It was not spontaneous, but it was sincere.  Grown men and women in shiny, conical party hats paraded south on Marin Boulevard to the train station in the midday July sun.  They followed a brass band, clapped, and shook noisemakers as they walked.  The party favors (and pink-frosted slices of celebratory cake) were supplied by Art House Productions, one of the longest-running, best-loved, and best-connected organizations in Jersey City.  Art House executive director Meredith Burns shepherded the crowd to the sidewalk in front of the Hendrix at 345 Marin Boulevard.  Soon there was a great red ribbon; soon there were politicians and real estate developers; soon there was Mayor Fulop; soon there was a little kid playing mayor for the day. She held a pair of scissors.  Amidst cheers, she snipped the ribbon. After too long without a permanent home, the Art House was, officially, back.

Unofficially, the new facility has been welcoming guests for a while. Curator Andrea McKenna has mounted a series of entertaining shows in the Art House gallery, including exhibitions of work by Mark Kurdzeil, Frank Ippolito, and other regional innovators.  The Jersey City Comedy Festival took over the handsome hundred-seat theater in early June.  But July 13 marked an official reopening — one blessed by the city government and applauded by members of the local arts community. (Some enthusiastic passersby, too.)  

The jubilant mood on the sidewalk was underscored by a palpable sense of relief.  The Art House had originally teased a summer 2022 ribbon-cutting, but pandemic-era concerns and construction delays pushed back the date of the reopening party to autumn, and then to winter, and then to 2023.  Throughout the wait, a de-centered Art House continued operations: its annual Snow Ball, the Diner in Blanc event in Lincoln Park, McKenna’s ambitious exhibitions, a play reading in the gallery, and continued organization and supervision of Jersey City Fridays, the quarterly citywide arts festival.  Yet the organization’s physical absence was felt.  In the two decades since its founding, Art House has been among the most reliable providers of performing arts programming to a city that has always been starved for venues.  With Art House on the sidelines, the theatrical landscape of Jersey City was a far emptier place.

The official opening of the Art House at The Hendrix gives the perpetually redeveloping warehouse neighborhood two black box theaters. The new performance space is only a block and a half from the Nimbus Arts Center, home of the Nimbus Dancers and Firmament Gallery. This is not a complete fulfillment of a promise made to the city long ago of a district dedicated to cultural expression.  It is, however, a meaningful step closer to the realization of a vision.  Art House Productions becomes another attraction in the Powerhouse Arts District, and a reminder that the more anchors we drop there, the less likely it is that the dream will blow away in the waterfront breeze.

Art House has moved around.  Christine Goodman, the organization’s founder and director emeritus and current head of the municipal Cultural Affairs office, once put on plays at Victory Hall on Grand Street — including one that intervened in the controversy surrounding the demolished Arts Center at 111 First Street.  From there, Art House moved to Hamilton Park, then leapt to Journal Square, and then to the Cast Iron Lofts on the Hoboken border.  Though the organization always made creative use of its headquarters, none of these moves ever felt permanent.  The Hendrix relocation is different.  Developers SILVERMAN, the Albanese Group, and Liberty Harbor promised to supply Art House, and, by extension, the City of Jersey City, a theater and gallery.  These were the conditions under which they were allowed to construct a new residential tower in the Powerhouse neighborhood, and though it took them awhile to finish the job, they’ve made good on the deal.

The composition of the crowd at the ribbon-cutting testified to the centrality of Art House Productions to public life in Jersey City.  Representatives of major local arts organizations, community activists, prominent artists, and show promoters all marched in Burns’s impromptu parade.   Cars on Marin Blvd. had to wonder what was going on.  If they listened carefully, they would have heard it clearly: the sound of an arts scene exhaling, after a long held breath.

Tris McCall has written about art, architecture, performance, politics, and public culture for many publications, including the Newark Star-Ledger, the Bergen Record, Jersey Beat, the Jersey City Reporter,...