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A Percent for the Arts: Needed in Jersey City

On the evening of June 14, 2017, Jersey City arts advocates crowded the city council chambers and dominated the public comments segment of the council meeting. Speaker after speaker approached the microphone and articulated the integral role of the arts in the life of the city. Arts contribute to the local economy. Arts improve the quality of life. Arts capture the culture and history of the city. Arts matter.% for the Arts

Investment is pouring into Jersey City, and development is transforming its neighborhoods. Meanwhile, the arts are suffering. Many arts organizations rely upon the largess of real estate interests for studio and performance spaces. A pathetically small amount of state dollars earmarked for the arts finds its way to Jersey City.

(For a fuller analysis of the current state of the Jersey City arts community, see my recent article published by Strong Towns.)

Prior to the city council meeting, organizers passed out several hundred red shirts with the slogan “% for the Arts” printed on them. Citizens proudly wore the shirts throughout the meeting. The speakers and organizers were motivated and energized.

At the meeting, several council members adorned the red shirts or voiced their support for the arts. This should be viewed with healthy skepticism, if not outright cynicism. Throughout the history of contemporary Jersey City, many politicians have offered pledges and promises to the arts community. Very few politicians have ever honored them. (For a detailed discussion of this subject, see my forthcoming book, Left Bank of the Hudson. Yes, another shameless plug.)

Jersey City arts organizations should expect nothing from our political leadership without regular and dogged pressure. However, 2017 is an election year. Many public opportunities shall exist for the arts community to present its argument and maximize its impact.

The arts community’s prominence in the approaching election might very well foreshadow its future in Jersey City.  Let’s hope that last week’s show of force marks the first movement–and not the final–in the fight for a percent for the arts.

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