First one out is always a little awkward.
Hello! I guess I have a newsletter now!
This new project was spurred on a bunch of things, including a recent conversation I had with a bunch of folks who are new-ish to Jersey City, who said they got a lot of their local news from me and my Twitter feed. I found that to be… disturbing! Touching and sweet and yet… oh boy. My tweets are just me ranting when I have had too much wine or I’m on line at the grocery store; it’s weird to me to think of people thinking of me as an actual information source.
So the tweets are what they are. But maybe this can be more of a “hey, there’s something interesting happening in Jersey City, let me tell you about it!” kinda place that fills in the extra bits, gives more context, and explores things more in depth. I have no idea. But let’s just jump right into it and I’ll tell you about a cool thing I found out about. I’ll start out gentle with an art-related post but, more to come.
When city planners these days talk about things like wayfinding or placemaking or other trendy, gentrifying words-that-are-not-actually-words, I immediately become suspicious. One version of history can be so easily swapped out and replaced with another, more palatable one, that appeals to future residents. The stories and circumstances that tell a neighborhood’s story honestly may not necessarily be the ones that sell condos and drive up property prices. I’ve learned to be wary and to be careful where I get my history from.
This is why I was so thrilled to learn that two local, badass artists, Jin Jung and Duquann Sweeney, have embarked on We’re Here JC, a project to identify and map important areas in Jersey City that reflect our history as it relates to social justice, race, and culture. Some of the places they’ve chosen are familiar to me (111 First Street, once a vast artists’ residency); others tug at my memories as only vaguely familiar (the location of where the first victim of the so-called “dot-buster” attacks in the 1980s was found); others I didn’t know anything about (the residence of Cliff Johnson, co-founder of the Black Emergency Cultural Coalition) until I read about it on their website.
Johnson’s organization, BECC, sounds as fresh, contemporary, and radical as any of a number of art advocacy groups that exist today (see: Strike: MOMA, Decolonize This Place, and many others). In 1969, BECC:
[…] WAS ORGANIZED TO PROTEST THE METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART’S LACK OF INCLUSION OF ANY BLACK ARTISTS IN THE EXHIBITION CALLED “HARLEM ON MY MIND” WHICH WAS TO SHOWCASE THE CULTURE AND HISTORY OF HARLEM. THE PROTESTS AGAINST THE LACK OF REPRESENTATION CONTINUED IN 1971 WHEN THE WHITNEY MUSEUM DID NOT HIRE ANY EXPERTS IN AFRICAN AMERICAN CONTEMPORARY ART FOR THE CURATION OF THE SHOW CALLED “CONTEMPORARY BLACK ARTISTS IN AMERICA”. [Link.]
He lived in McGinley Square, not far from me. This is the kind of history I crave and that I want preserved: the story of this normal guy — an artist — working away in Jersey City, challenging this huge power structure. He didn’t win. The doors of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Whitney Museum didn’t suddenly fly open to under-represented artists. But, you know, he fought; he tried. And that’s worth quite a lot. The art world is a better place as a result of him.
At Johnson’s residence, the artists attempted to place this ceramic plaque Jung made in her studio:
The current property owners have decided not to display it, and are in the process of returning it to the artists, which is kind of a bummer but I get it’s their choice. This story doesn’t end the way I’d like it to, but at least we have the project’s website, along with their planned future attempts to place ceramic plaques at other sites. There’s real power in marking these places in this way, but there’s power in just sharing the stories too. I hope they’ll succeed in getting some of the plaques permanently installed. But even if not, just the research they’ve done helps to keep those stories alive.
I’m hosting a Listening Session with Chris Gadsden, who is running for Council at Large. It’s on Wednesday, June 2nd at 7pm and on Zoom. Register here if you’d like to attend. This is the third in a series of listening sessions I’ve been hosting, and I plan on continuing once every two weeks until the November election or I run out of people who want to talk to me. If you’re a candidate and you want me to host one for you, reach out.
The Lincoln Park Farmers Market is back on June 13, 10am-3pm! More details when I have them. Yoga is also back in the park, on Sundays (9am Gentle Stretch; 10:30am Hatha/Vinyasa).
Have an event you want listed here? Send it to me and I’ll see what I can do. I have no idea how often I’ll be writing and sending out these newsletters, so please allow ample time (let’s say, at least ten days).