Archive for November 2018

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Creative Art as a Tool for Community Revitalization

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By Jim Simon,
Deputy Director, Community Planning, Isles, Inc.

What does your mind conjure when asked to visualize Trenton’s art scene? Public sculpture concentrated near the State House? Street-style art on abandoned buildings? While both examples can be found across the spectrum of art in Trenton, the reality is much more vibrant and diverse.

Creative and performing arts have always played an important role in Trenton over the course of its history, but recent years have seen an incredible profusion of art and related activity, including live music, visual art, bike culture, theater, and countless other art forms. At Isles, we’ve supported and promoted public art with community partners across the city for most of our 37 year history. We are especially excited, though, about being the driving force behind the Creek to Canal Creative District (C2C), the prime result of the year-long Trenton Arts in Focus planning process. We are currently working with partners on implementing the plan with a focus on supporting the arts as a key tool in revitalizing downtown Trenton, while keeping an eye on promoting arts activity citywide.

Not content to just plan and organize, we are leveraging funding to make on-the-ground projects happen through a continued partnership with the I Am Trenton Community Foundation. The inaugural round of the Old Trenton Arts & Community Grants distributed funding through a competitive process to 15 projects ranging from murals, community art making, and public art installations, to bicycle repair clinics, book fairs, and gardens.

We are bringing resources to launch or reinvigorate projects like the new Broad Street Bank Gallery, the rebirth of the Studios at 219 East Hanover, the Orchid House, and Trenton Community A-Team studio and exhibition space at 51 North Stockton. Additionally, we are convening stakeholders and municipal officials to develop public art policy in ways to ensure that healthy dialog can be had about art in the City. We need to be able to talk frankly and critically about art – not just art that is deemed “safe,” but art that is controversial, subversive, or art that speaks uncomfortable truths.

All too often, public perception of Trenton is one of violence, especially when it affects innocent bystanders. Creative arts can help express reactions against violence or the conditions hospitable to it, but can also help reclaim and activate public space as a form of anti-violence. Public expressions and celebrations of art, like Artworks Art All Night/Art All Day and the Levitt AMP free concert series are critical to the future of Trenton’s revitalization. We are excited to be able to move the Creek to Canal Creative District forward and support others in pursuit of creative revitalization in Trenton.

Image: Isles’ site for Art All Day at Roberto Clemente Park, featuring the Mobile Bread House and Trenton Art Puzzle exhibit. Mural work by Lori Johansson and Celeste Huang.


Jim Simon oversees urban agriculture services and related education for Isles, Inc. In addition, he oversees vacant lot stabilization and improvement work and other neighborhood arts and green infrastructure initiatives. He is chair of the Trenton Green Team, a member the New Jersey Beekeepers Association, and is on the steering committee of the Trenton Cycling Revolution, a bicycling advocacy group. In a previous life, he spent 10 years as part of a rock ‘n’ roll puppetry collective and has performed in venues such as NYC’s Knitting Factory, BRIC (Brooklyn Information & Culture) House, and Philadelphia’s Institute of Contemporary Art, Painted Bride Art Center, and Trocadero Theatre.

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