Friday, May 15, 2009

Why isn't Jersey City Art a big deal? (because the press doesn't make it one)

In every city I've lived in new museum shows and elaborate cultural events created buzz. Trustees, board members, politicians, and artistic pundits would all crawl out from their meeting rooms to support (if only for the price of admission) the latest event on the artistic calendar. The newspaper would be there, snapping grainy photographs of the elites in action, and though I didn't always agree with the deference given to social rank and financial power at these happenings, their media presence ensured the status of both the hosting institution and the art they advocated for.

The Jersey City Museum had it's annual Artrageous Ball two weeks ago, and the press hasn't even whispered. According to the museum, 200+ people attended the event (its biggest fundraiser of the year) including the mayor, other government officials, and high-ranking professionals with a soft spot for the creative. Regardless of how I feel about the tangled web of artist/museum/patron relations--this is news.

Events like this are more than just fundraisers providing money needed to keep cultural organizations up and running (the museum will put these proceeds towards operating expenses- not such a sexy sell), they are reminders that the arts are a powerful force deserving of community recognition and respect. When the Jersey City Museum's press releases never go any further than it's own website and a few message boards, that's a failure--not of the organization, but of the local media. In fact, it's an affront.

I know art is sometimes difficult to understand and that the Jersey City press as a whole is wobbling already, but the reason we as a community tend to undervalue the Museum and our own artistic production is due in part to a lack of media attention. The museum contributes to the health and vibrancy of this community, but we so rarely hear about it that it's easy to forget what it has done, what it's working towards, and what it stands for. But the fact remains that it is a museum, "a permanent institution in the service of society and of its development, open to the public, which acquires, conserves, researches, communicates and exhibits the tangible and intangible heritage of humanity...", in charge of representing the finest art Jersey City has to offer and exposing it so we--the public--can better understand our own existence here and now.

Museums can put on bad shows too (and it's important to recognize that), but the press has got to step up to the plate and say "art matters". It's not the quality of Jersey City art that is sub par; it's the media coverage that makes it so.

PS. I write art features for JCI and they actually run them; thanks for covering the art news the Jersey Journal and Hudson Reporter often don't. If you've got an idea for a story-drop me a line.


Charles Kessler said...

I don’t think the problem is with the press- or primarily with the press. Sure newspapers don’t have the money to hire an art critic like they used to, but I think the main problem is the Jersey City art scene is demoralized -- at least the visual arts scene.

Before the Healy administration artists were active in the community and enthusiastic about promoting the art scene here. The Jersey Journal and Reporter partnered with Pro Arts to organize the Studio Tour every year, and The Jersey Journal even organized a major photography show with Pro Arts in which 33 photographers took photos all over the city for 24 hours. A selection of the photos were exhibited in City Hall and the paper published a two-page spread as sort of a catalog.

But it’s infuriating to see Healy take credit for Jersey City’s art activities when they were responsible for allowing the demolition of 111 First Street and the gutting of the Powerhouse Arts District. Why let the bastards get any more undeserved credit.

I know it’s cutting off our noses -- but that’s the only way it won’t stink.

tris mccall said...

actually, i disagree with charles on this one. the problem *is* the press. we never see anything but feature stories and lame boosterism. that's the kind of coverage you'd expect from a regional community newspaper (which is what the *jersey journal* is), and it sucks. because there's no intelligent criticism, it always feels like the stakes are really, really low. but hey -- you could be the person who changes that. all it would take is one dedicated critic.

Charles Kessler said...

Maybe you're right, Tris. Los Angeles was pretty immature intellectually until Artforum started publishing there in the sixties. It created a climate that stimulated artists and invigorated the California art world. Maybe blogs will do it for Jersey City.

Bettina Makley, aka Fairywebmother. said...

I believe in blogs. I'm currently in the process of packing to move to Jersey City. As an artist/musician, I have an interest in the arts scene there. When I googled "Jersey City Arts", I found this, very informative blog. Thank you. Keep up the great blogging.

Anonymous said...

I hate to break it to ya buddy but the lack of press in the arts (theater) has nothing (or little) to do with the press itself. If a company is truly dedicated to what they do, they will have a pr writer (or at least someone) write out press releases or even a simple e-mail to all the publications, post it on social media, blogs, etc. Newspaper writers are researchers, searching day after day to cover new and exciting things in the area but without at least an e-mail how will a writer ever know about an event or a theater? Why are college events ALWAYS covered by the media? because they inform the press of what will take place. It goes for other establishments, artists, etc./ Being involved in the community is an important part of running a business, especially an artistic business and those that are not involved in the community aren't known to the media or the public. ITS COMMON SENSE.