Medical Center Gets $2 million Grant for Violence-Prevention Programs

Medical Center Gets $2 million Grant for Violence-Prevention Programs

Gov. Phil Murphy announced Wednesday that the Jersey City Medical Center and eight other hospitals around the state will each receive $2 million in federal funds for violence-intervention efforts.

The grants, issued under  the Victims of Crime Act, will be used to assist hospitals to provide physical and mental health support to crime victims immediately after the violent incident and may include services such as tattoo removal, which could give the victims “literally a clean slate,” Murphy said.    

Murphy announced the grants at a press conference at the Bethune Life Center in Jersey City. Others attending the press conference included former congresswoman Gabby Giffords, Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop, and state Attorney General Gurbir Grewal.

Grewal said the winning hospitals were selected based in part on their work with local community organizations that fight violence. Such hospital intervention programs have been proven to reduce repeat injuries, he said. The Jersey City Anti-Violence Coalition is the local partner in Jersey City.

Often the victims of crimes are also perpetrators or future perpetrators, said Murphy, adding that the programs are designed to assist victims of any type of violence, including domestic abuse. He said New Jersey is the first state to award such grants to hospitals under the Victims of Crime Act. 

In his brief introductory remarks, Fulop noted that he, the governor and Grewal have been spending a lot of time together in the past seven weeks since the tragic shootings on Dec. 11, which took the lives of Detective Joseph Seals and three civilians who were killed at a kosher market. Fulop also noted that while violent crime in the city is down, gun confiscations this month are up significantly. Police have taken 30 guns off the streets so far this month, compared to 10 in January 2019. 

Giffords, who suffered severe head injuries when she was shot while meeting with constituents in her district in Tucson, Ariz., nine years ago this month, spoke briefly but succinctly. “Stopping gun violence takes great courage. Be bold, be courageous. The nation’s counting on you,” she told the audience.

Attendees included numerous local elected officials as well as about 20 women wearing red T-shirts with the words “Moms Demand Action,” the name of a national gun-control group founded in the wake of the shootings at the Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Conn., in December 2012. 

The other hospitals receiving the awards are University Hospital in Newark, Trinitas Health Foundation in Elizabeth, St. Joseph’s Health in Paterson, RWJ University Hospital in New Brunswick, Capital Health in Trenton, Center for Family Services in Camden, and Jersey Shore University Medical Center, focusing on Asbury Park, Neptune Township and Long Branch. 

The grants will fund the nine sites for a period of 21 months, according to the governor’s office. 

Beside the money dispensed to the hospitals, another $2 million will be used by the state for technical assistance, Grewal said. 

Other speakers at the press conference included Senator Sandra Cunningham of Jersey City and Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg of Bergen County.

Header: Photo by Bill Armbruster

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Heart Echoes: Paintings by Marta Blair

Heart Echoes: Paintings by Marta Blair

What makes for of a great local art exhibition?  Worthwhile works of art, of course: That’s a given. But that’s not all that’s necessary. A really good local show ought to be a match between the pieces on display, the gallery space, and the neighborhood in which the gallery is located. When you exit the art space and return to the street, the show shouldn’t stop. It should keep right on speaking to you about everything you see. Although a good local show will probably have prices on the pieces, it should never feel like a market, and the artists represented should not be attempting to use the show as a springboard to the monoculture or the art world (whatever that is). They should be idiosyncratic, and self-possessed, and more than a little stubborn about that. The show should put the visitors in contact with the definite, specific, ungovernable personalities of the artists. Ideally, those artists should live in the neighborhood where the gallery is located—and they should have plenty to say about their region.

Marta Blair isn’t a Jersey City resident. She’s from Inwood, the northernmost neighborhood in Manhattan. Her studio is as far from the Colgate clock as it would be if she worked in Montclair. But Inwood would be instantly familiar to anybody who has spent time in Hudson County. Tower blocks and rows of medium-density housing, vast brick buildings, hulking public works facilities, bridges, and big black rivers on the periphery of the area: All of it feels like home. So, it’s no great coincidence that Blair works in a style similar to that of the post-industrial artists who’ve made some of the liveliest and most distinctive work to be shown in Jersey City in the past thirty years. Her show at the SMUSH Gallery (340 Summit Ave.), which opens at 6 p.m. tonight and runs until February 15, is honorary Jersey.

It’s also terrific, proof positive that small local shows can provide some of the biggest electric shocks. “Heart Echoes: Paintings by Marta Blair” is intimate, varied, and engrossing, and all of the pieces in the exhibition feel like expressions of the same personal vision. Blair’s work is rarely aggressive, but it can be forceful nonetheless. Some credit for the coherence of this show must go to SMUSH curator Katelyn Halpern, whose arrangement of the paintings takes advantage of the gallery’s coziness, and its rawness, too. She’s hung the imposing multi-panel “Red Painting 2” just below a large air duct in the ceiling as if to suggest that the large painting is also a kind of conduit. A long, thick ribbon of a painting is displayed in the front window much as a downtown clothier might show off a scarf.

But none of these clever gestures would work if Blair’s work didn’t sing in such clear, rough, sincere notes. Like many who work in this style, Blair incorporates urban detritus into her art—burlap, string, wooden slats, gauze, cotton mesh, rivets—but few bring out the beauty and dignity of these materials with such unerring grace. She has a knack for enhancing the expressive potential of the humble objects she uses and transforms. To see “Heart Echoes” is, for a few moments at least, to inhabit Blair’s sensibility:  The rhythms of the threads of industrial textiles, the subtle topography of paper, the mutable quality of cords, the joy of the small and functional all become palpable to the viewer. Her sense of awareness is contagious. The longer you look at these pieces, the wider your eyes will grow.

The materials that Blair uses aren’t hidden, but they aren’t oversold, either. They’re simply there to support the images, most of which are broadly abstract but hint at figuration. As you might expect from an artist whose work rests on keen observation, she takes her images to the very brink of the paper and sometimes beyond. At least one of her large wall hangings is fully illustrated on both sides; SMUSH will show you the back of it if you’re interested. There are few straight lines in Blair’s work. Instead, her pieces are filled with fields of bright acrylic color, large arcs, hooks, and intersecting crescents, occasional splashes, rivulets, and drippings and in one arresting piece a series of wormholes cut into the paper. Some of these designs threaten to coalesce into images of faces, or skulls, or human or celestial bodies, or hearts. But there’s so much motion in these paintings that nothing holds together for long.

Given the density of ideas, it’s a testament to Blair’s sense of balance and mastery of color that her work never feels busy. It can, however, be more than a little destabilizing, especially before your eyes have acclimated themselves to the artist’s vision. The big pieces in “Heart Echoes” are both beautiful and immersive, but the best and most approachable pieces in the exhibition are the artist’s six-inch-square wood panels. This is Marta Blair by the slice rather than by the whole pie, and they maintain the intensity of the wall hangings even as they’re possible to apprehend at a glance. SMUSH has arranged them in grids and strips reminiscent of the presentation of Lygia Pape’s “books” of forms: a tentative, hopeful imposition of geometric order on forces not easily tamed. The wood panels, which Blair simply calls “Small Works” (she clearly doesn’t like titling her paintings) crackle with energy. Some suggest alien landscapes while others seem to represent eyes or tilted heads. All are opportunities for Blair to show off her distinctive and pleasing palette: sea blues, grassy greens, Valentine pinks that thickens into rich reds. My favorite contains a furious gold squiggle in an upper corner. It’s an errant brain wave, a shock of lightning, a jump rope seized and jostled.

“Heart Echoes” is Marta Blair’s first solo exhibition. Talented and dedicated as she is, she’s no innate careerist. Her works are inscribed in a private visual language; because she’s fundamentally generous and communicative, that language is legible to viewers who are willing to meet her halfway. But she clearly doesn’t paint to please the crowd. She’s got her own heartbeat and her own singular aesthetic objectives. She’s exactly the sort of painter who local galleries should be championing. SMUSH recognized that, and in so doing Jersey City has been rewarded with its first can’t-miss art show of 2020.

Header: “Red Painting 2” by Marta Blair

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Art Review: Works by Nathan Sullivan, Diana Godfrey and Robert Glisson at the Novado Gallery

In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, C. S. Lewis’s third Chronicle of Narnia, the characters step out of dull reality and enter a fantasy world through a portrait on the wall.  The seascape acts as a conduit between dimensions and a spur for adventure: It grows larger and larger until the characters fall through the frame and plunge into the water. Dawn Treader is a story for kids, but the magic that Lewis describes isn’t entirely imaginary. It’s a fair, albeit poetic, description of the transporting power of landscape painting. Paintings by a skilled landscape artist really do feel like portals into another time and place. A true master of the style—Hasegawa Tōhaku, say, or Breughel the Elder, or Jersey’s own George Inness—can pull the viewer into a parallel universe.

Hudson County is a place defined by spectacular views. Nothing impedes our apprehension of Midtown Manhattan—there it is, right across the river, monumental and breathtaking. Seen from the top of the Palisade, our own tall buildings and tidy downtown neighborhoods are pretty impressive, too. The broad carpet of the Meadowlands, the weird, crumbling post-industrial zones on the fringes of the city, the great iron bridges that arch over the Hackensack: These are all eyefuls. Because our scenery is so gorgeous, we’re inclined to appreciate vistas. The most engrossing art exhibitions mounted in Jersey City over the past few months have taken advantage of this taste. Candy LeSeuer’s seaside daydreams and Ricardo Roig’s urbane, detailed prints of Hudson County landmarks open windows in otherwise blank walls. The three artists who contributed to the latest show at Novado Gallery (110 Morgan St.) are up to something similar. You’d never mistake a painting by Diana Godfrey for one by Nathan Sullivan or Robert Glisson: Their moods, techniques, and approaches are distinctly different. Yet they’ve all got that knack for pulling you in to the picture.

“Eyeful” by Robert Glisson

Glisson’s work offers the most conventional ride. His country landscapes are blurred, bucolic, rich with representations of abundant daylight, and perhaps a bit too reminiscent of Edgar Degas. The strokes of oil paint on his canvases are so gooey-thick and hypnotic that it might take a second or two to catch precisely what he’s representing. Nevertheless, the heat comes off these pictures immediately. It’s summer in Glisson’s world, trees are overburdened with foliage, and the cows take refuge from the sun under the canopy of leaves. Summertime means life, life has weight and mass, and Glisson’s canvases convey that pleasant, comforting heaviness. The bodies of beachgoers in “Provincetown in June” bend with the day like the sail of the boat in the distance. They move with the elements—the wind, the sunshine, and the placid sea. There is no sense of menace. Everything is in its proper place.

Nathan Sullivan paints plant life, too, and he also uses oils to create his immersive landscapes. Similarities to Robert Glisson end there. Glisson’s paint is thick, swirled, rich as the icing atop a cookie; Sullivan’s oils approach the flatness of a photograph. The Novado Gallery presents five large panel paintings in his “Space Series,” each of which imagines an otherworldly scene in which the proportions of organic materials are altered. Fronds sprout to the size of trees, seed pods tower like monuments over a glassy marsh, pine-cone-like structures are tucked beneath a massive spray of grass under a yolk-yellow sky. All of these hallucinations are rendered with sci-fi precision. Lines are sharp, color contrast is striking, and the shadows correspond to the position of a strange and distant sun. These may indeed be vistas on planets where the flora, with no small amount of aggressiveness, has claimed control of the biosphere. But Sullivan is also playing with the notion of “space” itself: our collective understanding of the territories that familiar terrestrial objects like plants and leaves are meant to occupy. By changing the dimensions, he’s upended our expectations, and created provocative landscapes that work like dislocations.

For sheer transportive power, Sullivan and Glisson are outdone by Diana Godfrey, who contributes a pair of “Water’s Edge” panels to the show. These are the two simplest pieces in the gallery; they’re also the smallest. The “Water’s Edge” paintings, which were created with a combination of acrylics and oils, are pure landscapes: horizontal fields of color denoting grass, sky, and water. There isn’t much detail, there’s not much sign of activity, and there are no people present to trouble or complicate the view. Yet the texture of Godfrey’s paints is as soft as upturned earth, and her colors are deep and mysterious as those of a spring night. These small squares speak eloquently, and maybe even conspiratorially, but they don’t give away their secrets; instead, they beckon you close and solicit an immediate emotional response. Notably, Godfrey’s other pieces in the show aren’t landscapes: They’re a play of overlapping rectangles in near-pastel colors, some roughly striped, some distressed, some scribbled over, all fading a little. Their proximity to the “Water’s Edge” paintings bestows a sense of place on them. They’re redolent of country houses, old wallpaper, farmed fields from a crow’s perspective. Empty horizons always connote longing. Coupled with the rustic feel of the other pieces, Godfrey’s works in this exhibition suggest the deep country, land passed by and largely forgotten, but still possessing quiet dignity, still waiting to be appreciated.

Godfrey frames her work in rough wooden boxes, which gives them the feel of heirlooms tucked under a bed or locked in an attic. Glisson’s oil paintings radiate their heat from within classic gold frames (many of Degas’s also did), which reinforces their hot-weather quality, and their museum-ish conservatism, too. Sullivan doesn’t bother with borders at all. Instead, his panels are slices in space, images viewed through the flat windows of the arriving lander of a starship. But the will to lead the viewer into a netherworld of the artist’s creation is the same, regardless of the technique. The joint show, which opened on January 2 and closes February 8, offers seventeen fleeting trips into the yonder, some of which might even have an ameliorating effect on the harshness of the season. The Novado Gallery remains one of the most generous art spaces in town: It’s open five days a week, and it’s very pretty inside.

Header: “Space Series #12” by Nathan Sullivan

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Curtain Up on Vibrant Theater Scene in Jersey City

Is Jersey City becoming the Garden State version of Manhattan’s West Village?

That’s the opinion of one entertainment expert anyway.

John McEwen, executive director of the New Jersey State Theatre Alliance, believes that Jersey City is offering something special on stage as well as in music and art.

“There’s something there for everybody,” McEwen says, “due in large part to exciting cultural offerings.

“The heartbeat there is similar to what you might find in the Village in New York. There’s a young, vibrant feeling there. The city’s image has turned around quite a bit, artists are finding homes, theater organizations are cropping up and doing unique work that fits into that vibe. I do hear a lot of people talking about the arts in Jersey City. Art is making that city tick. A lot of businesses are moving in, there’s a sense of pride in the residents, and that will only grow in time.”

Back at the turn of the twentieth century, Jersey City was home to professional vaudeville houses, like the old eight-tier Majestic Theatre that once stood opposite City Hall, where even New Yorkers trooped to see luminaries like W.C. Fields, George Burns, Groucho Marx, Fanny Brice, and George M. Cohan tread the boards.

But what—at least for now—may be missing in terms of infrastructure and top-name billing is being compensated for by the vibrancy and innovation of the many theatrical companies and their offerings.

Whether it’s the current Art House multimedia production of Reid Farrington’s A Christmas Carol or Speranza Theatre Company’s Women’s Writer Series or Jersey City Theater Center’s politically tinged Lines in the Dust, local stage groups are daring to push the boundaries.

As city Cultural Affairs Director Christine Goodman sees it, these and other local companies are delivering “fresh, vibrant, immersive, and original new takes on timeless tales.”

It’s that kind of theatrical fare that’s more likely to draw regional audiences than not, Goodman says. “You can only see the Rockettes so many times before wanting to see something different, and the work being produced here is different and exciting, and it’s something we’re proud of.”

That being said, the companies that are making a go of it now didn’t pop up overnight: It took each of them time to find and secure performance space, a distinct identity and audience, and monetary support before they could start to breathe and contemplate a sustainable future.

For Olga Levina, co-founder and artistic director of Jersey City Theater Center (JCTC), the long and winding path to Jersey City began in Belarus where she “grew up with a love for theater” fostered by her mother, a professional actress.

She and her nonprofit company (founded in 2006) are located on the second floor of a converted warehouse at 339-345 Newark Ave. that houses a 1,500-square-foot flex-performance space, a black box theater, an art gallery, and 10 private art studios all supported by an annual operating budget of $250,000.

JCTC’s mission, according to Levina, is to stage “political” theater and other arts events by developing a “thematic series concept … global in scope and relevant to the community.” In addition to plays, JCTC puts on arts shows, dance performances, and readings. Themes the company explores include justice, happiness, origins, vanity, borders, disruption, and fear.

Levina has hosted groups from Italy, Slovakia, Poland and Spain along with regional artists. JCTC’s most recent theatrical offering, Lines in the Dust, by Pulitzer Prize-nominated writer Nikkole Salter, was co-produced with New Jersey City University and was a contemporary look at race, class and inequality in public education.

Another upcoming JCTC production, Run-On Sentence, by New Jersey playwright Stacie Lents, is about women in prison. Lents based her work on her experience working with incarcerated women through Prison Performing Arts of St. Louis, Mo.

From its humble beginnings in 2001 in a makeshift space at the (now-demolished) St. Francis Hospital in Hamilton Park, to its roomy digs at Cast Iron Lofts on 17th St., Art House has established itself as a steadfast producer of performing and visual arts.

“A Christmas Carol” courtesy Art House Productions

Among the more recent stage productions it has hosted are The Box Show featuring writer/performer Dominique Salerno and no fewer than 30 characters; The Artemisia’s Intent, created and performed by The Anthropologists, depicting—largely through movement—the life, work and words of 17th century painter Artemisia Gentileschi; and Reid Farrington’s A Christmas Carol, a co-production of Art House and Foxy Films, described as a “live mash-up of nearly every movie version of the Dickens piece ever made.”

“We present work that straddles the accessible and the avant-garde,” said Art House Executive Director Meredith Burns. The company’s focus, she said, is “to find diverse works by women and artists of color wherever possible.” Theatrical pieces like A Christmas Carol that feature projections and multi-media effects are also invited. “A lot of our pieces have that bent,” Burns said.

The non-profit venture, which employs two full-time staffers and runs on a yearly operating budget that Burns puts at “just under $500,000,” also sponsors “JC Fridays,” a quarterly seasonal arts festival that features between 30 and 50 events at different venues citywide;  comedy and dance festivals; and INKubator New Play Festival that invites submissions of new works by emerging playwrights from which six are picked for production every May.

Art House is on schedule for yet another move in fall 2021 to the new residential tower going up at 184 Morgan St., just one-half block from the Grove Street PATH Station. There it will hold forth with a 99-seat flex-box theater, art gallery, and administrative offices.

Two other local theater companies that use various performance venues are Speranza Theatre Company and No Dominion Theatre Co.

Speranza has two full-time and one part-time employee and operates  from Journal Square with a $50,000 annual budget.  The company’s mission is “to create thought-provoking collaborative theater centered on women’s issues, providing an opportunity for artists, particularly females, to share their voices through challenging and entertaining theater based in honesty and truth.” They have been around since 2008.

Heather Wahl, Speranza’s founding artistic director, said the company’s priority is to hire 50% or more women artists to perform, write and/or design. “I don’t think a lot of theater companies have our focus,” she said. “Most of what we do is original work primarily by women.”

Among those is Diana Basmajian, whose works Seasoned and Foodies were produced by Speranza recently.

Wahl said Speranza’s biggest challenge is “finding people of color” to participate. “That voice has been missing, and that was disappointing,” she said.

Despite having no permanent home, “Jersey City welcomed us right away,” Wahl said. Both Art House and JCTC made available their spaces to Speranza and the company has also performed in local colleges, eateries, galleries and even the historic Apple Tree House on Van Wagenen Avenue. “We created collaborations that have helped us grow and kept our overhead low,” said Wahl.

Courtesy No Dominion Theatre Co.

No Dominion co-founder and artistic director Michael Joel said the company (which takes its name from the Dylan Thomas poem “And death shall have no dominion”) sprang from an undertaking by several Montclair State University alums (himself included) to form a theatrical troupe.

Joel and No Dominion co-founder and executive director Kaitlin Overton believe that original theater is the way to go to promote new works in the New Jersey/New York City region. “By cross-collaborating with and fostering artists of multiple unique mediums, we are able to create the type of work that engages, inspires, and thrills diverse audiences,” they say. Much of that work, said Joel, has taken on a political flavor, “given the current state of affairs.”

Registered as a nonprofit in 2015, the group has done story slams citywide as part of the NEA Big Read program and “things sort of snowballed from there,” Joel said. The company recently partnered with McCarter Theatre Center and Princeton Public Library to bring a “story lounge” there and created a theatre slam at JCTC, where it is in residency.

For the new year, the company has big plans: an original opera in the summer and a six-hour political drama penned by Joel that, he said, will be “largely based on the 2016 [presidential] election” in November.

Another theater group, JCity Theater, has been around for over ten years staging a combination of plays by known playwrights such as David Mamet and works by emerging writers. They are also known for their annual holiday show A Tuna Christmas.  Unfortunately, as the founders Clay and Sandy Cockrell are currently on vacation off the grid, Jersey City Times was unable to make contact with them.

Gina Hulings, director of the Hudson County Office of Cultural and Heritage Affairs and Tourism Development, said she’s buoyed by the current theatrical scene in Jersey City. Her office provides matching funds for state Council on the Arts grants awarded local theater groups. “It’s a very exciting time,” Hulings said, particularly with the predominance of original works being presented locally. “We’re witnessing a resurgence in the arts.”

For example, Hulings said, the recent restoration of the old White Eagle Hall on Newark Avenue has afforded Jersey City a space for presenting special arts-related events and, she added, the county “is finalizing a 10-year cultural development plan” to pinpoint other opportunities for “finding a host facility or pop-up location” that could support theatrical ventures.

Header: Photo courtesy of No Dominion Theatre Co.

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Jersey City: The Municipality’s Role in School Under-Funding

Courtesy Brigid D’Souza /

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Ricardo Roig: Local Color

On the Mall in the middle of Central Park, art is everywhere. Most of it is similar: pastel prints and paintings of New York City landmarks, world-famous skyscrapers, falling leaves on Fifth Avenue, moons over Manhattan, generalized Gotham romance. If you’ve wandered through the Park, you’ve seen these pieces, and maybe you’ve even admired their brutal effectiveness. These painters and printmakers mean to sweep the viewer up in the New York story, and this they do crudely and expediently. It’s fine art (of a sort), but it’s also propaganda: univocal, meant to instill in the viewer a sense of excitement about the tourist experience. There may be many layers of paint, but there are few layers of meaning. No matter how cheesy the pictures seem, they do provide a glimpse of the city’s mercantile soul.

Two decades ago, no artist would have depicted Jersey City like this. Hudson County was resistant to glamorization. Instead, artists who engaged with the town— photographers Ed Fausty and Shandor Hassan, for instance—favored a stark realist approach so keenly and meticulously observed that it attained the alien quality of dystopic science fiction. Other artists working in the post-industrial style were determined to show Jersey City as it was—and it wasn’t always pretty. Beautiful sometimes, but never quiescent; if you came to Hudson County, you were going to encounter a landscape that would charge out to meet you, roar in your face, and leave some marks. Their Jersey City had teeth. 

This is not the Jersey City that Ricardo Roig presents in “Local Color.” The show, which will be on view at the Hamilton Square Condominiums (232 Pavonia Ave. at Hamilton Square Park) through April 24, features colorful screen-printed images of a Jersey City that feels becalmed, tamed, and ready to be sold to outsiders. The exhibition lacks the explosiveness and emotional intensity of curator Kristin DeAngelis’s last show in the Hamilton Square atrium. But it does have many compensatory charms, including its user-friendliness and genuine eagerness to please. It’s hard to imagine anything more accessible than a show of beautiful prints of places and sights that residents see every day. “Local Color” presents Roig as both a balladeer and a booster, a genial Downtowner with a pleasant vision of Jersey City that dovetails neatly with the city’s recent commitment to destination marketing.

“Choc-O-Pain” by Ricardo Roig

Ricardo Roig’s singular technique—his sharp-cut angles, his striking sense of color, his balance, and his knack for visual storytelling—places him miles beyond the picture hawkers in Central Park. Yet in tone, mood, and subject matter, he’s up to a similar thing. The artist army on the Mall anchors its myth-making in the city’s immediately observable landscape—its buildings and street scenes, its businesses and its marks of enterprise—and the upbeat rhythms of its architecture. We’ve got nothing as recognizable as the Empire State Building, but we have our visual symbols, too, and Roig rounds them up and makes them sing: the Colgate Clock, the gazebo at Hamilton Park, the blocky blue G of the Grove Street PATH Station, the Newark Avenue pedestrian mall. He’s drawn to bars and restaurants, and he gives us idyllic looks at Choc-o-Pain, the interior of the White Star, the umbrella-covered plaza outside Rumba Cubana, the yellow insignia of the strangely uncrushable Golden Cicada. Jersey City, this show tells us, is a place of constant commerce, too—maybe not as inexhaustible as our neighbor across the Hudson but bustling along nevertheless, committed to enterprise, on the rise with its shoes shined. 

These prints give Roig an opportunity to demonstrate one of his talents: He’s an ace at representing electric light. The glow behind the windows of the Choc-o-Pain is croissant-warm; even better is the unearthly shimmer of the reflections of the tall buildings on the Hudson. The strongest print in a show with many good ones isn’t local color at all, it’s a nighttime still of the venerable and unglamorous Long Island Bar on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn. The dive’s hot-pink neon signs dust the sidewalk with rouge. 

How does Roig achieve these high-contrast effects? Most likely, it’s residue of the unusual printmaking process he’s developed, one in which he applies paint to the canvases through stencils that are cut, poked, and pared into shape with a knife. Since each color requires its own screen, a Roig print is made up of a lattice of interlocking pigments: stenciled patterns that come together to form a familiar image. The tonal blurring that this technique produces can generate some hallucinatory effects. Human figures under the strings of lights on the Newark Avenue pedestrian plaza, for instance, really do seem to be slipping into the shadows. Other images, like an impossibly gentle rendering of the front of a commuter train pulling into Grove Street Station, possess the hushed, muted mystique of Nishiki-e woodblock prints. 

Unusually for a modern landscape artist, Ricardo Roig is also very good at capturing human bodies in action. The patrons he places at the White Star are all discernible individuals, some content, others a little impudent; they might even be people you recognize. In one striking print, a couple rides the Grove Street Path escalator to street level. The man stares straight ahead, but the woman looks backward, and ambivalence at her arrival is inscribed in her body language. This is a rare equivocal moment in Roig’s work, a passing minor chord in an otherwise concordant symphony, and it hints that his embrace of Jersey City might not be as total as it seems. 

Other pieces are so relentlessly positive that they could have been commissioned by a tourism council. The most awkward of these are ironically the two biggest and busiest in the show: a pair of works that combine Roig’s usual screen-printing techniques with elements of paper collage. These aren’t as assured or balanced as the smaller canvases; more problematically, they’re overstuffed with separate images meant to suggest an appealing whirlwind of urban activity. Despite Roig’s enthusiasm, they’re as impersonal as the murals that have turned areas of Jersey City into a garish open-air cartoon. Ironically, some of the most immersive pieces in the show are the tiniest: fragments and “fresh cuts” that are tight, focused, non-representational, and full of lively personality. They neither lionize nor criticize. They simply allow Roig’s considerable skills to speak for themselves. 

From George Inness to William Carlos Williams to the Boss, local pride has always been a powerful motivator for New Jersey artists. The Garden State isn’t always an easy place to love, but it does elicit protective feelings. Ricardo Roig clearly adores Hudson County, and his eagerness to share what he’s discovered here is apparent in every stencil he slices. He’s covered the obvious stuff—the landmarks everybody knows, the visitor attractions, and the well-trafficked streets that everybody treads. This talented and ambitious artist can afford to cut a little deeper. 

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Upgrades to Jersey City Parks to Begin This Spring

The Jersey City Municipal Open Space, Recreation, and Historic Property Preservation Fund will disburse $3 million to 15 projects throughout Jersey City, the first such allocation since the city’s voters authorized setting up the fund in a 2016 referendum. Work is expected to start in spring 2020.

The city provided a list of the projects by ward: 

  • Greenville: Ferris Triangle ($500,000) for a new play structure, splash pad, fitness loop, electricity, and water; Martyniak-Enright Park, $200,000 for landscaping, benches, and other passive upgrades; Audubon Park, $100,000 for improved lighting.
  • West Side: LaPointe Park (no amount listed) for an updated splash pad, monument repair, and solar-powered park benches to provide free Wi-Fi and charging stations; Boyd McGuiness Park (no amount listed) for sunshade, bulletin board, and solar-powered park benches.
  • Journal Square/The Heights: Pavonia-Marion Park ($500,000) to build fencing for easier access, expand the playground, repave the basketball courts, replace the bleachers, fix the cement pavement elevation, and add landscaping, trees, benches, picnic tables, chess tables, a water fountain, and a dog park; Canco Park ($100,000) to install benches, a charging station, fencing, a water fountain, and soft playscape modules for toddlers; Reservoir 3 ($400,000) for general renovations; and Pershing Field ($50,000) to restore the historic Bell flagpole.
  • Downtown: Hamilton Park ($300,000) for benches, picnic tables, and an overhaul of the dog parks; Van Vorst Park ($200,000) to improve the playground equipment and surface, provide shade for the sandbox, and install a synthetic lawn; Mary Benson Park ($200,000) to clean and repaint the memorial, refurbish the original water fountain, and plant trees and painting the grounds surrounding both monuments; Brunswick Community Garden ($3,000) to prune an unhealthy mulberry tree to meet safety standards.
  • Bergen-Lafayette: Bergen Hill Park ($200,000) to install fencing where none exists, restore a stone wall, install night lighting and security cameras, and create walking paths; Arlington Park ($100,000) for landscaping improvements, fencing, murals, and cosmetic work on the gazebo.

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Community Rallies in Support of Liberty State Park and Caven Point

A rally against the expansion of Liberty National Golf Club drew hundreds to Liberty State Park on an unseasonably warm January morning. Led by the Friends of Liberty State Park and the NY/NJ Baykeepers, protesters called attention to the Liberty State Park Protection Act, which is currently stalled in the state legislature. The Liberty State Park Protection Act would limit development in the state park and protect Caven Point, a 22-acre salt marsh and migratory bird habitat.

Liberty State Park is frequently the target of privatization, most recently in 2018 when developers sought to build a second marina at the southern end of the park; the state Department of Environmental Protection rejected the plan. In the latest land grab, Liberty National owner, Reebok founder Paul Fireman, seeks to relocate three of the golf course’s holes and expand into Caven Point, seeing the expansion as a potential economic boon for region and the state.

Mayor Steven Fulop and Freeholder Bill O’Dea were among the elected officials who spoke in support of the bill at Saturday’s rally. FOLSP president Sam Pesin, Liberty State Park’s longtime advocate, reiterated, “The essence of our history is that people put democracy into action as you’re doing today and have fought for this people’s park behind Lady Liberty. We have the same message today from 43 years of battles, that the people own this land.”

Header: Photo by Joanna Arcieri

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Charges of Political Opportunism and Racism Dominate As City Council Approves Board of Education Referendum

Last night, over five raucous hours punctuated by cheers, boos, and admonitions from City Council President Joyce Watterman, residents of Jersey City trudged up to the podium in the Council chambers to vent over the mayor’s proposal to turn the board of education into an appointed body. And vent they did. The proposal brought out teachers, union reps, activists, and parents, united in near-unanimous  opposition to the plan for a referendum that would put the question to voters.

Phil Rivo was notable as the evening’s sole dissenter.

“Right now, every year there is a board of education election. Every year, the teachers’ union is spending upwards of half a million dollars, and developers are spending half a million dollars for a job that pays nothing,” he said. Rivo then cited the five recent Board resignations before adding, “It doesn’t make sense. I would like to see professional people run it.”

If Rivo’s position was the exception, Josephine Paige’s was closer to the rule and highlighted a deep distrust of the mayor and his motives.

“A mayor who wants to change the democratic process is saying his judgment is better than the voters. I don’t want to see the board of education used to advance his political career.”

Lmani Viney standing and pointing at council, School Board president Lorenzo Richardson in foreground. Photo by Jersey City Times

History teacher Lmani Viney likened the mayor’s proposal to the democratic rights that were ceded to Hitler, Stalin, and Napoleon. Maria Scariati, who recalled fundraising for the mayor, ascribed the proposal to the mayor’s “insatiable appetite for primacy.”  McNair High School athletic director Kristen Zadroga-Hart described the referendum as “nothing more than an opportunistic power grab.”  “It feels sneaky” quipped fellow teacher Colleen Kelleher. “This is straight out of George Orwell,” opined Natalie Ioffe, a parent and Soviet émigré.  Referring to past and present African-American school superintendents and board members, Jersey City Education Association President Ronald Greco accused the mayor of having “a problem with black men.”  Tracey Luz ascribed the plan as an effort to promote white supremacy. And so it went for the mayor.

The city council came in for criticism as well.

“What’s the rush?” Chris Gadsen asked. “When were you going to discuss it with the people who actually elected you?”  “Don’t let anyone on this council take your schools away from you,” intoned Daryn Martin. Jeanne Daly demanded to know which council members had “been bought.” Echoing several other speakers, Daly promised to exact revenge on councilmembers. “This is going to be a big problem if you move forward,” he warned. “This is a promise.”

Numerous speakers brought up the case of board of education member Joan Terrell- Paige, whose comments on Facebook following the kosher market attack were deemed by many to have been anti-Semitic and which brought calls for her resignation.

Daryn Martin promised to remember at election time that councilmembers Jermaine Robinson and James Solomon had done exactly that.   “No one is going to get a slab of Joan Terrell Paige. She is not raw beef. Four Hasidic rabbis were indicted for organ trafficking,” said Kabili Tayari. “Ms. Terrell didn’t say anything wrong,” added Kathrine Burno. Steve Goldberg, on the other hand, asked the audience to call out anti-Semitism. “You can hate me, you can hate a Jew, but you can’t hate Jews.”  On a night where speakers were cheered liberally throughout the evening, the room responded with silence.

Also in attendance and apparently on a p.r. offensive was a group of Hasidic men, armed with banners, proclaiming their biblical duty to be good neighbors.

“We condemn buying houses and throwing people out,” said Yoel Loeb. “It isn’t right to call people with concerns anti-Semitic.”

Fellow Hasid, Joel Eidlits explained that they had come to Jersey City because they “couldn’t pay the rent in Brooklyn.”  Eidlits and Loeb both distanced themselves from the Anti-Defamation League, the Chabad Lubovitch movement, and the “evil Jews who created the state of Israel.”

In the end, the council voted 7 to 1 with one abstention to move ahead with the referendum. James Solomon noted that in seven years, not a single board member had been elected without the help of a “super-pac.”

“The issues before the board are huge; the status quo is unacceptable,” Solomon noted.

Council president Watterman explained that she “has to answer to parents.”

Summing up the views of several other councilmembers, she noted that “the vote will give the city a chance to reach a consensus. Let the people say.”

As the sole “no” vote, Councilman Rich Boggiano said he had conferred with the board and was “confident” that it could do the job.

The audience did not take the vote sitting down.

When taunted by an audience member, Councilman Jermaine Robinson offered to settle their differences “outside.” Then when the audience was reminded that the JCEA had promoted the candidacy of twice-indicted board president Sudhan Thomas, a screaming JCEA President Ronald Greco rushed the podium under the watchful eyes of two Jersey City cops. Before being led out of the chambers, Greco accused the council en mass of racism.

The referendum will take place on November 3, 2020. If approved by voters, a new, appointed board of education would be seated on July 1, 2021.

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Take a Walk on the Wild Side: Reservoir Park Upgrade Coming

Jersey City Reservoir No. 3, as the onetime water reserve in the Heights is known, is due for a lot of sprucing up thanks to the recently announced award of more than $2.5 million in city, county, and state grants for improvements.

“We’re ready to move forward with plans to make the area more secure for everyone to enjoy, while also preserving the historical aspects that have great significance to the city,” said Mayor Steve Fulop. “With this funding now in place, we’ll soon have complete access to encourage even more use of the historic landmark.”

Built in the late nineteenth century, the once-active reservoir was decommissioned in the 1980s, when it was replaced with a larger facility in Boonton, New Jersey. Ironically, its evolution into an “urban wildlife preserve” (if Wikipedia be believed) could not have taken place without the site’s very demise. With more and more open space in Jersey City disappearing as the result of development, and in a nod to the work of local preservationists, elected officials now see the value in keeping at least this one parcel of nature pristine.

Photo courtesy City of Jersey City

From the beginning, Reservoir 3 had good bones (if an unpoetic name). It’s enclosed by 20-foot-tall Egyptian Revival stone walls and features Romanesque Revival style pump stations. The historic setting has attracted birds ranging from swans to great blue herons to peregrine falcons who now call the six-acre manmade lake inside the property home. It was the space’s very beauty and potential that, in 2005, led a group of local residents to form the Jersey City Reservoir Preservation Alliance to protect it.

The mission of the Alliance is to “preserve the historic structures and natural resources of Jersey City Reservoir 3, establish the site as a public park and wildlife sanctuary, and promote educational and recreational opportunities at the Reservoir” (according to its website). The group maintains the site as a public park on Saturdays during the summer and fall seasons, hosting a variety of arts and play activities. They also conduct tours, run school programs, hold boating and nature events, take care of the park’s wildlife, and clean the site as needed.

The reservoir is listed on state and federal registers of historic places. For their work preserving the property, the Alliance was recognized with the Ted Conrad Preservationist of the Year Award in 2005.

Plans to further improve Reservoir 3 include building perimeter fencing (with a $500,000 contribution from the Hudson County Open Space, Recreation, and Historic Preservation, Trust); restoring the crumbling screen house, known as the sluice tower (courtesy of a $750,000 gift from the NJ Historic Trust); installing lighting and developing walking trails (with over $884,000 in funding from the state’s Green Acres Program and making $400,000 in general upgrades with a donation by the Jersey City Open Space Advisory Trust.

All this comes as welcome news to Alliance president Cynthia Hadjiyannis.

“We’ve been extremely fortunate-this past year the Reservoir received three separate grants and funds were allocated from the City’s Open Space Trust for historic preservation and site improvement projects. It’s such a unique place that these projects will present unique architectural and engineering challenges. Now that we have money, the Reservoir Alliance will want to make sure the City has a great team working on this in a focused way. I’d personally like to see the City hire an outside historic preservation professional and landscape architect to get the most sensitive, creative design and highest quality workmanship ” she said.

Work will start once the state Historic Preservation Office has signed off on all details and all approvals are in place, projected to be by Spring 2020, according to Jersey City spokeswoman Kimberly Wallace-Scalcione. No estimate was given for how long the job would take to complete.

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