Art Review: Maps Everywhere


Maps tell lies.  Oh, they may get you where you want to go, but they’ll whisper distortions in your ear as you travel. The Mercator Projection of the earth — perhaps the most famous map in history — has misled millions by exaggerating the size of land masses at polar latitudes and diminishing the tropics. Many of us deal daily with Mercator’s local cousin: the New York City subway map on which an artificially fattened Manhattan lords over the shrunken outer boroughs. Artist Jacob Ford is a man attuned to the political implications of cartography, and his MTA Peutingeriana redraws one of the most ancient maps of the Roman Empire in the unmistakable colors and fonts of the Big Apple underground. The Romans, too, warped space in the name of clarity and put their capital at the center of the world.

Monkeying with maps, it seems, is an ancient pastime, and Ford’s pointed, persuasive piece is representative of a new pair of shows running concurrently at two galleries on the NJCU campus.  Maps Everywhere (curated by Donna David and on view at the Visual Arts Gallery until Nov. 26) and Mapping Life (curated by Midori Yoshimoto and on view at the Lemmerman Gallery on the third floor of Hepburn Hall until Nov. 26) ask and answer questions in slightly different tones, but they’re best understood as a single continuous exhibition. In order to catch both halves, you’ll have to navigate the campus — and yes, that trip across the quad and Culver Street does feel like part of the show.

It’s an exhibition with salience to Jersey City. Our town has been aggressively mapped over the last few decades. Much of this activity has been benign: Signage has improved, there’s been an increasing amount of crosstalk between neighborhoods, and public policymakers, some of whom are affiliated with NJCU, have sought insight into how our town functions. But maps have also been the faithful tools of developers and planners who have redrawn the lines and zones in an effort to squeeze every penny out of land that has rapidly appreciated in value. Walking the streets of Jersey City means engaging with the practical consequences of mapping. In 2019, maps are, as the show suggests, everywhere – and for those who require or prefer hiding places, this is downright problematic.

Under the Big Tree by Noriko Ambe

The omnipresence of cartography is a recurring theme of the show. It’s expressed in visual and tactile language that’s sometimes humble, like Vivian Rombaldi Seppey’s homey slippers made of maps, and sometimes striking and invasive, like David Nuttall’s Human Terrain photographs of naked bodies illustrated with roads and grids. Noriko Ambe’s Under the Big Tree crafts a great hollow stump from history books; Adrienne Ottenberg’s painting A Walk in Algiers is so warmly ornamented that its map of the African city could double as an image of a quilt. Her Algiers is a cloak — a repository of the elements of local culture, a long weave in the making and a comfort on a cold night.

Other contributions to the exhibition are stark, minutely observed, hyper-local, captured with the probing eye of the social scientist. Brooklyn artist Jennifer Maravillas, a specialist in creative cartography, gleans the contours of JERSEY CITY: 1841, 1976, 2013, 2019 from four historic maps and highlights their similarities with bright washes of color. The piece borders on an infographic: It’s as informative as any wordless work of art can be, and it suits a show held on a college campus. Dominique Paul traveled New York City in an electronic dress that doubled as a data visualizer: Wherever she went, her outfit would light up in a hue that corresponded to the street’s median income level (the dress and a video documentary of her trip are both on view at the Lemmerman).

A performance art piece like this wouldn’t be possible without thorough census records, and it shrewdly exposes the benefits and problems that accompany scrupulous mapping.  From one perspective, Paul is demonstrating the remarkable unevenness of wealth in our region, and, in so doing, she’s raising awareness of income inequality. Yet she’s also poking fun at the social-scientific tendency to color code and classify a place as complicated as New York City. What happens to a neighborhood when it’s stigmatized and consigned to the troubled regions of the map? Is it really helpful for the government to know what everybody is making, or is all of this cartography simply an extension of surveillance culture?

At least one of her documentary interview subjects has a strong opinion on the subject. He believes that it’s only the taxman who is interested in his low-rent neighborhood, and he stands to be counted only so he can be shaken down by the authorities for the little he’s got.  Whether he knows it or not, he’s echoing a popular argument against mapping and census taking that goes back at least as far as the Bible. It’s a perspective that Nyugen Smith would probably understand. His beautiful wall hanging of a reimagined Hispaniola echoes motifs common among the maps used by colonizers and juxtaposes them with more alarming images: a skull, dry bones, a snake warning away intruders. It’s an effective critique and a reminder that cartographers were indispensable to the Columbian exchange.

Ironically, it’s also a reminder that the tools of the oppressor could also be beautiful. Nyugen’s Bundlehouse Borderlines No 6 (emembe) really does communicate that sense of curiosity, play, and new discovery that is often visible in maps from the colonial era. Some of these explorers did actually believe in magic, but even those who didn’t had their imaginations fired by the encounter with the not-yet-known. Their maps were unions between the realized and the purely theoretical; they were documentaries, yes, but in another way they were speculative fiction.

It is hard for modern maps to cast the same spell although contemporary artists do like to recapture some of the mystery by blurring those state-sanctioned lines. Abby Goldstein’s Reimagining Brooklyn paintings begin with historic city grids, which she then smothers in her own colored ink — and the artist’s defiant glee as she smooths over artificial divides and mashes neighborhoods together is pleasantly palpable. The full wall of her work at the back of the Maps Everywhere gallery feels gently impudent: a kiss-off to the developers currently dominating her borough. Kingsley Parker’s Atlas takes this desire for a personal and alternative brand of city planning to its logical extreme. His maps look authentic, right down to the book he’s bound them in, but they’re entirely fictitious. This is escapism, pure and simple, and it’s wonderful.

So, it’s more than a little surprising that Maps Everywhere closes with an entreaty to viewers to participate in the collective manufacture of a large wall map of Jersey City. After viewing art that is unmistakably ambivalent about the implications of exhaustive mapping, you’re invited to plot your home and businesses you frequent on the grid. Surely most of the artists featured in these two concurrent exhibitions would agree that such a map would be a very cool thing aesthetically, and practically, too. They also might tell you about the real benefits of getting, and staying, lost.

 

City Council to Block Fulop Administration’s Department of Recreation Overhaul After Workers Cry Foul


The City Council may block Mayor Steven Fulop’s plan to restructure the Department of Recreation after department employees claimed the move violates state civil service protections and is being used to lay off longtime workers.

The council is currently expected to reverse a measure passed in July that allows the city to reorganize and expand the mission of the department.

Under the reorganization, the department of recreation will expand and include more robust programs for children with special needs and disabilities. A health and nutrition component will be included, and job training opportunities will be added for the city’s teen population. The changes are scheduled to take effect Jan. 1. Once the department is reorganized, it will be known as the Department of Recreation and Youth Development.

As part of the restructuring, current recreation employees will be required to apply for positions in the new department. Some employees will be required to reapply for jobs they currently hold, jobs they have held for a decade or longer in most cases. Other employees say their current jobs are not among the positions being advertised in the new department, leading to concerns they’re likely to be restructured out of a job. Some employees further allege that their specific jobs are being eliminated in retaliation for their having filed federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaints against former department of recreation directors.

The department has had five directors or acting directors since 2013.

Employees were initially given until Friday, Oct. 11 to reapply for jobs in the new department. This application deadline was subsequently extended to Friday, Oct. 18. The employees have, however, argued that the reorganization violates civil service laws, a charge the city disputes.

“A number of employees reached out to civil service about the ordinance [to restructure the department]. Civil service has said in writing that they were never notified about the proposed changes or that employees would have to reapply for their jobs,” said Dan Wiley, senior program analyst with the department of recreation. Such notification, he added, is “required by law, prior to making these changes.”

Wiley said he is among those whose current job is not among the positions being advertised in the new restructured department.

“Many of the people who have talked with me feel the administration is seeking to remove individuals to make way for younger employees,” he said. “And there are certain people the administration wants to target because of the number of EEOC complaints that were leveled against previous directors.”

There are six affected employees who have alleged age discrimination, gender discrimination, and whistleblower retaliation.

Another department of recreation employee, Sabrina Harrold, said she has personally contacted civil service and “they never received an organizational change [from the city].”

Next week, the employees will again petition the New Jersey Civil Service Commission to intervene on their behalf, arguing that the way in which the department was restructured violates the commission’s rules. The employees say they want the commission to oversee the reorganization to ensure that it is done in accordance with the law.

City spokeswoman Kimberly Wallace-Scalcione challenges any suggestion that the reorganization violates civil service protections. “Employees have been told that the city is 100 percent committed to following all civil service laws, and reapplying for new jobs in a new department is part of the process,” she said.

Wallace-Scalcione declined to say whether employees whose current jobs are not among the new positions being advertised will be laid off or whether they are being retaliated against.

At its upcoming meeting on Oct. 23, the city council will weigh whether to suspend the planned changes in the meantime. At the last meeting of the council, several council members said they would block or postpone the Jan. 1 reorganization if the dispute isn’t resolved in accordance with civil service law by the Oct. 18 application deadline.

“What they are trying to do is an out-and-out disgrace,” Ward C city councilman Richard Boggiano told recreation department employees who spoke out at the Oct. 10 council meeting. “The requirement that people like Dan [Wiley], who have worked for the city for 20 years, have to refile for their jobs is absolutely ridiculous. Where the heck is civil service? Why haven’t they come here? This whole thing is a mess.”

Council President Rolando Lavarro, who opposed the reorganization due to “a lack of clarity and specifics,” said he has asked the administration to suspend the planned changes.

“What is happening here is inhumane, frankly, and potentially illegal,” Lavarro told employees. “Five directors in six years is not the problem or the fault of the rank and file. It’s a failure of leadership. It’s a failure of vision to be able to motivate and inspire the staff. City employees deserve so much better than what’s been going on as of late, and recreation is just the tip of the iceberg.”

However, Mayor Fulop’s office states the council members were aware of all aspects of the reorganization.

“The administration and city council worked closely on restructuring the recreation department to provide more and better services for residents,” Wallace-Scalcione said. “The city council was involved in every aspect of this decision to restructure as we all believe that residents deserve a top-notch department for youth development that is accountable, and that is what we will deliver.”

Current employees who do not apply for a position in the new, restructured department by 11:59 p.m. on Oct. 18 have been told they will be notified by the city’s human resources department “regarding [their] role with the city.”

The department of recreation currently employs approximately 42 full-time and part-time staff. Twenty-seven jobs were advertised.

 

Art Review: Cosmic Love


Cosmic Love 3 by Bill Stamos

The shape of the cosmos is curved. Its lines are soft, its dimensions are mutable, and its character is defiantly feminine. That’s the message — one of them, anyway — of the Cosmic Love show at Drawing Rooms in the Topps Industrial Building at the western tail end of Newark Avenue. Nothing about this uncommonly welcoming group exhibition feels rigid or cold: These seven artists might have their minds on the distant skies, but their collective version of space is nothing like a void.

And if that sounds a little hippie-ish to you, well, yes, Cosmic Love is as eager to embrace the viewer as any flower child might be. This is an exhibition that greets visitors with cloth vines bearing bright fiber blossoms. The piece grows out of the main space and penetrates the entry hall, and Jill Scipione, the fabricator of these flowers, does intend to get you knotted up and drawn toward the rest of the show. But the exhibition that waits within — one that covers a substantial amount of ground despite its modest size — isn’t particularly starry-eyed or blissed out. Many of these works radiate impermanence. As Douglas Adams (and countless physicists) assured us, the universe is a big, daunting, overwhelming place to navigate.

Two large works on paper by Bill Stamos grapple with this sense of immensity: Cosmic Love  Cosmic Love and Cosmic Love 3 greet the visitor to Drawing Rooms with twin slices of night sky. Technically, these are abstractions — colored streaks and constellations of glitter set against deep black backgrounds. Non-figurative though they may be, they definitely suggest astral phenomena; stare at them for a while, and they may lift you well beyond the roof of the factory.

Paintings from the deft brush of Sky Kim simultaneously evoke the grand and the microscopic. Her watercolors are so precisely rendered that they take on the meticulous quality of pen-and-ink drawings. Two works in her “Multiverse Series” hang on the southern wall of the main room — one may put you in mind of star charts, the other of furry, anemone-like undersea animals. Spheres, circles, and curves recur throughout the exhibit: Across from Kim’s illustrations of jeweled discs and hairy balls is a wall installation by Anne Trauben that includes clusters of round objects (including lightbulbs) in a steady and sinuous progression. Across from the Stamos pieces, a raft of Scipione’s cloth roses — the same kind that beckon visitors in the hallway — are arranged in a colorful clutch. It’s a humble, terrestrial counterpoint to the rest of the art in the show, and its tactility is a foretaste of the show’s wild, wigged-out centerpiece.

skykim-untitled-watercolor

Untitled by Sky Kim

Save a colorful scrawl by Jim Pustorino in pencil and paint, the second of the two Drawing Rooms is devoted to fiber art. Mollie Thonneson‘s strips of fabric and torn and repurposed bras underscore the pervasive femininity of Cosmic Love — the sense of the universe as a kind of vast womb, dark, mysterious but ultimately self contained and nurturing — but these pieces are upstaged by GYPSY KOOMBYEYAH, a massive tangle of colored thread, wire, torn sheets, hula hoops, and hidden nests for found objects. (This includes Spiderman himself, who peers out from a perch within the web.) Maggie Ens, the creator of this installation, strung it high across the back wall, where it hangs like a net waiting to fall on the unwary. Like all of Ens’s work, it’s chaotic but deeply warm: It feels like a ball of yarn any curious cat could get pleasantly tangled in, and it rewards close engagement.

 GYPSY KOOMBYEYAH is, indisputably, the Big Bang of this show.  But this star plays well with its supporting cast.  Ens’s view of the cosmos as a bright and bewildering net of associations and connections — one that contains joy and confusion in equal measure — one that’s shared in varying degrees by the other artists in Cosmic Love. The installation by Ens is big and bossy enough and contains enough fissile material to shine some golden light on everything else in the exhibition. These days, the cosmos is often imagined as an airless, unyielding place; this show is a pleasant reminder that it just might possess a beating heart.

(Cosmic Love is on display until November 10 at Drawing Rooms, Topps Industrial Building, 926 Newark Avenue, Thursday and Friday 5-8 p.m., Saturday and Sunday 1-6 p.m.)

 

Tip from Tris: If you’re making the trip to Drawing Rooms on this Friday and Saturday and you’re in the mood for some mind-altering sensory deprivation, take the elevator to the basement of the Mana Contemporary complex (it’s just across the street) and check out Kurt Hentschläger’s “SUB.” The installation plunges the viewer into absolute darkness broken only by occasional flashes from a giant light fixture. The combination of the pitch-black surroundings, the ominous soundtrack, and the sudden, spooky erruptions of illumination combine to create an experience of great intensity; to be frank, it’s more than a little terrifying, and it’s a crying shame that it’s open only until October 19. It may not have been the artist’s intent, but this mini show is perfect for the Halloween season.

“And the 2019 Candidates for the Jersey City Board of Education are…”


On November 5th, Jersey City will vote on the future of its children. Thirteen candidates are vying for five positions, five positions that will shape schools for years and change the composition of the board.

Jersey City voters elect three members of the public each year for a three-year term. This year, however, there are two additional one-year-term seats to fill due to the resignations of members Amy DeGise and Matt Schapiro.

Nine candidates are vying for the three open three-year term seats; and four candidates are competing for the two one-year term seats.

Had enough math?  There’s more.

The majority of candidates are divided between two slates. Here’s how all of the alliances shape up and highlights of the candidates’ platforms:

“EDUCATION MATTERS” SLATE

Photo by Eiko La Boria

This ticket, backed by both the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) and the Jersey City Education Association (aka JCEA aka the city’s teacher’s union), includes three incumbent board members seeking reelection to full-year terms: current board president Sudhan Thomas, Gerald Lyons, and Lekendrick Shaw. An additional incumbent whose seat was appointed following a vacancy and who has unsuccessfully run for the board four times previously —Gina Verdibello—is running with this team for a one-year term; The fifth candidate on the ticket is Darwin Ona. He’s neither run for nor served on the board before.

Since most of the members of this slate have been on the board for several years, it is only fair to consider what has transpired during their tenure. They were burdened with an underfunded budget that led to overcrowded classrooms, steep cuts of teachers and teachers’ aides and reductions in sports and other recreational programs from our city’s schools. This certainly deserves voters’ sympathy. But the board has been the nexus of controversy these past three years as well: from the disparaging treatment and subsequent firing of former school Superintendent Marcia Lyles, to raises for administrative staff in a new contract just prior to teacher layoffs, to a lack of potable water due to an unresolved lead issue, and to the deteriorating physical state of many of the city’s schools (including the A. Harry Moore School, a historic school for disabled children).

The slate points to its experience, support for the recently implemented payroll tax, and innovative ways to raise additional financing as reasons to support it. Its candidates believe they are best qualified to steer the district and “serve as guard rails” as the district regains full control from the state in the next two years. High on their list of priorities is “full funding for the operations budget and long-range facilities plan.”

To fill the budget gap created by reductions in state aid (and by reductions in revenues stemming from real estate tax abatements),  Thomas, Lyons, Shaw, Verdibello and Ona not only favor the one percent payroll tax levied on Jersey city’s businesses, they want it raised to two percent. In addition, these partners of labor would like to see further partnership with the city’s private sector in the form of a foundation to financially strengthen the public schools.

“CHANGE FOR CHILDREN” SLATE

“Children for Change Slate” Photo by Eiko La Boria

 “Change for Children” is the other slate in this year’s BOE election although what fueled its formation was opposition to the payroll tax enacted in 2018 by the city council (dedicated to funding the public schools), not any particular relationship with organized labor. The LeFrak Organization, best known locally as the developer of Newport in Jersey City—along with Exchange Place developer Mack-Cali—is the financial engine of this ticket. Funding comes indirectly from the developer’s newly created Super PAC “Fairer NJ.”

The Change for Children slate consists of Alexander Hamilton, Asheenia Johnson, and Noemi Velazquez, who are running for three-year terms and David Czehut and Anthony Sharperson, who are running for one-year terms. Due to an email mixup, we did not receive responses to Jersey City Times’ questionnaire seeking their reasons for running and their platforms. (This questionnaire is what elicited the positions of the Education Matters candidates provided above.) The following biographical information, though, has been culled from the Change for Children’s website:

Noemi Velazquez has a master’s degree in education from NJCU and has worked in the Jersey City Public Schools district variously as a teacher, supervisor, special assistant, and associate superintendent for 40 years.

Asheenia Johnson graduated from New Jersey City University with a bachelor of arts in economics and is currently the aide to Ward F councilman Jermaine D. Robinson. She has also served as a constituent aide to Senator Sandra Cunningham and a press secretary to Assemblywoman Angela V. McKnight.

A resident of the Hamilton Park neighborhood in Ward E, Alexander Hamilton is an entrepreneur with experience in marketing and technology. He has a special-needs child who attends public school in Jersey City.

David Czehut is a graduate of Princeton University and has a master’s of business administration from Columbia University. Mr. Czehut is a product manager for an e-commerce company.

Anthony Sharperson was born and raised in Jersey City and lives in Ward F, where he runs a restaurant owned by his family. Mr. Sharperson has been a a substitute teacher in Jersey City and an assistant football coach at Henry Snyder High School.

CANDIDATES RUNNING AS INDEPENDENTS

Independent Candidates, Photo by Eiko La Boria

Three independent challengers are running for full-term positions on the school board: Tara Stafford, Neisha Louhar, and Sonia Cintron. These candidates did provide individual answers to the Times’ questionnaire, information from which is as follows:

Stafford is a senior risk management analyst at Prudential Financial in Newark and the daughter of former Jersey City schools superintendent and former state assemblyman, Charles T. (Dr.) Epps. She told the Times, “Over the past few years, I’ve heard countless stories highlighting a lack of decency, leadership and stability on the board. That’s why I’m excited to start a new chapter based in building bridges between communities.”

Given the district’s financial crisis, Stafford supports the one-percent payroll tax but would like to hear alternative funding proposals presented by public-policy and public-finance experts and says the overall impact of the payroll tax “remains to be seen.” Asked what her priorities would be should she be elected, Stafford cited “choosing a permanent superintendent” and redressing “the inequities between some of our schools especially when it comes to facilities and safety.”

Neisha Louhar is a Snyder High School graduate and has made providing in-school mental health support and other ancillary services to Jersey City’s school children a key part of her platform. “Receiving social-emotional and mental health support leads to higher achievement,” she told the Times, because “if unmet, mental health problems are [sic] linked to costly adverse outcomes such as academic and behavior problems, dropping out, and delinquency.”

Louhar envisions a schools-based “youth service program” that, in addition to psychological counseling, would provide “employment counseling, substance abuse education/prevention, primary medical linkages, learning support, healthy youth development, recreation, and information/referral.” Jersey City Times did not ask Ms. Louhar (or any of the candidates) directly how such programs would be paid for. Louhar did say, “Some feel burdened by a payroll tax rise. An alternative can be [sic] grants and property tax.”

Sonia Cintron is a state-certified substitute teacher proud of having “rallied in support of teachers and students all around the state.” Amongst Cintron’s priorities are reducing classroom overcrowding, making SmartBoards accessible to substitute teachers in every classroom, and providing broader materials and support in their own languages to children who transfer to Jersey City’s public schools from non-English-speaking countries.

Cintron believes that “abatements, whether it’s 10, 20, or 30 years, have put a strain on the Jersey City residents and the economy” and that this “continues to have an adverse effect on the already-underfunded schools.” She supports the one-percent payroll tax on Jersey City businesses and is opposed to raising residents’ property taxes in order to meet the district’s funding needs.

Updated : October 17, 2019 –

In response to the October 16, 2019 Jersey City Times article, “And the 2019 Candidates for the Jersey City Board of Education Are . . .,” a representative for the “Education Matters” slate advised the Times that biographical information on its members can be found at https://www.facebook.com/EducationMattersJC/.

In addition, the Jersey City Times would like to clarify that, in written responses to its questionnaire that were received post publication, candidates Sharperson, Velazquez, Czehut, Johnson, and Hamilton, who make up the “Change for Children” slate, all voiced support for the newly enacted one-percent payroll tax dedicated to funding the Jersey City Public Schools.”

For more biographical information on the candidates, please visit the following links –

Change For Children – https://www.changeforchildrenjc.com/, https://www.facebook.com/ChangeForChildrenJC/
Asheenia Johnson – https://www.facebook.com/anicolejustice
Anthony Sharperson – https://www.facebook.com/anthony.s.sharperson
Noemi Velazquez – https://www.facebook.com/noemi.velazquez.9889

Education Matters JC – https://www.facebook.com/EducationMattersJC/
Gerald Lyons – https://www.facebook.com/gerald.lyons.18
Sudhan Thomas – https://www.facebook.com/ThomasForNJ/
Lekendrick Shaw – https://www.facebook.com/lakendrick.shaw, https://instagram.com/shawforjc
Gina Verdibello – https://www.facebook.com/verdibello4boe/

Sonia Cintron – https://www.facebook.com/sonia.cintron.3
Neisha Louhar – https://www.facebook.com/neisha.louhar.3
Tara Stafford – https://www.facebook.com/tarastaffordjc

Reflections of a Reporter:


Last summer, I met up with four ex-coworkers at a spot that had once been home to a wine bar, or a bistro, or a grille—with an “e—or something. We couldn’t remember what the spot was the last time we all saw each other before two of us got married and one of us got divorced. All we could remember was the place had an unusually broad drinks menu and great french fries—a must for any decent restaurant, right?

The conversation about the shuttered wine bar/bistro/grille-with-an-e inevitably turned into how many old reliable businesses had folded in the years since we’ve known each other. Eventually, there was a lull in the conversation.

“You know, every place I’ve worked is now out of business,” said Dre, who was a court reporter when I met him 24 years ago, shortly after I moved to Jersey City. “They’ve all folded.”

“You’re a curse,” someone at the table asserted, jokingly.

We all knew better, though. Dre wasn’t a curse: Like all of us, he is a journalist who has seen our industry downsize like a Shrinky Dink in a hot oven. Every person at the table could list at least one newspaper where they once worked that’s either no longer in existence or operates with one foot in the grave. Since 2004, there has been a net loss of almost 1,800 local newspapers according to “The Loss of Local News: What it means for Communities,” a 2018 report by the University of North Carolina’s Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media.

In the not-too-distant-past, a vicious cycle began. The costs associated with producing printed newspapers and magazines escalated. Small publishers couldn’t meet rising costs and began making cuts to stay afloat. Initially, back in the ‘80s, the changes were minimal; they’d switch to a cheaper paper stock or change from a broadsheet format to tabloid size. When that wasn’t enough, so-called “nonessential” staff were laid off, retirees weren’t replaced, and papers were downsized through attrition. Eventually, though, the cuts and changes were more drastic.

These changes have had a profound effect on the quality of news output generated by the few remaining outlets. Shrinking staffs meant some important stories that should have been covered weren’t; and other stories that were covered were given short shrift. Readers with short attention spans grew impatient with any story longer than a few paragraphs; and the rise of the internet and smartphones exacerbated this situation as readers developed a preference instead for quick news bites that could be read in two or three minutes on a five-inch screen.

Publishers, in a desperate bid to boost readership, all but eliminated complicated “hard news” stories that couldn’t be told in 300 words. Investigative pieces on political corruption, shady backroom deals, ignored regulation, and corporate handouts were out of bounds and gave way to stories with titles like, “How Much is that Doggie in the Window.” What few readers remained tuned out. Falling readership made it difficult for publishers to attract and keep advertising, which, in turn, made it harder for them to keep up with rising costs. And round and round it went.

In May, according to reporting by Fast CompanyNew York Times Executive Editor Dean Banquet told an audience at the International News Media Association World Congress, “The greatest crisis in American journalism is the death of local news…I don’t know what the answer is. Their economic model is gone. I think most local newspapers in America are going to die in the next five years except for the ones that have been bought by a local billionaire.”

So here we are. If there’s one unintended benefit of the current political climate, it’s that we are all living the civics class we should have had in high school. If we are to rebuild our democracy, it must include a rededication to an independent free press particularly at the local level.

Thus Jersey City Times, founded expressly to fill this void, has not arrived one day too soon.

For a time, Jersey City wasn’t just my home, it was also the beat I covered for a local newspaper chain. I left when that chain was on the precipice of being another grim statistic. But because Jersey City’s my home, I also missed covering it. So, I welcomed the opportunity to dip back in to cover the old stomping ground of city hall for JCT. I won’t be alone this time. At least one other reporter, longtime resident Eiko La Boria, will also cover Chilltown politics. When you see us around, say hello—and definitely let us know what’s up in your neighborhood. Let’s help resuscitate dying local news. I want a new story to tell the next time I’m with the ex-coworkers at the wine bar/bistro/grille-with-an-e.

Publisher’s Letter


The idea of creating a Jersey City focused news website came to me a couple of years ago. I was pressing our local pols to take action on one issue or another (I was an occasional activist), and I realized that I was at a distinct disadvantage. Too few of my neighbors understood the issue at hand, so it made gathering support for my position incredibly difficult. I would have to bring thousands of my neighbors up to speed on an issue that they should have already known something about.

It wasn’t that my neighbors were incurious or lazy: It was simply that they didn’t have easy access to the information. Yes, there were a couple of newspapers that purported to cover Jersey City, but apart from the work of one intrepid reporter who has since moved on, there was little reason in my mind to read them. Their coverage of hard local news was spotty at best, and the balance of the content seemed to be a mix of car accidents, sensational crime, and high school sports.  Neither outlet seemed interested in speaking to my sensibility or concerns.

Beyond well-written hard news on the workings of our city, I wanted a news source with great coverage of music, art, and restaurants and of the people that make up this fascinating place where we live. I wanted a website that had the potential of becoming a public square where people engage and get to know one another without the meanness or rancor we so often see online.

This first “issue” dated October 15, 2019, is just a beginning, a seed that will hopefully grow into something larger and better. We hope to regularly update the site with new content. Most important, we hope that Jersey City Times will in some small way help to better educate everyone about what makes Jersey City a great place to live and how we can make it even better.

To get this up and running, I’ve had the advice, counsel, and support of a number of people who must be mentioned here. First and foremost, Dan Levin pushed me to pursue this idea and has been invaluable in gathering writers and advisors. Without him, Jersey City Times would not have come to fruition. In addition, I’ve been lucky to have had the help of (in alphabetical order) Bill Armbruster, Joanna Arcieri, Carly Berwick, Brigid D’Souza, Jenna Firshein, Jayne Freeman,  Eiko La Boria, Albert Marrero, Tris McCall, Liz Morrill, Theta Pavis, Miles Poindexter, Mia Scanga, Mamta Singh, Shane Smith and Assata Wright. Thank you, guys.

 

Aaron Morrill

Publisher

Jersey City’s School Funding Crisis: Where Are We Now?


Jersey City is in the midst of a structural, multi-year school-funding crisis that has already led to one year of increased school taxes combined with school budget cuts. Given the disparity between what the State of New Jersey dictates that the Jersey City Public Schools should spend on each student and the local resources that Jersey City chooses to spend on its public schools, this destructive combination will likely result again in the years ahead.

This funding crisis has been a long time coming, rooted in both state and local decision-making stretching back over a decade. Where are we now, and what can taxpayers expect over the next six to 12 months with respect to state aid and school funding? To answer these questions, let’s review some history.

NJ is cutting Jersey City’s “adjustment aid”

A driving force behind Jersey City’s current fiscal crisis is the reduction of a special category of state education aid called “adjustment aid,” which was granted to some districts including Jersey City Public Schools in 2008 when the state adopted the School Funding Reform Act (“SFRA”). The SFRA established local funding mandates or “local fair shares” that estimated a community’s capacity to fund its public schools via a property tax; the estimate is based on the district’s total tax base value and aggregate resident income.

Adjustment aid was intended to provide temporary financial assistance to districts that needed time to “adjust” to the new SFRA funding paradigm. In Jersey City’s case, the adjustment was required because in 2009, Jersey City’s local school tax levy (that is money for the public schools paid for by property taxes) was only $86 million while its local fair share was deemed to be $196 million.

Unfortunately, Jersey City never “adjusted” for many reasons. What is worse, the disparity between its local fair share and its property tax coffers has only grown. Whereas in 2009 this discrepancy was $110 million, as of the 2018-1019 school year it had ballooned to $275 million ($399 million mandated by the SFRA versus $124 million in school tax levies.) Put another way, in the last ten years, Jersey City’s local fair share has increased 103 percent, but its local school funding—derived from property taxes—has grown only 44 percent.

In July 2018 state lawmakers voted to force Jersey City and other districts with excess adjustment aid to finally adjust. They passed NJ S2, legislation that, beginning with the 2019-20 school year, lays out the phased reduction of adjustment aid to districts like ours.  For the 2019-20 school year, Trenton reduced Jersey City’s adjustment aid by $27 million. The remaining $248 million in excess adjustment aid will be phased out over the next five years.

Local Government’s Response

NJ S2 served as a wake-up call. In November 2018 the city council authorized a new payroll tax dedicated expressly to funding the schools. This assessment was levied beginning in January 2019 and has raised $27 million through August.

In addition, the Jersey City Board of Education raised the local school tax levy by $12 million, from $124 million in 2018-19 to $136 million for the current school year, 2019-20.

State Aid Considerations for 2020-21 and “Local Fair Share”

The 2020-21 schools budget will be decided by the district administration and by the board of ed in Spring 2020.  If NJ S2 is implemented as scheduled, another estimated $25 to $35 million of adjustment aid may be withdrawn from Jersey City in 2020-21 for a cumulative two-year reduction of over $50 million.

In addition to the adjustment aid cuts, taxpayers can expect Jersey City’s local fair share to continue to increase. As it does, so will the pressure to fund a greater share of the schools budget locally—via property taxes.

What’s Ahead

As we look towards the 2020-21 school year and beyond, two key questions face Jersey City taxpayers.

First, how much will the dedicated payroll tax generate for the 2020-21 school year? Last year, the tax revenues covered the initial $27 million adjustment-aid cut spurred by NJ S2. Will this source of funding keep pace with state cuts in the future?

Second, as the city continues to grow, how will the Jersey City Board of Ed respond to the local fair share targets as outlined in the SFRA formula?

Only time will tell. The 2020-21 budgeting process will begin in February 2020 after the governor releases his preliminary budget with preliminary state aid numbers. In March and April the board of ed will respond with a local budget that factors in the preliminary aid numbers, and by June the budget will be finalized.

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Courtesy of New Jersey Education Aid (http://njeducationaid.blogspot.com)

 

Art Review: Deep Space Gallery, 77 Cornelison Ave. 


Deep Space Gallery. Jenna Geiger and partner Keith Van Pelt

Photo by Jayne Freeman

“Creating a collector culture”

It’s Friday night, one week before the next opening at Deep Space Gallery. Jenna Geiger and partner Keith VanPelt are hunched over a macquete, or miniature model, of the gallery as they hang the show with tiny cut-outs of the paintings included. “Jenna is very particular about how the show is hung,” says Keith. “We redo this a dozen times before we settle on the flow.”

Deep Space Gallery remains off the beaten-track in Jersey City in an unfrequented section of Bergen-Lafayette used more as a short-cut for frantic morning traffic than as a route for strolling art purveyors. Still, each opening reception packs the house with an eclectic group of patrons who come for the social scene as much as the dynamic artwork. This is a common lament amongst gallerists exhibiting hip, young artists who attract an enthusiastic crowd: All that’s been emptied from the gallery at the end of the night are the hummus bowls.

Deep Space aspires to change all that by presenting top-notch artists with a wide range of prices for their work. “Everybody can be an art collector,” says Jenna. “I especially love when we’ve inspired someone to buy their first piece of art.”

Jenna and Keith started Deep Space in 2016 with a particular vision in mind: a place to showcase under-acknowledged artists in the best light possible. The gallery quickly established a reputation as a home for works by graffiti and public murals artists as well as for art by ascending painters and sculptors. Artists shown here have been about 50 percent local, residing in Jersey City, Newark, and New York, while the remaining half have traveled from other parts of the country or abroad. Jenna goes on to explain their mission, “We wanted this to be a place to properly curate monthly shows, not a real estate endeavor or a restaurant or an office. This is a gallery, something we felt Jersey City had scant too few of.” As such, Deep Space became not only a place to see a show and gobble a few hors d’oeuvres but to linger and actually talk about art, to invite discourse and celebrate the outsider world existing within the gallery’s walls.

One of the many noteworthy observations about Deep Space Gallery is that it is  successfully cultivating a collector culture with their young patrons. “The act of buying and owning original art is one we pride ourselves on. This is a meaningful, life-affirming, culturally relevant transaction,” says Jenna. “For people to be a part of the creative atmosphere by supporting local artists, not simply to hang something on their walls but to be a true participant in the creative culture, that can be life changing.”

This is why every show has a wide price range, so there are pieces within reach for everyone. The gallery is gradually changing the paradigm from an often exclusive, possibly intimidating world to something that feels inclusive and collaborative. Keith continues, “The collector becomes part of the artist’s evolution. It’s not a financial thing necessarily, it’s affirming to the artist to see that the audience spurs the artist’s creative world.”

Currently on exhibition at the venue, Ru8icon1 is an American who lives full time in Barcelona. He came to Keith and Jenna’s attention from the program Mural Arts Philadelphia and was uniquely able to translate what he did on walls to canvas. He’s been in several group shows at Deep Space, and this current installation is his second solo show. Ru8icon1 is an example of the genre of artists who are attracted to the Deep Space ethos: strong voice with cutting-edge aesthetic. The focus of a typical Deep Space artist is never predictable. He or she could work in stained glass, relief collage, abstract, figurative or street art and graffiti—sometimes with a hidden identity a la the artist Banksy. Yet the common thread is a young and talented creator whose voice is distinct and specific, like an oboe whose notes rises out of the symphony yet is still cohesive with the overall orchestration.

 “Fish Tank” by Ru8icon1, 2019

Monty Hall Stage

Thirteen Places in Town to See Live Music


Five years ago, a column like this one wouldn’t have been possible. Not that Jersey City didn’t have the bands, or the talent, or the vision; those have always been here. Shows, though—those weren’t on the calendar. Writing about music in Jersey City meant coming face to face with a performance-space shortage that was as inexplicable as it was frustrating. A city of a quarter million people simply didn’t contain many reliable and regularly booked music venues.

All of that has changed. Jersey City is singing again; dreaming big, too. Pick a busy intersection in Jersey City, and there are probably two or three people scheming to open a new venue there. A live music fan now has a respectable range of options.

By no means is this meant to be an exhaustive list; rather, these are spaces that have caught our eye and that we think you ought to know about. We’ll add to it, regularly, as new spaces open. If there’s one in the region that you know about and think we should be featuring—or if you’re playing a show yourself—go ahead and let us know at (editor@jctimes.com).

Dedicated Music Venues

White Eagle Hall

There are now many places in town to catch a show worth your time. But any discussion of live music in Jersey City begins with White Eagle Hall. The restoration is gorgeous, the sight lines are good, the floor is comfortable even when it’s packed (which it often is), the stage itself is world-class, and the room has been very reliably booked with strong acts with national profiles—mostly pop-rock, emo, and rootsy stuff, but occasionally hip-hop and R&B, too. And although the large capacity means that WEH is primarily a room for touring acts, they’ve managed to keep things Jersey, booking state favorites and local heroes and, periodically, handing the hall over to area promoters with big ideas. Outside of NJPAC, which doesn’t host contemporary bands too often, this is the nicest, sharpest, most impressive live venue in the state. And it’s ours, so direct yourself here immediately. (337 Newark Ave., www.whiteaglehalljc.com)

FM

If White Eagle Hall is the face we show to the rest of the world, FM, which is basically across the street, is the face we wear at home. This relaxed, congenial space primarily books local and regional bands, but the busy schedule makes room for some out-of-state ringers, too. Despite its modest size, FM has a real stage and lights and a dedicated P.A. system run by soundmen who take pride in their skills. The decor suggests absolute dedication to music: There are records everywhere, pop culture detritus artfully scattered around, and a Rhodes electric piano strategically mounted on the wall. In short, this is a true rock club in the time-tested style, booked by people with roots deep in the community and a clear vision for the kind of venue they’d like to run and scene they want to cultivate. Should you want to immerse yourself in local music, this is probably the best place in town to hang. (340 3rdSt., www.fmjerseycity.co)

Fox & Crow

For better or for worse, most of the action in Jersey City happens Downtown. But the stretch of Palisade Avenue near Riverview-Fisk Park has become a destination in its own right, and Fox & Crow is one of the main reasons why. Like the neighborhood it’s in, F&C punches well above its weight: The tiny showroom stays booked with an impressive array of regional talent, aspirational local artists, and the occasional name headliner. While the velvet curtains and black tables suggest speakeasy-like intimacy, this is not just a place for quiet singer-songwriters. We’ve heard some glorious rackets coming from Palisade and Congress. Best of all, audiences here are genuinely attentive and musically curious, which makes it a great place for ambitious writers to try out new material and new ideas. Night owl alert: Although some Fox and Crow concerts begin in the early evening, many of the shows start at 10 p.m. In either case, they’ll provide you with a full menu to munch from while you’re watching the musicians play. (594 Palisade Ave., www.foxandcrowjc.com)

Monty Hall

The shadow of the famous club on the corner of Washington and Tenth in Hoboken hangs over every music venue in Hudson County—and maybe New York City, too. The standard set by Maxwell’s is intimidating, but it’s given club owners something to shoot for. It’s safe to say that any room that’s hosted bands in Hudson County has had some elements reminiscent of Maxwell’s built into the design. But nobody has gotten it quite as right as Monty Hall, the Maxwell’s-sized club run by radio station WFMU, which is itself a local institution helmed by people who certainly knew their way around the Hoboken scene of the ’80s and ’90s. The black box space looks, sounds, and even smells a little like its legendary forerunner. Bookings tend to be bands that would have played at Maxwell’s if Maxwell’s was still booking bands: adventurous groups consistent with the WFMU aesthetic and its unswervingly free-form sensibility. If you like WFMU (of course you do), this is a place you’re going to want to visit. (43 Montgomery St., montyhall.ticketfly.com)

Bars and Restaurants with Frequent Music Nights

Pet Shop and PS Wine Bar

Yes, indeed, it was an actual pet shop. Before its transformation into a home away from home for local punk rockers, the building on the well-trafficked corner of Newark and Jersey was home to a … well, let’s not get too deep into it. Instead, it’s probably best to concentrate on what the building has become: a handsome, dark, pleasantly rough-hewn space capable of hosting musical events on its two levels. Upstairs is for the punk bands; downstairs PS Wine Bar can accommodate punk, too, but this lower level also provides quiet acoustic singer-songwriters a suitably candlelit setting. Pointedly, the menu is vegan. Let’s just say they’ve got some ghosts to exorcise. (193 Newark Ave., www.petshopjc.com)

Porta

The capacious Porta Pizza used to put rock bands on the roof. There’s still plenty of music here, and some of it is even live, but the pizzeria has changed formats. These days, it’s mostly deejays spinning electronic stuff though there are still occasional performers in the main space and jazz musicians during Sunday brunch. Porta was originally an Asbury Park brand, and they’ve been true to it: This is more of a Shore-like scene than what you’re likely to get outside of the Downtown pedestrian plaza. And by that, we mainly mean electro-beats: the sonic equivalent of thick mozzarella. (135 Newark Ave., www.pizzaporta.com)

The Factory

Speaking of places that can be a bit of a scene, The Factory on Communipaw is certainly not designed for wallflowers. But because of its regular Latin nights, it’s become an essential part of musical Jersey City. Some of the groups that’ve played here, bless them, have made no attempt whatsoever to cross over. You’re likely to hear real salsa and bachata here alongside the DJ-driven club music—and accordion and sax next to the synths and turntables. The frequent Sunday brunch entertainment has been particularly exciting and might leave you wondering why there aren’t more local places that host music in these styles. The Factory demonstrates that the talent is here. (451 Communipaw Ave.)

South House

Many bars and eateries North of the Mason-Dixon line affect a Southern style, but few in New Jersey take it quite as far or are as meticulous about the details as South House. That means chicken and waffles and grits on the menu, Carolina-style swings out front, and, periodically, blues, R&B, jazz, and Southern rock inside the restaurant. For instance, this summer, South House brought trumpeter Shamarr Allen up from the Ninth Ward of New Orleans; and local blues harmonica champ Vin Mott led his band through a set in early September. In another extension of southern hospitality, shows here tend to be free. Chasing regional authenticity might be hard in a place as polyglot as Jersey, but that doesn’t mean that the race isn’t worth running. (149 Newark Ave., www.southhousejc.com)

Corgi Spirits

Corgi is a local company that manufactures gin, whiskey, and vodka, and packages its products in very appealing bottles. The brand’s distillery isn’t easy to find: It’s at the southern end of the Bergen-Lafayette right in the middle of an industrial zone and across Caven Point Avenue from the light rail headquarters. Nevertheless, Corgi has attracted some intriguing acts to the lounge—not just the jazz you’d expect to find in a room built for cocktails, but local pop-rock, too. It’s possible to imagine the music series at Corgi’s becoming a Jersey City mainstay. For the moment, it’s a pretty well-kept secret (which you’re now in on.) (1 Distillery Dr., www.corgispirits.com)

The Hutton

This friendly, low-key restaurant and bar in the middle of the Heights feels like Fox & Crow’s modest and somewhat bashful cousin. The musicians who play here are the sort who’d otherwise appear at the F&C Parlour: acoustic singer-songwriters, jazz players, folk acts, Irish music, anybody who doesn’t need heavy-duty amplification to get his or her point across. At times, booking activity at the Hutton has been as heavy as that in any room in town: Early this summer, on any given night they were open, the bar was likely to have a strummer or a singer in the back. Unlike Fox & Crow, there’s no dedicated room just for shows, but the main space is so pretty that we doubt you’ll mind. (225 Hutton St., www.thehuttonjc.com)

The Archer

The Archer is located on the pedestrian plaza, but the bar and restaurant has taken pains to cultivate a personality sharply different from that of the bigger clubs. It’s dark, there’s a heavy-duty hunting theme, the sliders are made from bison meat, and the vibe in the room is resolutely grown-up. The unusual qualities of The Archer extend to the live music, which is provided by the Go Bailers. They’re a bluegrass band with serious skills and a deep repertoire, and they’ve made this bar an attractive Wednesday night stop for anybody with a taste for traditional country music. (176 Newark Ave., www.archerbar.com)

Madame Claude Bis

Much like The Archer, Madame Claude Bis is a place you’d go to see the house band—but what a house band it is. Manouche Bag is as close to a local musical institution as Jersey City has got: a tireless, crackling French gypsy jazz outfit led by the owner of the restaurant, making songs that pair perfectly with wine and crepes. Those who remember the jazz nights at the warm but tight original location of Madame Claude will agree that the outfit has only gotten better as it has migrated into its new digs behind White Eagle Hall. This is a quintessential Jersey City experience and one that ties the current bustling iteration of the city’s music scene to its D.I.Y. past. (390 4thSt., www.madameclaudejc.com)

Headroom

The Warehouse District seems like an obvious place for a live music club. Yet since the end of Uncle Joe’s, a closure that still stings, all these years later, there hasn’t been much music reverberating around these cobblestoned streets. Headroom is trying to change that, and those who remember the space when it was called Transmission know that it’s got everything necessary to be a dedicated venue. There’s a stage, a big back room, and a large bar where patrons can wait before going in. It’s lucky enough to share a building with Bucket & Bay (and Departed Soles) too, so there’s no shortage of foot traffic. They’ve already landed an impressive booking: singer-songwriter Debra Devi, a superb guitarist and cornerstone of Hudson County blues, will appear at Headroom on Oct. 26. If you were going to bet on a space’s becoming an important part of the scene, there’d be worse places to lay your money than right here. (150 Bay St., www.headroombar.com)

Are you regularly booking live music at your establishment? Think the stuff you’re hosting has artistic merit? If so, we want to hear from you. Let us know, and we’ll visit your place and add it to the guide.

Jersey City Times file photo

Board of Education Candidates Forum Video from October 10, 2019


Video by Speak NJ

Neighborhood associations in the Heights sponsored an education debate for candidates running for the school board. It was held in PS 28 on Oct. 10, 2019.

The forum was co-sponsored by the Riverview Neighborhood Association, Washington Park Association, Heights Community Coalition, Sgt. Anthony Neighborhood Association and the Pershing Field Neighborhood Association.