Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Declaring victory

A wise man once said, "Nothing succeeds like the appearance of success," to which we might add, "Quit while you appear to be ahead."

ARTWORKS appears to be saved. HHG appears to be deflected towards other plans and projects. We will learn a little more - maybe - between now and July when HHG's option to pitch a final plan expires. One feels confident enough in the outcome to cease blogging regularly.

Tricia's press of spring projects and my vacation plans spell an end to regular posting here. If trouble returns, we'll be back. (Signs of trouble can be reported to keepartreal at yahoo dot com). Meanwhile, congratulations to a community of artists and teachers who came together to save something irreplaceable.

We urge the city to make permanent arrangements preserving ARTWORKS.

Monday, May 22, 2006

How to "rest easy" with no information

Mayor Doug Palmer and Councilman John Ungrady have made statements on the record that the ARTWORKS crisis is over. We have no clear information on this and so a parsing we will go.

Looking back at the Leewood Village development proposal, we recall that it was allowed to fade away, after civic opposition, without an official death certificate being issued from City Hall. This sets a pattern for understanding HHG's plans for ARTWORKS. We should not expect any more information than we currently have - unless the local papers pursue this.

Through Ungrady we learned that the city believed the ARTWORKS property to be encumbered such that ARTWORKS could not be evicted in favor of HHG. The councilman told an audience that HHG's deal was dead.

We then heard from Mayor Palmer, in another offhand remark, that "I think Artworks can rest easy right now." This comment followed one that he was working with the developer.

It seems that a certain reading of the ARTWORKS sale provisions had been agreed on between the council and the mayor and that the reading was adverse to HHG's options. It would further seem that the mayor consoled HHG in their loss. That leaves us with the cryptic comment at the end of the phrase, "I think Artworks can rest easy right now."

Why right now? There are a few possibilities:

(1) The city attorneys are examining the strength of the original sale stipulations in case of court challenge. They may decide the stipulations pose no threat to the city's sale of the building.

(2) The mayor wants a developer other than HHG to have this property.

(3) The administration is preparing a take-it-or-leave-it alternate site offer for ARTWORKS.

(4) The phrase "right now" means "I am keeping my options open but have no plans."

(5) The phrase "right now" means nothing and is just verbal clutter.

I think we have a Leewood situation - a deal is dead, it will probably not be revived. I think HHG's interaction with the mayor had this same lack of finality - a door being left open, a possibility alive, some ambiguous talk.

The people who can end the suspense are the development partners. They can renounce the project, declare it a mistake, tell us they've moved on. It would be fine gesture, mending fences with an outraged arts community while letting the city off the hook.

Why not, gentlemen?

Frisco copies Savannah

San Francisco is going down the path pioneered by SCAD in Savannah.
San Francisco State University is in negotiations to build a digital arts campus in the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard, a project Mayor Gavin Newsom is hoping will become the heart of a sprawling film and new media business cluster in one of the city's poorest neighborhoods.

Under the scenario being discussed, the city would give the building to SFSU, which would then convert it into a state-of-the-art center for new media and digital cinema.
More details here.

White elephants coming to Texas

San Antonio hired a consultant to tell it how to get an arts district together.

This genius suggests they build one from scratch: performing arts center, recital hall, theatre, and more. Consultants are amazing.

Friday, May 19, 2006

It was all a mistake?

Some thoughts on Doug Palmer's "rest easy" next week. Enjoy your weekend...

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Palmer to artists: REST EASY

At a meeting discussing development in Trenton yesterday, Mayor Doug Palmer (right) spoke to the ARTWORKS eviction crisis:
Asked about the fate of Artworks, Palmer said the city is working with the developer and "I think Artworks can rest easy right now."
The comment came as a response to a question about the proposed HHG redevelopment of the art school site. No details were available.

Adding music to the arts district mix

Neat story out of Schenectady, where arts district redevelopers are helping fund a music studio startup in a downtown store space:
The new studio will feature a large "live room," able to accommodate ensembles of any size, a separate control room, a vocal booth and a studio with state-of-the-art recording gear. Instruments, including drum kits, keyboards, guitars and amplifiers, will be available for performances by local musicians.

"A recording studio is an excellent fit with the 440 Arts Center, Jay Studios, Proctor's, our new downtown cinema and live performances at many downtown clubs," said Gary Hughes, chair of the County Legislature's Committee on Economic Development and Planning and member of the Schenectady County Community Business Center's board of directors.
When I lived on Second Street, rehearsal space was at a premium - some local bands used to rent cheap warehouse (storage) space at Hopewell Valley Industrial Park to practice.

Trenton take note.

(Top right, Schenectady downtown via the Preservation League of New York State)

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Cincy knows work and teaching space = arts district backbone

Interesting how Cincinnati's rundown urban suburbs are currently trying to develop arts district around the nucleus of teaching or studio space. (HHG please note: that's 180 degrees away from destroying such assets.)
Covington, KY: "The city and an architectural firm have won a $450,195 state grant for the Covington Artisans' Enterprise Center, which is to have up to 20 artist studios at 25 W. Seventh St."

Another report on the same topic here:
Unlike many places where artists rent, Fossett said Covington is offering incentives for artists and others to buy and rehab housing. Those include a $6,000 loan forgiven over a five-year period for the purchase and rehab of residential or mixed use, owner-occupied structures that comply with city codes."Paducah, Ky., had a crime-ridden, drug-infested neighborhood that artists came in and completely renovated," Fossett said.
Carmel, OH: The city's Redevelopment Commission has bought a building and is assembling more land to create a small district. Current plans in the first building call for ground floor galleries, a floor of studios and a small number of live-work spaces. The top floor will be be a magazine's offices.

Another report on the Carmel projects says former Lounge Lizards pianist Evan Lurie (shown top right) is partners in the redevelopment and will open a fine arts gallery in Carmel.
Lurie, who operates art galleries in California and Florida, said the Carmel gallery is planned to feature both established and emerging contemporary artists, specializing in European and Latin American works, such as Jorge Santos and Robert Peluce.
Save some wallspace for local artists, Evan.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Getting more out of ARTWORKS

The comments section on the "Souvenir" posts points to my failure to explain something.

The New Variety programs of the late 1980s were not organized or blessed by ARTWORKS - we, the community, enjoyed the hospitality of ARTWORKS for an evening. These were not "successful programs" bureacratically developed for someone's edification. They were expressions of a "successful community" in a local space supplied by the city administered by ARTWORKS' board.

The same is true for shows like the more recent "We Are Toys" production that Tricia mentioned.

Much ARTWORKS criticism fails to see that this facility is a community resource. Need a class? Teach a class! Need music? Put on music! Need a dinner event venue? You get the idea.

I have had to laugh at some of the interaction between the city and the space. Very formal, very unreal: "Please put on more art programs for city children." Clue: These will come from groups organizing themselves using the ARTWORKS space, not from the board of directors. Groups will approach the board - the board may or may not approve - but this is basically people power.

The consumer society tries on people power: not a pretty sight. The plaint becomes, "Board of directors, what have you done for me lately?" "Give me more programs."

Do for yourself. That's the beauty of this special site.

(Top right, reprised photo of ARTWORKS via an Utrecht arts supply catalog)

Monday, May 15, 2006

City arts commissions

I am intrigued by cities with arts commissions. Whatever their advantages or drawbacks, the fiasco of developers like HHG taking over a functioning art school to build housing would probably not have happened in a city with an arts commission.

Here is Aurora's commission mission statment:
The Public Art Commission oversees the public art program, including budgeting for the purchases, maintenance and insurance of public art and exhibitions owned or held by the city. The Public Art Commission also establishes guidelines for the selection of artists, artworks and sites for public art and establishes and maintains a program for providing art educational opportunities for all residents of the City of Aurora.

Sunday, May 14, 2006


Neighborhood people organizing a cabaret in the gallery at ARTWORKS: the Times was all over it.

Reviewer Davd M. Brown later moved out of Trenton but he still writes.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Of trolley barns and kings

Fascinating to see in Richard Layman's blog what Washington DC did with its own "Trolley Barn" structure (shown right). It seems the District replaced that with these banal apartments (shown below, right).

Richard takes issue with a UVA professor who says: "Tying in aesthetics with urban planning is a recipe for disaster." I think it's a question of "whose aesthetics." Think of that in the years ahead as you watch Princeton whipsawed on Renzo Piano's urban design roller-coaster.

Richard cites Joe Riley, the only mayor in America with an art history PhD - and the man who delivered the eulogy at Mayor Art Holland's funeral. Let me suggest that Riley's approach - the preservation of historic structures - is actually a tactic to circumvent fights over"whose aesthetics." Not that that's a bad thing.

Trenton's failed Leewood adventure would have destroyed historic neighborhoods in order to build vaguely similar new brick homes. It generated a storm of opposition and the now famous comment of one councilman that "new bricks are better than old bricks." HHG now proposes to rebuild the inside (not the outside) of ARTWORKS, and the sting is less painful even though the chracter inside is what makes the building unique.

Have a look, have a ponder.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

The "clash of lifestyles"

Las Vegas is building high-rise condos in its arts district triggering "The clash of lifestyles" - as one might expect where a "high-rise building would replace four duplexes occupied by artists." You have to love this:

[Developer] Solomon is planning to build Villa Moderne, a four-story building that will have ground-floor galleries and living/work spaces for artists on the other three floors. But, he said, "I'm not going to give them away."
Villa Moderne. I suppose that's better than "Fox Croft Meadows at The Commons."

Solomon won't test applicants to ensure buyers are artists. Expect HHG style virtual artists. And, of course, what the city really wants is shoppers.

We need a term for highly compensated consumers who inhabit the burgeoning supply of nonproductive art space. If not "artists" maybe "artsies?"

In Vegas, as in Trenton, artists are being evicted to make space for artsies.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Developer humor (continued)

This is an advertisement I snapped on the sidewalks of Reston yesterday. It is set up like a canvas on an easel. A tidy, ponytailed artist - not a daub on him - is celebrating his new loft by painting a demurely covered model.

This development has a few cheap spaces available in the low $500k range, but most of the high rise units will run to $1 million, with penthouses selling at over $2 million. There are going to be several buildings in this project and they look to be about 40 stories each.

The complex is set amidst a dense network of defense contractor office parks: SAIC, Northrup Grumman, and BAE are nearby, just to name a few. If you design missile guidance systems, you can walk to work. The fascinating thing about this is that the artist is such a universally attractive tenant that the developer is selling a preposterous artsy ambience to beltway bandits. HHG likewise has spurious references to artists and live/work space in their other projects - apart from the proposed ARTWORKS redevelopment.

In Reston, our developer's-concept-of-an-artist is painting away his $500k mortgage one nude at a time. Given the thousands of bare walls that will need covering in "Midtown," he just might be able to pay for his room and board.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Palmer wins without runoff

The people have spoken. There will be no runoff:
Palmer got 6,345 votes, or 52.59 percent. Trailing were Freeholder Tony Mack, with 2,690 votes; Metropolitan Trenton African American Chamber of Commerce President John Harmon, 1,807; businessman Frank Weeden, 1,179; and retiree African Republican Party founder Wiley Fuller Jr., 40.

Council results have not been reported at this hour.

The election being over, everyone will want the administration to get back to their own pet issue. You know ours.

Election day thoughts

Some "where we are" reflections for election day, assembled from my rag bag of clues and incomplete info. Conclusion first: I don't think the election affects the ARTWORKS redevelopment.

(1) HHG won conditional redevelopment rights over ARTWORKS. They won the right to submit a redevelopment plan to the City Council for approval by July.

(2) The Council is unlikely to look at it until new members are seated. Current feeling is already neutral to negative. As TAWA noted "several Council members have already expressed concern about this project." So I have heard elsewhere as well.

(3) Councilman John Ungrady has said publicly that the deal is dead because of stipulations on the City's title. Whether this line of thinking originated with the mayor's staff or not, whether it can stand a legal test or not, I tend to think that this is "the word" circulating among Council members. It represents a legalistic rationale for tabling redevelopment.

(4) There is no blood in the water to attract bigger, hungrier developers. Ungrady's rationale for tabling the ARTWORKS deal applies to all comers (except possibly another arts organization).

(5) The question is now is how HHG wraps up this adventure: true to themselves, as gentlemen, publicly declining to proceed further in this matter; or as another desperate small business, hoping to score a sale up to the very last "no."

The Hatch and Henderson I knew were gentlemen.

Monday, May 08, 2006

The business of "growth machines"

Richard Layman noticed the common ground between our comments on HHG's election stakes this week and his own observations on DC's "Growth Machine" dynamic.

The "Growth Machine" explanation of city development is that of competition and cooperation among landed elites. Obviously, we have to expand that view as landowners alone are not the only players who can profit immensely from successful city (re)development. The outcome is the same, however: "Conditions of community life are largely a consequence of the social, economic, and political forces embodied in this growth machine."

In DC, Richard notes, the City Paper has run a piece on mall developer Herb Miller and his techniques, especially for flipping Marion Barry's (picture, top right) opposition to the District's baseball stadium - Miller is developing near the stadium. The paper said:
In March, Miller hosted a splendid soiree at his sprawling Georgetown mansion for Barry’s 70th birthday. The event doubled as a benefit for the Marion S. Barry Scholarship and Education Fund.
Talking about greasing the wheels. As early as 1982,
... other developers whined that Miller’s firm was not only a shrewd and daring outfit but also a company that worked a well-oiled political machine to win key development rights
The point at which HHG - or other local developers - become this slick is the point at which there can be no return to community control of the city environment. As Richard notes about Washington:

And if you don't understand the DC Growth Machine, prepare to be schooled in the coming election. The Growth Machine wants every seat on Council, every one... because nine seats out of thirteen aren't enough!

If only Trenton had a newspaper as frank as the City Paper.

HHG's election stakes

It takes but a brief tour of HHG's website to understand how much the would-be redevelopers of ARTWORKS have riding on this election.

A glance tells us: "HHG, Roebling Redevelopment, and Crossroad Builders - are working together to restore or build 39 residences on the first two and a half blocks of Centre Street, the gateway to the Lamberton Historic District." There may be more in the works, of course. And that is simply HHG.

John Hatch, the first H, works for Clarke Caton Hintz architects out of the old West Trenton rail station. This small firm has been winning municipal contracts overwhelmingly: it's that part of the business that dominates their website. In Trenton, jobs have included the ballpark and the Roebling complex. A good friend to the Palmer Administration is worth money in the bank to this firm.

John Hatch is a community activist - good for him. But do his civic collaborators understand that he represents Mayor Palmer as much as himself in their councils?

Am I being unfair? I don't think so becasue in the upcoming election, HHG has much to lose and John Hatch most of all.

What's happening at ARTWORKS

TAWA had a good rundown on the season schedule at ARTWORKS last month. Don't think the school has been mothballed by the threat of redevelopment...

Framingham and Trenton

Sharon, over at Planning Liveable Communities, writes about a Trenton-like experience in Framingham on Wednesday night.

(1) Visited artist studios at an open house. (2) Listened to some Latin/Israeli jazz in another part of town. (3) Wishes Framingham were more walkable.

Does ARTWORKS still have open house? I attended one years ago and we had organized a show for that night in the gallery. Not Latin/Israeli jazz, but something equally interesting.

The artistically engaged folks in other towns know what to do with ARTWORKS type facilities - and condo creation it ain't.

Friday, May 05, 2006

From the boxtank blog

Is the proposed three-phase redevelopment in and around ARTWORKS intended to be "An Affluent Lifestyle Center"?

Thursday, May 04, 2006

High-end condos: the new answer to everything

Miami has not yet finished its performing arts center and the condo developers are in a frenzy throwing up pricey residences throughout the marginal neighborhood:
"No fewer than 22 major residential and commercial projects are under construction, approved or proposed in the neighborhood surrounding the center's twin halls."
Insanity. The political donations must be gushing like geysers in that town.

The Miami Herald reports that the best kind of outcome to this madness might be the emergence of an artsy area with smart shops and restaurants scattered among the condos.

Remember the old saw about good being the enemy of best? Artsy is the enemy of artist always, whether on Mill Hill or in Miami.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Jane Jacobs

The Wall Street Journal has been remembering Jane Jacobs:
Jacobs believed the most organic and healthy communities are diverse, messy and arise out of spontaneous order, not from a scheme that tries to dictate how people should live and how neighborhoods should look.
This has a lot to do with Trenton, with ARTWORKS and with the kind of New Urbanism that proposes you evict artists to build an artificial art-themed district.
"The main responsibility of city planning and design should be to develop--insofar as public policy and action can do so--cities that are congenial places for [a] great range of unofficial plans, ideas and opportunities to flourish," Jacobs wrote.
Putting your heel on the necks of Trenton's artists is not a recipe for congenial experiments. We don't need Jacobs to tell us that, but it's good to remind development-happy officials of a few simple truths.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

The Ungrady conundrum

The news still has me scratching my head.

Is South Ward Councilman John Ungrady dealing in supposition or facts? Because the newpapers did not bother to cover a meeting of Trenton Civic Associations we rely on the memory of an attendee:

"The ARTWORKS question came up, and incumbent John Ungrady stated that the deal is off, the city has determined that they don't officially have complete title to the building, or something to that effect."

Multiple hat tips to Marge for scooping the Trentonian, Times, and Downtowner.

But does Ungrady mean what he says? The core pretense of HHG's Trolley Barn proposal was that it was phase one in a multiphase development; of course, later phases covered land the city did not own. Is Ungrady mixing up phases? Or is he referring to the stipulation under which the ARTWORKS building was originally swapped for the parking space around it, saying that it constitutes a legal encumbrance?

Send your guesses to keepartreal at yahoo dot com.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Yet another arts imbroglio in Trenton

In Trenton but not of Trenton: "State Museum fires executive". The governor wanted to name a new executive director at the State Museum. The board staged a dawn attack Saturday morning but the director in question was out of town at a convention. Her trenches were stormed anyway. She may sue.

Politics is more difficult than physics - Albert Einstein

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Ungrady: City deal with HHG is dead

South Ward Councilman John Ungrady, an ally of Mayor Palmer, announced at a public meeting Thursday that the City's deal with HHG to redevelop ARTWORKS is dead, Marge Miccio reports [emphasis added]:

Last night my husband, Bob Wagner went to the Trenton Council of Civic Associations' candidates night for the South Ward city council position. The ARTWORKS question came up, and incumbent John Ungrady stated that the deal is off, the city has determined that they don't officially have complete title to the building, or something to that effect. Candidate Jim Coston pointed out that if the research had been done by city hall before the deal was announced, a lot of time, effort, and unnecessary contention could have been avoided. And that a responsible city council would think about proposals before approving them. When will the city make an official announcement about this? After the election, perhaps?

Marge sent this to us Friday night. If Ungrady is right and the city lacks unencumbered title, this is extremely good news.

(Top right: Marge and Bob in 2002 via Trenton Downtowner)

Festival screenings

The Trenton Film Festival is back with more movies than ever. None are being shown in ARTWORKS' gallery however. That would have been a nice gesture of support, wouldn't it?

When it comes to supporting ARTWORKS throughout this crisis a lot of arts organizations have been statesmanlike, scrupulously neutral, and fastidiously nonpartisan.

Arts survey underway

Big article on the New Jersey Visual and Performing Arts Education Survey in the New York Times:
In the detailed survey, arts instructors and administrators are being asked such things as the number of students enrolled in classes like sculpture, photography, ballet or choir; what portion of the school's overall budget is allocated to the arts; the number of classrooms dedicated to the arts; incentives for teachers to pursue professional development; if the school has an artist-in-residence program, and how often students attend performances or exhibitions outside of school.
The survey will help arts donors decide where to spend their money.

Needless to say, we have some ideas.

(Thanks to Richard Layman for this link.)

Thursday, April 27, 2006

What would Ernie say?

Would Trenton's comic genius have had an opinion on the ARTWORKS debacle? Maybe.
There's a lot to be said in favor of converting art schools into housing. A recent study shows most people grew up in homes that were once art schools and attend schools that were once garages. They often attend church in what used to be stores and tend to dine in restaurants that were once fire stations. If they need an art school per se, well, there's always the county jail or the city dump. By the way, we call this the new urbanism. The old urbanism was much too constraining.
(If my pastiche falls flat, taste some Kovacs reality here.)

Anyone Else See This?

Responding to Tom Kelly's reflections: one of the most engaging, fascinating concerts I've ever seen was the "We Are Toys" concert, sponsored by Trenton Avant Garde and held at ARTWORKS. It featured the not-quite-infamous Giants of Jazz -- as a quintet that night, I believe -- opening for Spin-17. It was a remarkable, musical, funny, and totally satisfying evening for the 40 or so of us that showed up.

P'town: don't let the architects overwhelm us

Princeton Councilwoman Wendy Benchley attended a hearing about the university's plans last night and warned that
Princeton University's expansion should not be allowed to overwhelm the community
A school awash in money going on a building spree - never a pretty sight.

Does Benchley have any concept of the meaning of the words "Renzo Piano?" Hopefully yes.

If we may quote ourselves, "Good luck, Princeton, and stand by for an expensive, gratuitous spectacle... "

"Remind people"

Thomas Kelly comments,
I remember seeing The Subdudes at Artworks and they were terrific. Maybe posting the many artists who exhibited or played there will remind people of the long history of the facility in a relatively short time.
Indeed. Send your memories to keepartreal at yahoo dot com.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Funeral for Issac Witkin

Pemberton resident Isaac Witkin died on Monday and will be remembered at the Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton at 2:00 pm on Sunday. The former student of Henry Moore features in a 1976 film and a book by Karen Wilkin. His stuff is at the Tate, too.

The New York Times had a glowing review of his work just this year: "Witkin may not be the best known of contemporary sculptors, but he is certainly one of the best."

His website is still up.

Displaced artist trading cards

Thanks to an article in Billboard, Trenton's Trustkill record label is getting a lot of attention for issuing musician trading cards.

Trustkill founder Josh Grabelle says he has been surprised at the number of inquires about the cards the label has received ..."Within about a week of the Bleeding Through album coming out, we started receiving e-mails from kids offering $200 for a set," he says. "That‘s insane. If someone collects them all, I‘m sure it‘ll be on eBay."

Maybe we could issue a series of ARTWORKS trading cards featuring the work of displaced artists, teachers, and exhibitees past and present. It would be a huge set.

(Shown above: Mel Leipzig's "Girl in Yellow" trading card. Yours for $12,000.)

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Trenton playwright has message for HHG

What are the chances, what are the odds?

Michael Goldstein - the G in HHG (that very same HHG that seeks to evict an art school and redevelop its premises) is married to a principal in the Passage Theatre Company. That company is putting on a performance of Trenton playwright William Mastrosimone's "A Stone Carver," a play inspired by his family's eviction from Trenton premises under eminent domain. Mastrosimone (pictured right) told U.S. Route 1:
"The American Dream is that if you work hard, you can make a great life for yourself. What you have is yours. But it's not true. With eminent domain they can take anything."
These comments strike at the heart of HHG's plans for ARTWORKS:
Before it was about `We want to build a hospital; we want to do something for the public good.' Now they still call it the public good, but now they want to build condos. They want to increase the tax base. They're in cahoots with developers."
One could go even further: Trenton is considering whether to take a public art school and convert it to private property - to the enrichment of developers and under the banner of increasing the tax base. The article concludes:
For now, he would like to invite people who've lost their homes to eminent domain to come to see "A Stone Carver." "We'll see what happens. Maybe it will call some attention to the practice. This may develop into something."
Can the artists facing removal from Mill Hill come to the show? And will Michael Goldstein be there to greet them?

(Hat tip to Tricia for pointing me to this story.)

Gordian knots

The Trolley Barn development proposal, which would convert ARTWORKS into condos, has a remarkable aspect to it. It alludes to a three-part development plan.

For the first part, affecting ARTWORKS, the city controls the underlying property. As to the other two parts, neither the city nor the developers own the property concerned.

A friend pointed out to me that this HHG plan for the creation of an arts district in Mill Hill will require the city's use of eminent domain. The exercise of eminent domain is an implicit assumption. The plan makes no sense otherwise.

If eminent domain is finally unleashed in Trenton at the behest of condo developers, the damaging legacy of this HHG adventure will far surpass the destruction of a single art school.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Saturday morning Drawing Basics Class

Sunday, April 23, 2006

McKithen Weighs in for ARTWORKS

According to an April 12 article by Joe Dee in the Trenton Times, at least one Trenton political candidate has weighed in on the ARTWORKS situation. At the end of an hour debating topics ranging from reducing crime and property taxes to redevelopment initiatives and use of eminent domain by the city, incumbent North Ward city councilman [the Mill Hill area and ARTWORKS are in the city’s North Ward] Milford Bethea and his opponent, Dennis McKithen (who lost to Bethea in the 2002 election by a tiny margin) were asked about ARTWORKS.

Even before a question was asked directly related to the ARTWORKS situation, McKithen (replying to issues around building new parking garages in the area) said, "I am not a proponent of changing what Artworks does." (His staff contacted us and reported that he came out “very strongly” in favor of ARTWORKS staying as an art center. Bethea, who introduced the original resolution to give HHG six months to come up with a condo plan for the building, played it a little closer to the chest, reportedly saying only that "…the city did not give anything away. It gave a developer six months to develop a plan and present it to the city council."

Keep the magic of Artworks

This letter to the editor appeared in The Trenton Times this Friday, April 21, 2006. Christina is a gifted 11-year-old who has been taking classes at ARTWORKS since MCCC began programming in 2004. She and her mother attended the Family Advocacy Day at ARTWORKS 2 weeks ago, and proudly wore their "Save ARTWORKS" T-shirts at Trenton's Earth Day event yesterday. NOTE: Lisa Kasabach informs us that this Earth Day event was actually organized by CitySmiles. Mayor Palmer attended.

To the Editor:

I have been attending the art classes at Artworks for more than two years. Artworks is very important to Trenton and should stay the way it is. There are plenty of condos in Trenton, and condos would destroy the unique look and magical feel of the place. Also, Trenton needs to have an art center.

the writer is 11 years old

College of New Jersey gets it, too!

In spite of all the adversity, it seems that ARTWORKS continues to do what it set out to do: offer great art opportunities for Trenton and the greater Trenton community. The latest group to discover and embrace this invaluable city resource is the College of New Jersey's fine arts students. They're busy setting up the bulk of their multi-media B.F.A. thesis exhibition, Spaces, in the ARTWORKS Gallery this week. The 2-venue (part of the show will also be in TCNJ's Holman Hall gallery) exhibition opens this Friday, April 28, with a reception starting at 5:30 pm -- and a shuttle service bringing guests back and forth between the two galleries!

Friday, April 21, 2006

Advice from the Downtowner: prepare to move

The Trenton Downtowner's Joe Emanski writes:
[ARTWORKS] Board chair Dru Damico says that 50 or 60 people have volunteered to help save Artworks. I’d recommend at least 10 of those volunteers concentrate on what they will do if the city pushes them out. Getting caught unprepared is why Artworks is in the situation it’s in now. It would be a shame if it happened again.
This misses the point of the crisis. When we consider ARTWORKS' board in this matter and its interaction with the mayor, we can mislead ourselves into thinking of ARTWORKS as a single (board-controlled) entity, rather than an ever-emerging coalition of disparate art teachers, program providers, and users of that space.

Of course the city wants keep things simple - it wants to talk to a board (any board) and pretend that such a board represents Trenton artists, the very people angered and hurt by this outrage. On the contrary, it is an open question as to whether this board can talk on behalf of the current programs offered through ARTWORKS. They are advocates for ARTWORKS, they have risen to the challenge this crisis poses but they are one small part of the picture.

Move ARTWORKS and you lose it. Move it and there will still be a board to talk to, but there will be no ARTWORKS. There may be volunteers, but the program providers are something elese again. There is no second chance in the cards. You destroy the art school or you save it where it is.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

A statement from Tom Malloy

Trenton painter Tom Malloy has a letter published in today's Times:

Artworks did not come into being overnight. It grew slowly from a need to recognize Trenton's contributions to history and art.

As a Trenton resident for most of my 93 years and an artist who supported and contributed to the early efforts to establish the Artworks arts center, I believe that its loss would be a mistake.

I encourage city administrators to talk to the people who know how long it takes to create such a center and to do everything possible to save it.

(Shown at right, "Prospect Street" by Tom Malloy.)


Not sure the proper way to present this news: it's gotten quite stale while I pondered the matter.

My co-blogger, Tricia Fagan, who managed ARTWORKS programs for MCCC, was relieved of those duties. She continues to manage the college's gallery. The proposed redevelopment of ARTWORKS has therefore had at least one evil consequence, even if no more comes of it.

(Posted without Tricia's foreknowledge or approval - DR)

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

A Pompidoozy coming to Ptown

Princeton University, with some municipal support apparently, has decided to build out the area around McCarter Theatre as an arts neighborhood:
An expanded arts hub in that area could include new anchor venues for performance, exhibit and studio spaces, including perhaps a major new signature building for the arts, the officials have said.
They think they need this, don't know why exactly, are willing to spend a hundred million or two, and are not sure what the result will include. What does one call that kind of decisionmaking?

Princeton has hired the designer of Paris's Pompidou Center (top right), the firm of Renzo Piano, to design this "district" and create some sort of anchor building. Piano's work can be seen here. It is all in the vein of Pompidou Center. Good luck, Princeton, and stand by for an expensive, gratuitous spectacle that may not fit in with your neighborhood.

Maybe there's something in this for us, however.

Memo to the Piano crew: In Trenton, there is a very fine architect, a Princeton graduate (no less) by the name of John Hatch who could undoubtedly be of tremendous service on this neighborhood arts redevelopment project. Could you please make a place for him?

He might find the scale and budget so much more rewarding that trying to redevelop viable, functioning artist occupied spaces in Trenton ...

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Four Views and no views

The Contemporary Club is mounting its annual Trenton tour, "Four Views of Trenton" on the 29th and in one of the four tour parts,
"Trenton Artists Artisans & Art" will be led by Betty Holland-George, widow of Arthur Holland, longtime mayor of Trenton. Public art is the focus of the tour, which will include sculptures, monuments, fountains and hidden treasures in parks and on streets.
Let's hope some words about her husband's legacy - ARTWORKS - are on the agenda.

(Incidentally, John Hatch (of HHG) is guiding the mansions part of this tour.)

Antheil homage in D.C.

The National Gallery's current Dada exhibition includes a huge treat for Trentonians: it has deployed the robotic instrument array that Second Streeter George Antheil envisioned as playing the movie soundtrack behind Leger's experimental silent classic:
Excerpts from the rarely performed music for the well-known Dada film, Le Ballet mécanique (1924) will be premiered in a fully mechanized format at the National Gallery of Art, March 12 through May 9 ... An orchestra of automated musical instruments, including 16 baby grand player pianos ... will be installed on the East Building mezzanine, programmed to play a portion of the original 27-minute score for the film Le Ballet mécanique. The installation will be activated for a ten-minute performance each weekday at 1:00 and 4:00 pm and Saturdays and Sundays at 1:00 pm.
Co-blogger Terrie saw it yesterday and was overwhelmed.
... a fully mechanized performance is now possible with the help of robotically controlled instruments, designed and installed by Paul D. Lehrman of Tufts University and Eric Singer of the League of Electronic Musical Urban Robots (LEMUR).
Some days, far away from the city and its problems, it feels great to be a Trentonian.

How it's done in Paducah

Richard Layman noticed that the York program to subsidize living space in an artists' district looks like a copy of a Paducah, KY, program: the Artist Relocation Program.

It's different from HHG's artist relocation program in Trenton in that the artists are not compelled to move out but are actually invited in.
Paducah’s Artist Relocation Program was started in August of 2000 and is now a national model for using the arts for economic development. The Artist Relocation Program has been awarded the Governors Award in the Arts, The Kentucky Chapter of the American Planning Association Distinguished Planning Award, [etc., etc. etc.].
Some good bragging rights there.
To date we have relocated forty-five artists who have taken us up on our financial and cultural incentives. These artists have relocated from Illinois, San Francisco, San Diego, Minneapolis, Memphis, Nashville, Okalahoma, Maryland, Washington, North Carolina, Michigan, Kansas, Missouri, New Hampshire, New York, Texas, Arizona, Wisconsin, Hawaii, Washington D.C., and Kentucky.
Forty-five artists represents a few city blocks. Get a look at these incentives:
  • 100% financing for purchase and rehab of an existing structure or building of a new structure. Basic loan package is 7% - 30yr. fixed rate up 300% of appraised value.
  • Free lots for new construction as available.
  • City will pay up to $2500 for architectural services or other professional fees.
Makes you wonder about your own city.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Another artist/city dispute

Trenton artist Al Wilking has gotten in trouble with the police.

About 15 years ago, Al was a painter by night and a realtor by day. He owned the Trent Towne agency and did me the favor of helping with a scheme to supplement ARTWORKS' workspaces. My idea was to sublease on month-to-month basis empty buildings in and around Mill Hill. It was an excellent adventure, more on which later, perhaps.

The realty gig led to landlording and as the owner of a Centre Street house, Al recently put a painted front door on the place. The city doesn't like it.
Police want an artist who owns a Centre Street building to remove the full-sized picture of a crowned monarch he painted on his front door because of a risk of gang activity. But the artist, Albert Wilking, says the painting is a work of art designed to "honor the community" and he has no plans to change or remove it. "If the community came out and was outraged, I might do something different, but I don't think that will happen."
Another weird, fascinating arts imbroglio from New Jersey's capital of arts imbroglios. Details here.

(Al's painting "Dear God" shown above right.)

York gets it

York, PA, with high taxes and low incomes, is in decline.

The city, onetime home to Jeff Koons, has a plan, however, and the plan is not at all about driving out artists:
To improve the city's housing stock and economy, the city will launch an artist relocation program and arts district. This will provide low-interest, 100 percent financing over 30 years, plus other incentives, to attract artists to invest in city homes.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Give me that yardstick!

The group "Develop - don't destroy Brooklyn" has a new press release out, the headline of which says:

"Atlantic Yards" Developer Receives Subsidy While Project Remains a Financial, Planning and Environmental Mystery

A certain Mr. Ratner went to his state capital and picked up a $100 million break to redevelop someone's neighborhood without so much as a friendly wave to the residents.
Develop Don't Destroy spokesman Daniel Goldstein said, "It appears that Albany has put a mystery development proposal and potential white elephant in the state budget. This giveaway has been made without any knowledge of the proposed development’s: cost-benefit analysis, scale, density, design, environmental impact, cost of mitigation, financial viability, and security measures­to name just a few of the unknowns about the development plan
It looks like we have a pragmatic yardstick here - one that should apply to HHG in Trenton as well as to Ratner in Brooklyn: mythical benefits, no details, a total gloss over analysis (financial, environmental, planning). Don't take my word for it, though, read HHG's proposal yourself.

Giveaways tend to be yardstick-free. Let's get some discipline into this process.

After the Trolley Barn

Once you've evicted an art school to create ambience for fake artists / real commuters what is the next level of hyperreality available to a developer?

Well, there is one - South Korea is building a phony English language community from scratch (picture right). "Designed as an alternative to sending South Korean youth abroad to learn English..." it appears to be even more ghastly than Peking's "World."

We thought developers were having a laugh at our expense when they began erecting stick housing under labels like "the Ridings," and "the Commons." Actually, they lost it and they have been losing it on ever grander scales since then.

Psst ... hey you

If one of Trenton's stealthy, top-secret candidates for office happens to mention ARTWORKS, much less take a stand on the crisis, please pass that along to keepartreal at yahoo dot com. (Thanks, but we won't hold our breath.)