Last weekend was very special for Jersey City. The gray urban landscape and beaten side streets did not intimidate out-of-towners. Chaos stopped and art prevailed. It conquered the imaginations of collectors, tourists, strangers, and neighbors.
The downtown area celebrated the 13th year of the artists' studio tour. At 111 First St. on Oct. 5, nearly every artist had his or her studio doors open to welcome everyone. Peace and tranquility were achieved for a few hours last weekend, and everyone there would agree - Jersey City has arrived.
The Newport business section stood as a reminder of the city's hope for economic prosperity. The old warehouses near Newport were no longer abandoned buildings serving as eyesores. They were historic landmarks meant to be appreciated and cherished.
Musicians took indie rock to the streets - literally. The Jersey City band Smear Campaign performed its atmospheric rock tunes at the Grove Street PATH station, forcing pedestrians and motorists to stop, look and listen. It was performing art at its finest. Lead singer Maria Agabao sang with a pure punk rock passion. Her voice was magical, like an indie punk princess reaching high notes in a post modern garage style.
"This is a good opportunity for exposure. People had the chance to take a listen to us," Agabao said, after Smear's set. They are recording an album, which they plan to release early next year.
Later on, travelers were wowed by the superior sound of a three-man band called Clueless.
A few blocks from the PATH station, City Hall celebrated Latino urban art in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month. The artist Cheese showcased two pieces celebrating hip-hop's influence on Latinos. A poignant portrait of Biggie Smalls hung near the council chambers, while a hood of a car had the head of Big Pun painted on it, with the Puerto Rican flag of course.
Poet Hamlet Manzueta exhibited his writing. In a cryptic poem probably about the transforming self and the search for human reason, he wrote: "Guilt is an invention of the ego to endow itself with the power it does not have. It is called fear."
Perhaps his words summarized Jersey City's newfound success with art. City officials are obviously showing no fear to its artists and their work. They have learned to embrace them to an unprecedented degree.
"This was a special weekend. I can't remember the last time I went to big art parties in this town," said Greg Brickey, the city's art coordinator and one of the tour's organizers.
At 111 First St., the excitement was so thick it almost numbed the senses. Everyone everywhere rejoiced in the creative prowess of the very talented artists the city has had for more than a decade. Charles Chamot, one of the most prominent artists at "111," received overwhelming positive feedback from his simple poster featuring artists from the building.
James O'Keeffe, an extremely talented young artist, sat calmly on a simple chair in his small studio on the third floor. The space was formerly used by his friend BJ Ervick. O'Keeffe's powerful painting "Because I Do Not Hope To Turn Again" is a brilliant piece evoking memories of time, space, fear, hope, and pain. It is a deep and reassuring image of a man wearing a mask sanding alone in a chaotic oasis.
"I like to create that depth of pushing and pulling different thoughts," O'Keeffe said.
The hallways at "111" were packed with people. The most diverse city in the most diverse county in the nation stood its ground. Jersey City artists are finally giving stuffy New Yorkers a run for their money.
One can only wonder how these leaders of a modern-day urban renaissance will respond next year. Despite the success, artists must be asking themselves if art reached its peak in Jersey City, or was a mere preview of what's to come. q