The current recession has hit everyone, and no one is safe, especially in the art world. The opportunity for the public to engage in art and experience culture is being threatened at an alarming rate, with museums and galleries closing their doors all across the U.S. due to declining revenue and budget cuts.
But as arts institutions struggle, savvy artists, cultural creatives and other DIY types are stepping up to fill the void in Jersey City and elsewhere. The latest example is Pop-Up Art, a new group of artists coming together during these bleak times to organize art exhibitions and musical performances in temporary spaces across the city. The group will open its debut exhibition, In Spirited Company, at the Historic Jersey City & Harsimus Cemetery this Friday.
“Pop-Up Art is our response to a growing urgency for a stronger artist community in Jersey City, by putting together art and music shows in nonprofit or donated spaces,” says Michelle Mumoli, one of Pop-Up Art’s six curators. “This economic situation we are in has taken a huge toll on the arts and culture. Funding for the arts has been cut so drastically, we risk having an uncultured society — so we decided to use donated spaces as vehicles to curate work that is truly mind-provoking as well as publicly accessible.”
Mumoli and fellow Pop-Up curator Beth Ann Morrison recently talked to us about their nascent organization, their first exhibition and the state of art in Jersey City.
Tell us about yourselves. Who are you, and what do you do?
Michelle Mumoli: I’m a filmmaker, experimental video artist, hair designer and brainstormer. I moved to Jersey City almost two years ago and familiarized with the Downtown area — I just knew it was a the next city to cultivate my interests in.
Beth Ann Morrison: I make art; for a long time I’ve been focusing on installation and sculpture – from the miniscule to the gigantic – but my interests are broad. My work is leading into the public realm and sustainable community building. I’ve lived in Jersey City since 2002 and have been fundraising for nonprofits for the last ten years.
What is your definition of a strong artist community, and how can it contribute to the well-being of the entire city?
MM: A strong community is one where neighbors know each other, help each other and care for each other’s general well-being. So we would like to take those principals and apply them to the arts and artists in Jersey City. In other words, promote making art and helping each other in the process.
BAM: I think art has a unique way of bringing people together — it can be non-threatening, fun, participatory — and it always has a greater effect when more artists work in synergy. There are a lot of creative people in this town, and I’d love to see us all supporting each other and bringing all our neighbors into the fold. At that point our work can start to effect positive changes on attitudes, policies and our environment.
Who is involved in Pop-Up Art?
BAM: We are a growing group. All of us are involved in art and music in overlapping ways — as artists, curators, designers, etc. For this first show, we’ve had four active participants: Donna Kessinger (independent curator), myself, Michelle and Beverly Sommer (filmmaker and MBA). Other interested participants include Jasmine Graf (artist and ProArts board member), Stephanie Werthman (artist and graphic designer), Wendy Lee (Brooklyn-based designer) and Steve Principato (graphic designer and musician) … and the list keeps getting longer.
What are your goals?
BAM: I’d like for this group to play a role in the direction of this era of development in Jersey City — the arts should be appreciated and cultivated for the value and substance they bring to a community. I want our events to leverage high-caliber artists to bring attention to the rising stars among us and eventually help restore and build respectable venues.
Let’s talk about your first show, In Spirited Company. How did it come about, what do you have planned, and why should everyone come out on December 3?
BAM: After our first meeting this fall, we were eager to get Pop-Up Art started right away, so we chose to align our first show with JC Fridays on December 3. Donna had been in conversation with the folks at the cemetery, who are enthusiastic about creating more awareness and support for the site through arts and educational events.
After hearing more about the cemetery’s history and taking a tour of the gatekeeper’s home, we got the feeling that we should hang a nice indoor show of art that is “darkly beautiful” — with some acoustic acts, wine and refined snacks — to bring out the space’s nice 1850s parlor feel. I’m enamored by the way Jon Rappleye’s paintings and sculpture marry delicate organic beauty with the macabre, and he was inspired by the charm and character of the old home and the eerily rolling grounds. Rebecca Major’s videos also walk the same edge of grace and fear.
For the opening, we hand picked musicians whose sound will enhance this ambiance. NYC Duo is classically trained; Mike Gilsinan (Fort Lee) composed a piece for guitar and flute and will be projecting a creepy stop-animated film during their set. Gonul and What Army features Billy Gray (of the band Ben Franklin) and his wife, singing sweet old-fashioned soul.
The relaxed and intimate setting will give everyone a chance to talk with the artists, Pop-Up Art members and the abundantly knowledgeable volunteers at the cemetery.
Gingerbird Store and Cocoa Bakery will be offering the best in hot cocoa, cupcakes, biscotti and other such goodness. The first annual tree lighting will take place at 8pm on the grounds, featuring a 15-minute choral concert by the Hudson View Carolers — the final dress rehearsal before the group performs at this year’s official White House tree lighting in D.C.
The exhibition will remain on view by appointment through January 1; we hope to share the show with as many people as possible.
Exhibitions, particularly ones that involve as many components as this one, cost money and take a lot of time to organize. Has Pop-Up Art received any funding to cover expenses?
BAM: Not yet, but we’re brainstorming ways to bring in some capital. Luckily, a few others and I have fundraising experience that we can draw on. And who doesn’t like a good party?
Once we have a handle on how much this show has actually cost us and can sit down and budget for the next few ideas, we’ll make some plans to raise the cash. Personally, I’d like to use this as a chance to demonstrate varied income streams like merchandise, services and events … but let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves…
So what steps have you taken to neutralize your overhead?
MM: We keep tabs on each other’s spending. For example, I may have spent too much on an item and Beth Ann will say to me ‘Are you absolutely positive this is necessary?’ and then I’ll reconsider or not. I think big.
BAM: I try to think: balanced. Whatever we put out we have to think of realistically bringing back in. But of course I want these events to break records of the huge and outrageous. That just means we have to be just as huge and outrageous with our thinking.
You say this exhibition aims to breathe new life into the abandoned residence in Harsimus Cemetery; what other vacant sites or locations in Jersey City does Pop-Up Art intend to resuscitate? And how can this activity contribute to the vitality of the local art scene and to Jersey City as a whole?
MM: There’s a movement in Newark, where I was involved in the arts community before moving here, where real estate brokers have been giving away entire buildings downtown that have been unoccupied or abandoned, to artist groups and burgeoning galleries. We can do that here; we need to explore that option. But in terms of future locations, we will be popping up everywhere. Other sites and venues around town are in the works but they are top secret at this juncture.
What types of projects can Pop-Up Art realize that a conventional gallery or exhibition space cannot?
MM: I have grown to think of conventional gallery spaces along the lines of being structurally corporate, a cubicle and a white box are the same to me: squares. We are breaking out of the conventional mold. Art needs to be real and it needs to be able to reach a vast audience for it to get a response.
BAM: The other aspect to consider is that for-profit galleries usually have to fit their shows into tight constraints — of sale-ability, relevance in the market, insurance issues. But as an un-incorporated group using atypical spaces, we can give the artists freedom to be true to their expression. We will invite them to experiment and respond to the venue and each others’ work. We’ll still be working hard to bring exposure and buyers like any gallery would, for the artists’ benefit. But this is about breaking through and building a reputation for Jersey City as a home to stellar original talent.
Creative expression is important, I agree. In my experience, artistic freedom has its own price tag, and it’s costly. How do you balance artistic freedom with financial reality?
MM: The fortunate thing is that we are all experienced in working in the arts and fundraising, and we have art connections, so we will use that knowledge to make things happen. Yes, artistic expression sometimes comes with price, but we don’t think it should have to.
BAM: I have been used to working under alternative circumstances since I began making art. My work has been site-specific and ephemeral, and I sort of resisted the usual market. So that gave me a good training for thinking ahead, being resourceful and raising cash. I think that genius comes out of the creative application of available resources.
Why start a project in Jersey City and not some other place, like Bushwick or the Bronx?
MM: We love this place. We’re here now and that’s where we want to build our name. The future is in our hands.
What else are you planning?
MM: We’ve already started talks with some well-known international artist groups as well as some in Brooklyn, so there’s lots of fun and exciting things coming to Jersey City via Pop-Up Art.
BAM: We’re thinking of events that are built in response to the space — illustrating the character and history of a place as thoroughly as possible — through art, music, performance, whatever makes sense. Hopefully this group will help build a stronger conversation between Jersey City’s long-time residents and those who have gravitated here to be part of the cultural community — so our artists will feel more invested to participate in restoring and preserving the hugely rich history here.
Original post may be found here.