Last Friday I posted a notice up on Freecycle.org letting people know I had a mountain of firewood (thanks, Hurricane Sandy) to give away. One of the people who showed up was James Peeples. James is the Chairman of Artworks Trenton. Their mission statement says the organization, “Promotes artistic diversity by fostering creativity, learning, and appreciation of the arts. Our classes, exhibitions, and events make art an accessible experience for all.”
After a long and wonderful conversation about art and community work, in which we discovered we have much in common, and perhaps will do some work together, James invited the Best Beloved and me to Trenton the next day to explore their “Art All Day” event, at which the public can visit “Trenton spaces where art, music, dance, theater, literature, crafts, and much more is created and presented. Speak with artists and engaged members of the Trenton community, and witness the exciting potential our city offers. Then, after a day out, be Artworks’ guest at our expansive gallery space for a reception and Art All Day exhibition, featuring work by Art All Day participants.”
Alas, we only had a couple of hours free and couldn’t take advantage of the trolley car that drove visitors around the city to the dozen of exhibits on offer, but we did meet some fascinating artists and saw some great work.
One of the highlights was the S.A.G.E. Coalition on East Hanover Street and their amazing Windows of Soul Project. We were guided there by Wills Kinsley, who rode one of his art pieces, a tall-bicycle.
Let’s be clear — East Hanover is a street in pain. Here the ghosts of Trenton-gone are clearly in evidence. The buildings, many of which still display the bone structure that once made them beautiful, are dilapidated, ragged reminders of just how much this city has lost. A gaggle of drug dealers hangs out on a stoop with regular foot traffic customers, even at high noon. Several people hassle us for hand-outs. A man in a rust-colored suit of a style popular in the 1970s walks down the middle of the street ranting about ‘faggots and whores.’ The police driving by ignore him, as they do the cluster of dealers. It would be easy to feel edgy walking along these broken sidewalks. However, look around — the buildings display art. In that vacant lot someone is planting an urban garden, with plants in beds made from tires. On the wall behind that lot, a fine painting of Mahatma Gandhi smiles benevolently. And where there once were nothing but broken glass and boards, each of the windows here displays art.
We make our way to the S.A.G.E. studio. In the first room is a kind of record store, with five or six young men watching another man spin discs on a pair of turntables. There are hundreds of records. Take anything you like, just leave a donation. Great idea.
The guys nod, but clearly aren’t interested in talking to two middle-aged tourists. I can’t blame them. We walk into the back room and admire the art. There’s some fine work here. Some of it is graffiti-style murals, some paintings and, some construction pieces made from found pieces, done by the talented Wills Kinsley.
I walk back into the record-room and ask one of the men to tell me about the project. This man turns out to be Will Kasso, graffiti artist extraordinaire and clearly a force behind this endeavor. He tells me about the work on the buildings and how artists from all over the world participated. Some of the work is his, and he’s also responsible for the Gandhi painting. His enthusiasm for art and his belief in the benefits it offers the people of Trenton, particularly the young people, is contagious. It’s easy to see what a role model and inspiration he must be to the younger artists. We talk a while more and exchange contact information. I hope we’ll have a chance to sit and talk about art and what’s happening in the community again soon.
My Best Beloved, being a great photographer was keen to meet Jon Naar,, the internationally acclaimed photographer and first documentarian of the graffiti movement. Jon lives in an area of Trenton called Mill Hill, just three blocks, but a world away from East Hanover. This is a leafy little square of brownstones, with a statue in the center, next to picturesque Assunpink Creek. Jon is joined today by photograph Alina Bliach and we are enthralled by her work as well as Jon’s.
A trio of young people –artists all — come in and Jon proudly shows them them a photo he took in the 1960s of a pale young man lounging on a silver chaise in a silver room. He asks if they know who the subject is. They all look blank. He says to the girl, “You look intelligent, come on now, who is that?” Here’s the photo:
I call out from the door way, “Fifteen minutes of fame?” More blank. “Oh, well, says Jon, perhaps I’ll go have some soup.” One assumes it’s a can of Campbell’s.
When we got home I wrote to James Peeples and told him what a wonderful day we’d had and how important I think Artworks is. He wrote back and said how pleased he was, especially since he NEVER goes on Freecycle.com, but just happened to this time because his brother needed firewood. Well, how interesting, because this was the first time I’d ever been on Freecycle.com. A lovely piece of synchronicity. Who knows what will come of it.