Like the proverbial tree falling in the woods, can art still exist if there is no one to appreciate it? Probably. Most artists would say they’d much rather have an audience than not – and connecting the art to the audience isn’t always easy. It requires a space where the art can exist, and a sponsor who makes that space possible.
Thus, for every Next Wave Festival at BAM there has to be an American Express; for every Jazz at Lincoln Center there has to be a MasterCard.
The unseen hands that have helped shape – and support – many arts projects locally in Jersey City belong to brothers and real estate developers Paul and Eric Silverman. Together they have given critical institutional support to Art House Productions, the seasonal JC Fridays events, the annual Artists’ Studio Tour, and have regularly curated exhibits at the Majestic Theatre Condominiums and the Hamilton Square Condominium, two of their properties.
‘When we’re building a building, it’s more than just the physical building. We like to think we’re building a relationship with the community.’ – Paul Silverman
Paul Silverman, the elder of the two brothers and a principal with the development company that bears the siblings’ surname, credits their parents with fostering their appreciation for the arts.
“Growing up, we always had beautiful art work in our home,” he recalled. “Our parents weren’t fancy art collectors. But they would always go to art shows and bring home pieces. My mom is an artist. She isn’t a practicing artist now. But when she was in school she was a sculptor and painter. So that probably gave us a good baseline for our appreciation of the arts.”
The brothers – who grew up in Ridgewood – began their foray into Jersey City real estate in 1981 when they renovated an apartment building in Paulus Hook. Since then, their firm, Silverman, has restored historic properties, advocated for the development of mixed-use buildings, and have worked to attract independently-owned retail stores to their properties. Today, the Silverman portfolio includes 30 properties.
Birth of a gallery
Over the years the local art scene has waxed, waned, and waxed again as galleries and exhibition venues have come and gone. While many artists continue to call Jersey City home, many often complain that there are too few spaces available for them to exhibit their work. The notable exceptions are the exhibits at the Majestic and Hamilton Square, the regular programs run by Art House Productions, JC Fridays, the Artists’ Studio Tour – which all receive support from the Silvermans – in addition to the city-sponsored Groove on Grove concerts, Uta Brouser’s Creative Grove, and the art shows hosted by LITM.
The idea to host art shows in their own residential developments was first suggested by Rocio Aranda Alvarado, a former curator at the Jersey City Museum, Paul Silverman recalled.
“Rocio looked at the walls of the Majestic and said, ‘Wow! This would be a great gallery space.’ And we said, ‘Well, the museum is right down the street. Why don’t you make this an offshoot of the museum?’ We did that, and for the first few years we called it JCM (for Jersey City Museum) at the Majestic.”
The Jersey City Museum has since closed. The museum’s future and its collection have been in limbo since December 2010. But the JCM at the Majestic concept lives on, and has grown. Brendan Carroll, another ex-Jersey City Museum alum, now curates art shows for the Silvermans.
“We do six art shows a year, three in the Majestic lobby and three in the lobby of Hamilton Square,” said Paul Silverman. “The community energy that stems from art is what really gets us going. Our tag line is ‘Building neighborhoods.’ When we’re building a building, it’s more than just the physical building. We like to think we’re building a relationship with the community.”
Carroll’s curated shows have featured everything from Polaroid photography to painting and everything in between.
This energy, Eric Silverman noted, has a reciprocal impact on their core business, which is, of course, real estate.
“If you look at all the great cities, whether it’s New York or London or Pairs or Chicago, they all have a strong arts presence. They all have great museums and arts communities. So, we know that the strength of art in a community draws people, attracts people,” said Eric. “Other than low crime, access to transit, and good schools, a thriving arts community is among the top things people look for when deciding where they want to live.”
Another figure in the Jersey City arts scene who had an impact on the direction the brothers have taken in their work was Paul Sullivan, the former head of Pro Arts.
Several years ago, shortly after the Silvermans had acquired an old carpet warehouse near City Hall, Sullivan asked if he could use the window space of the boarded up building to hang art work. Believing the space was too shabby for the task, the Silvermans initially declined. Sullivan persevered and sent an artist rendering of what the building could look like if it was painted with art in the windows. The Silvermans were sold.
The wooden boards in the windows came down. A curtain was hung to hide the warehouse debris. And soon another Silverman space was transformed into a gallery.
“We did four or five shows in there,” the elder Silverman remembered. “It just helped us understand how important it was to help the artists have a place to show their work and how much fun it was to transform that eyesore into a beautiful gallery space.”
Support to Art House
In addition to giving exhibition space to dozens of visual artists over the years the Silvermans have also given Art House Productions an entire floor to temporarily call its own at the former St. Francis Hospital.
Located at the southeastern corner of Hamilton Square Park, St. Francis closed on 2005 and the Silvermans bought the property to convert into a residential development. But with that project on the back burner, the former medical facility was sitting unused until the brothers worked out an arrangement to give the hospital’s top floor to Art House Productions in 2008.
“Being able to have a home for Art House has enabled us to grow so much since then,” said Art House founder and Executive Director Christine Goodman. “It allowed us to realize our potential as an arts organization and to go from [holding] a few events a year to serving over 15,000 people...It has also enabled us to be a part of this community in the Hamilton Square neighborhood that Paul and Eric have created. We love being an arts destination in Hamilton Park.”
Art House, which celebrated its 10-year anniversary in 2011, now hosts dance performances, poetry readings, theatrical performances, workshops, film screenings, and other events year round. Goodman said the development of Art House would have taken much longer had it not been for the institutional support of the Silvermans.
E-mail E. Assata Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org.