Grace Church Van Vorst celebrates Art and Community
By Sally Deering
Back in the late 1980s and early 90s, many considered downtown Jersey City a tough and gritty place for off-the-grid artists and blue-collar workers. It was during that time Grace Church Van Vorst, an Episcopalian parish in downtown Jersey City opened its big red doors on Erie Street, and welcomed local residents, many of them artists, to participate in the Cathedral Arts Festival.
On Sat, April 18, Grace Church’s big red
doors will open once again, this time for the 25th anniversary of the Cathedral Arts Festival beckoning local residents and friends to once again enjoy a gala of art, entertainment, food and drink. Under the leadership of Reverend Laurie Jean Wurm and congregants Bayla Kallstrom as chairwoman, Amy Elise as head art curator and other dedicated artists and residents, the Cathedral Arts Festival will once again bridge art and community in this neighborhood parish.
“The artist community has a long relationship with Grace Church Van Vorst, a lot of parishioners are artists, one gentleman has his own reggae band,” Rev. Wurm says. “Art is essential to how Grace Church is known in downtown Jersey City. That’s one thing Grace has always embraced.”
The April 18th gala will feature refreshments from area restaurants, an open champagne bar, music, dancing, a silent auction and a special performance by members of Nimbus Dance Works of Jersey City. Sixty-five artists will be exhibiting and selling their works with a percentage of each sale going to Grace Church’s special programs like the Grace Senior Center for Healthy Living, and Grace’s Breakfast Plus program which provides weekend meals to hungry and homeless people in Jersey City.
“Art is vital to the life of the church,” Reverend Wurm says. “It can be beautiful and unifying. One of the things I love is when the paintings are hung up in the church. For me it’s a way to see what’s going on around the world. Bringing struggles, triumphs and joys that come with paintings and objects of art, and putting them in a sacred setting allows us to see the world in a sacred way.”
COMMUNITY & ART
Chairwoman of the curating committee, Amy Elise, has been a Grace Church congregant since 2008 right after she moved to Jersey City.
“The first time I walked through the doors, I saw art on the walls,” Elise says. “The sanctuary was an incredible space and the service was beautiful. There’s this creative energy in the church that immediately embraced me. I wanted to be involved.”
Artists from Jersey City and other towns like Newark, Morristown and New York City will be exhibiting their works chosen by Elise and four area curators – Farah Nuradeen (Greenville); Meghan McKee (the Heights); Andrea Artemis Morin (downtown); and Joe Velez (Union City). They picked artists whose work reflects the vibrancy and diversity of Jersey City.
“Jersey City is gentrifying, especially downtown, and that has to be represented because that’s part of our reality,” Elise says. “We also wanted the gritty aspects of Jersey City to be represented in the art. The neighborhood that Grace Church is in currently used to have a different feel. We wanted to respect the artists who are in the downtown neighborhood now and the artists and arts that would have been in the neighborhood 25 years ago.”
Artists exhibiting at the 25th Cathedral Arts Festival are Beth Achenbach, Seth Alexander, Paul Andress, Ray Arcadio, Howard Berelson, Miguel Cardenas, Thomas John Carlson, Miroslaw Chelchowski, Jerome China, stephen cimini, Lisa Collodoro, Liz Defrain, Peter Delman, Martin Ramone Delossantos, Dave Dziemian, Dylan Egon, Thomas Egan, Ben Faresich, Eileen Ferara, Mark Finne, Julia Forrest, Geraldine Anderson Gaines, David Gazzo, Jamaila Hernandez, Miguel Hernández, Kayt Hester, Ann Hjelle, Lina Hsiao, Christine Johanns, Norman Kirby, Kortez, Lex Leonard, Béatrice Lebreton, Tatiana Lopez, Beatrice Mady, Julie McHargue, Meghan McKee, Andrea McKenna, Michael F. McKenna, Kathryn Mecca, Rajendra Mehta, Fermin Mendoza, Volha Mikhnevich, Andrea Artemis Morin, Ibou Ndoye, Amy Neufeld, JoanMarie Palmer, Diane Revels, Orlando Reyes, Vira Rublevska, Angelo Rusciano, Monique Sarfity, Lucille Scurti, Anthony Sienkiewicz, Elsie Sienkiewicz, Panda Suwann, Marianne Trent, Janna Maria Vallee, Herman Velez, Joe Velez, Diane Whitebay, M. H. Yaghooti, William Zbylut, and O_O.
Local Jersey City businesses have always been big supporters of the Cathedral Arts Festival and this year’s sponsors include Shoprite – Inserra Supermarkets, Inc., JPMorgan Chase, Capital One Bank and PNC Bank. Some of Jersey City’s most popular restaurants are participating like GP’s Restaurant in Hamilton Square, The Hamilton Inn, The Bistro at Grove Square, Rustique Pizzeria, Gypsy Grill and Tommy2Scoops. The Festival will also have Le Bouquiniste, a mobile art kiosk from Curious Matter, and a live interactive weaving skill-share by relational artist Janna Maria Vallee.
The Cathedral Arts Festival is meant to bring new people into the Grace Church community, Elise says. And with Bayla Kallstrom as chairwoman, everyone is benefiting from her wisdom of what things were like 25 years ago when she and then curator artist Charles Kessler knocked on doors inviting artists to participate.
“Our theme from the very beginning was community, creativity and diversity,” Kallstrom says. “We feel artistry is a universal language. It’s very spiritual. It’s like religion, it floats above. It contains many voices, viewpoints and can pull people together in a spiritual way. A lot of people who came to Grace Church weren’t Christians but wanted to be a part of our community and every human being is better when they are part of a community; where people gather to help people become the best they can be. That’s a committed community and that’s always our goal.”
If you go:
Sat, Apr. 18, 7:30 pm-12 midnight
The 25th Annual Cathedral Arts Festival Champagne Gala
39 Erie St. (Downtown) JC
Admission: $40 in advance; $50 at the door.
For tix: www.gracevanvorst.org
For more info: (201) 659-2211