to use a little imagination to see what Olga Levina and her husband Ben LoPiccolo see. Or better yet, you can wait until April 26 when Merseles Studios, as this white-walled space will be called, gets transformed into a multi-discipline art space.
That’s where Jersey City Theater Center (JCTC) is holding its first event, “Personal & Universal,” a gala featuring theater, performance, dance, music and visual arts.
Formerly the second floor of the Monaco Lock company, the new art space is a 5,000-square-foot facility that features a flexible performance space, art galleries, and 11 private art studios and work spaces. JCTC funded the interior renovation and manages the studio space.
Founded by the couple in 2006, JCTC hopes to become the bedrock upon which local arts can build. Levina serves as artistic director and has more than two decades experience as a theater and dance professional. Her husband, LoPiccolo, who serves as executive director, is an award-winning real estate developer who has worked in Jersey City since 1998.
“We realized just how many talented artists, actors, writers and others who needed space like this.” – Ben LoPiccolo
Even as workers hurry to finish putting coats of white paint on all the walls, Levina and LoPiccolo talk about what people will see when they come to take part in the opening. They showed the place where a welcoming gallery will be situated, and spaces in which struggling local artists will create, and a general performance space that will allow for intimate viewings of everything from short plays to dramatic dance.
While JCTC will also own and operate White Eagle Hall in the building next door, Merseles Studios is designed to provide affordable studio space for not-quite starving artists and a sorely needed small performance space for emerging local acts.
Serving the needs of local artists
LoPiccolo originally thought this pace would open after White Eagle Hall, which is also currently being upgraded. Merseles was supposed to serve as an off shoot to White Eagle, offering local acts a place, while White Eagle Hall is being designed for more nationally recognized acts.
The consultant – after studying the local arts scene – concluded that Jersey City, and Hudson County, had a serious shortage of small, affordable artist work spaces. So the new facility seemed ideal.
“We realized just how many talented artists, actors, writers and others needed space like this,” LoPiccolo said.
“We have great artists from all disciplines living in Jersey City and a great community that supports the arts,” says Levina. “Merseles Studios brings together visual artists, performers, actors, musicians so they can interact with audiences at the grass roots level.
She said the arts help improve the local economy and quality of life in a city, and many artists need a place to start.
For the performance space, plans include intimate concerts, theater and dance performances, comedy, poetry readings and lectures. Children’s theater, including puppetry, is also in the planning stages.
Classes and other community events, suitable for smaller audiences, are being considered and discussed. The high ceilings and mutability of its vast floors and walls allows for a variety of lighting options, making Merseles Studios especially attractive to film production and photo shoots.
“We are reaching out to all of the diverse populations in Jersey City,” said Levina.
The 11 private studio spaces range from 95 square feet to 440 square feet. Each studio has its own door, lighting and electrical outlets. Limited onsite parking is available and artist-tenants will have 24-hour access to their studios. Artists will also have access to a spray room, an enclosed space for spray painting, finishing and other processes.
Thomas Carlson, Visual Arts Director, JCTC, is assisting in the management of the artist studio spaces and leases. Carlson is also the founder of the Jersey City Arts School. Contact Carlson for inquiry at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“White Eagle Hall is an important component of JCTC,” says LoPiccolo. “Merseles Studios is just as vital, because the space helps fulfill the immediate needs the local artists as well as their audiences and naturally, this space will open first because of that clear need.”
Al Sullivan may be reached at email@example.com.