In 2013 Mayor Steven M. Fulop introduced the Jersey City Mural Arts Program – an organization devoted to fostering the arts and cultural awareness within the Jersey City community.
A 150,000 sq. feet active Buy Wise auto parts building served as the canvas for Aqualand a recently finished colossal presentation of art murals sponsored by the city’s Summer Works Arts Program. The Jersey City Mural Arts Program (JCMAP) provides students with a six-week apprenticeship experience where they get to work hand in hand with professional visual artists in the creation of public mural art. It’s an advantageous opportunity where young artists in training can cultivate essential skills and define their artistic aesthetic. Trips to museums, galleries and mural art tours are part of the program’s agenda. 18 talented local art students (Kyla McBride, Lauren McKenzie-Lindo, Chrisonia DeCosta, Klaude DeCastro, Ria Monga, Jennifer Martinez, Tenzin Lhamo, Daniela Coca, David Sami, Hiyasmine Gaskins, Isaiah Parmalec, StarDaysha Santos, Jesika Galvis, Dominque Cunningham, Maya Sanders, Kalen Thomas, Alexander McBride, Maryam Jamal) were enlisted for the 3rd annual fine arts summer program to work under the guidance of Duda Penteado and Catherine Hart, both residents of Jersey City.
Check Out These Behind The Scene Images Courtesy of Catherine!
“The program apprentices students with strong artistic interest and a visual arts portfolio. Students receive arts training and enrichment as well as a financial stipend. Investment in arts/culture are crucial to any great community.” Mayor Steven M. Fulop
The Mural Arts Program (MAP) was originally founded in 1984 in the “city of murals” Philadelphia as an initiative of the Anti-Graffiti Network. The program has continued to grow into a national vision in recent years where diverse groups of youth, artists and communities have been able to find common and positive grounds.
“Murals are one of the only art forms that are truly for a community and they have helped create a greater dialogue between the community and art in general, generating more understanding of the importance of art in community,” Inez Gradzki –Savage Habbit
I had the pleasure of chatting with Catherine Hart, Jersey City Summer Youth Public Arts Program’s assistant director. Hart has led and assisted mural projects in Kentucky, Texas, Tennessee, Kansas, North Carolina and New Jersey.
How did you get involve with this program?
I got involved in the program in the summer of 2014 after having done community based murals in Texas and North Carolina. I am from New Jersey and I really wanted to get back to my roots and see how I could contribute to the program closer to home. I contacted the director of the JCMAP and inquired about doing a mural. She noticed I had experience working with youth on mural projects such as this one: Bald Creek Elementary Mural Project and was in the process of creating the Summer Youth Mural Program. I was asked to lead one of the summer projects and it was a wonderful experience. So I have been a part of leading the summer youth program for three summers and it is the highlight of my year. One thing I really appreciate about the program that often goes under the radar is that many of the local taggers that have been arrested for illegal graffiti have been added to the program to do community service in place of going to jail. This gives them a chance to learn more about creating murals legally and even how to make a living in the arts. Further, it helps them connect to the community they were tagging and feel more a part of the community. This fosters a new sense of ownership and wanting to be a part of the health of the community rather than it’s destruction.
What contextual factors are essential for a successful community mural project?
Community Mural Projects are all about collaboration. Not only is it collaboration among the students but it is a direct collaboration with those that live in and experience the neighborhood. And truly a collaboration of every single person along the way that helps make a project of this scale come to life. So it is important to train the students in just how different it is to make something in the public sphere rather than in your private studio or classroom. It’s of the utmost importance to engage the community because the project has an entirely different sense of joy when the whole community feels a part of the project.
What technical design skills students learn during their mentorship?
We begin our workshops in the classroom working on drawings, stretching their imaginations, and learning collaboration with the other students. Many of these students already have amazing artistic talent going into the program, so we teach the difference between what translates on paper and what translates on a large scale wall. We teach how to scale up their drawings and how to think in terms of what will make an impact on that scale. And further, the program provides very high quality spray paint. So we teach the technique of using spray cans which is vastly different than painting with a brush. It was a joy to see the evolution of the students as they began to master the spray can. It is not as easy as it looks and we are very impressed with how they all pushed themselves.
How do these art programs empower the youth involved in the program?
One of the most amazing aspects of this program is that the students get paid for their hours. This is their official summer job! What that does is create empowering jobs for youth and reminds them that their skills are of value. It also teaches them that it is possible to make money in creative fields. It is very easy to get discouraged into thinking that you cannot make a living as an artist which is simply not true. One of the goals of the program is build in from a young age that your artistic talent is worth something and they are capable of making a living doing what they love. And when they connect with the overwhelming support of the community, it enhances that even further. As far as I know, it’s the only program of its kind in the country.
How long did this project take to complete?
How are the sites for the murals selected?
The director of JCMAP is very involved with the community and constantly connecting with walls the community wish to see painted. So the conversation develops throughout the year as we brainstorm ideas for the project. We are already getting excited about next year’s possibilities!
From where do you draw inspiration when planning out the design concept for a mural?
The idea always seems to organically develop. There is always input from many different aspects of the Jersey City community so you never know what will grow out of those conversations. And many times, the imaginations of our students take the original seed of inspiration and run with it as we begin drawing.
Is it a collective brainstorming session among the students and instructors?
Absolutely. Students begin working on individual drawings and then we put them in groups where they have to make their drawings flow together. And that’s when the collective collaboration begins to unfold. After the groups make their drawings flow together, all the groups need to work on making their group drawings work together as a whole. And changes are always taking place once we get on the wall because it’s always different when translating to that scale. So we are also teaching on how to roll with changes and compromises when accommodating so many different ideas.
Can you tell us more about the ‘Aqualand’ theme?
We had heard a while back through the director of JCMAP there had been an idea to create the building (which was often described by the locals as an eye sore) to look like an Aquarium. The original project never got off the ground but the idea kept resonating with us. We took the students to the Museum of Natural History in NYC with their sketchbooks before our drawings sessions and we were all taken by the sea life. The idea of hidden worlds coming to life on the street seemed like a ripe place for so many ideas, concepts, and themes to come together. But ultimately it was the collective drawings and the brainstorming of all the students that brought to life the AQUALAND you see today.
How do these murals represent and resonates with the local community?
Jersey City is the second most diverse city in the United States and there are layers upon layers of worlds operating within this city. The city is currently experiencing a big shift and it’s becoming more and more popular to live here. This is of course creating the fear that prices will continue to skyrocket and the poorer communities will be displaced. The building that hosts Aqualand takes up an entire block where two different sides of the economic scale meet. I felt it was very important to not shy away from this conversation and make sure we were actively discussing the direction JC is growing and how murals can have both a positive and negative impact on these changes. Our continual discussion was how we as a community handle this type of work responsibly? I think the most important part was that a mural of this scale and in this particular location comes from local artists. And what better than young artists who, more than anyone else need to embrace that the city is theirs to create. They have the power to influence the direction that their city grows. Their voice and perspective matters. And this concept was nothing but celebrated by the community surrounding the building.
Who else was involved in the creation of the ‘Aqualand’?
Duda Penteado is the director of the program and I was the assistant director. Brooke Hansson is the magic behind the JCMAP. Meenakshi Dash helped us with all our supplies. Janasha King was our assistant on site. Alivin Petitt and the entire staff at the Mary Bethune Center hosted us before we moved to the wall. Abdul Gonsalves, and the entire staff at the Department of Public works. The staff at Buy Wise Auto Parts for hosting us, all our paint, and all our equipment. And we also have an amazing crew of young film makers making a documentary that I can keep you updated on.
How many murals till this day have been created through the sponsorship of JCMAP?
78, Aqualand being the largest. 90% are local with about 10% national and international artists.
What exciting plans are in motion for JCMAP in the future?
This program is proving to be such a success and cherished by the Jersey City Community that we can’t wait to plan for next year. We are planning on having multiple meetings to discuss how to bring the program to the next level from all that we have learned this year, and are even in discussion of how to make this a model program that can be implemented in other cities
Jersey City Mural Arts Program Collaborators include Jersey City’s Creative Enabler, Luca Cusolito; Dylan Evans; Savage Habit; Jersey City Art School; Hudson County Art Supply, and John Fathom, Alan Ket.
Aqualand is Located on 32 Bishop Street, Jersey City, NJ
Photos By: JBS