BRIGHT LIGHTS, BIG CITY-
By Sally Deering
Photo By Steve A. Mack
Relatively unknown before he took office as the Mayor of Jersey City on July 1, 2013, Steven M. Fulop now has his own page on Wikipedia. Gaining in popularity, a local paper put him 4th on a list of Hudson’s 50 most influential people.
Mayor Fulop, 36, seems to have a vision for Jersey City’s cultural scene with plans to bring the city to greater heights that reflect its stature as the second largest city in New Jersey. By raising the standards of the arts scene, Fulop envisions Jersey City as an arts mecca similar to New York City that will attract visitors in huge numbers and big name acts to its performance venues while providing public spaces for resident artists, filmmakers, dancers, actors and musicians.
Moving forward, in the short time he’s been in office, Mayor Fulop has already been in meetings with Cordish Companies of Baltimore, the prospective developers of the Powerhouse building in downtown Jersey City. He has supported legislation to reinstate the tax credits to filmmakers who want to shoot on location in Jersey City; and, he has approved projects by mural artists to paint designated buildings in Jersey City. Mayor Fulop also has plans to turn the old movie palace, the Loew’s Jersey City in Journal Square into a performing arts center like NJPAC.
On a recent November morning, Mayor Fulop took time out of his busy schedule to speak with Riverview Observer about some of his plans and projects for Jersey City’s cultural scene.
MSF: I have a great appreciation for music and I have friends in the arts community, thus I’ve been engaged in it. I took piano lessons during my childhood and up until last year. I play classical music and I started studying Jazz. Classical is straight-forward, you’re reading notes and I could do that very well, but I couldn’t improvise. It’s a totally different skillset. My piano teacher moved, though, and now I’m looking for a new one, so if you know anybody,..
RVO: Do you have any interest in a specific area of the arts in Jersey City?
MSF: I’ve realized in order to make Jersey City really shine it needs a thriving arts community. That’s what attracts people here. Transportation won’t just do it, you need culture and art. We’re working with Senator (Steve) Lesniak to reinstate the film tax credit; legislation will be introduced next week. We’re looking to see how to put more money into the Loew’s and bring in professional management. You’ll see that on the Council agenda coming forward. That’s a big step. From a city standpoint, I can’t put $10-$15 million dollars into something that has the “potential” for success. The Loew’s is the size of NJPAC and across from the Journal Square PATH. You could get big names, and people coming from all over for art, music, restaurants. The Loew’s is really a key component of what we’re trying to do.
RVO: Over the years, funding for Jersey City Cultural Affairs has dropped from $700,000 to $100,000. Will this be turned around during your administration?
MSF: We’re working with Cultural Affairs to revisit how it functions in the city. A cultural affairs group that is just hanging art work or doing flag-raising is not how I envision Cultural Affairs. We’re looking for things that are going to have thousands of people there. We had 2000 people at our Halloween fair. There was a petting zoo, rides; it was a safe and festive place. Cultural Affairs needs to be thinking like that. Twenty people for a flag-raising; I don’t need seven employees administering flag-raising – telling people ‘go here to get permits’. What are you doing for 2014 and where are the new plans for things that are going to be substantially large? To me, it’s more than just an art show in a rotunda for a few artists. Cultural Affairs has to be good branding for Jersey City. We haven’t increased (the budget) until we have a plan.
RVO: According to the Jersey City Redevelopment Authority, proposals by the Cordish Companies of Baltimore will transform the Powerhouse building into an “art and entertainment mixed use center with multi-floor retail and commercial space.”Can you elaborate?
MSF: We’d like to see progress here. The developer submitted two proposals: one was more elaborate; one less elaborate. Both proposals are from a cultural perspective. One has a type of performance space; one is more marketing-retail oriented. They are both different and both have different costs with some public and private partnership. I feel comfortable with either of them.
RVO: You mentioned the art gallery Mana Contemporary on Newark Avenue in Jersey City as a good representation of how the arts can attract people. Can you elaborate?
MSF: If you go to their art openings, there are 10,000 people from all over New Jersey. They have some of the world’s best artists from the performing arts, visual arts. There are paintings by Andy Warhol. Mana is going to be the major arts institution for Jersey City.
RVO: Can you tell our readers if and when the Jersey City Museum will re-open?
MSF: It’s still a problem. We don’t have clarity around the inventory. In fairness to (former mayor) Jerry Healy, he inherited a very tough situation on the museum. Where they built that museum, there’s no parking, it’s a tough location to attract visitors and attract global artists on a large scale. To compete with the New York City market you have to have something special. There are a lot of things special about this place. We should be thinking big. If it’s not big, it’s not interesting to me.
RVO: The arts in Jersey City seem to exist despite a lack of space. A good example is the Grassroots Community Art Space on Newark Ave, a public art space run by artists. In the future, will the city provide more venues for artists?
MSF: The market dictates that. Some things happen organically. We have a black-box theater, a 400-seat theater opening up on Bay Street. It’s going to be given to the city and will be a city asset. (But) it’s hard to have government in that role. Government is not good at owning assets. It’s not our skillset. What we do is create a cultural environment. It’s about creating a brand in Jersey City that goes beyond Jersey City.
To learn more about Jersey City’s
cultural arts scene, go to: www.cityofjerseycity.com.