Art All Day, Trenton’s own open studio, creative space and public art tour is taking place this Saturday, November 14 from noon to 5 p.m.
I founded and currently direct Art All Day, which is in its fourth year. Yes, I’m biased but I do believe that if there is one opportunity to see the real Trenton encapsulated – a place of creative, energetic and unbreakable spirits – it is during Art All Day. Visit on this one day and you will see myriad reasons to return throughout the year.
I have found that if you spend enough time in a city, either as a resident or regular visitor, you begin to hear about organizations, businesses, individuals there who are unique, inventive and creative. And who more often than not ply their trades from quirky, funky and cool spaces.
And with a little effort, over time, you begin to encounter them.
The group of sculptors who turn an iron pour into a performance and party. The custom sign maker who is a walking encyclopedia of the city’s visual iconography, hand crafting his own contributions to the streetscape in an indescribable steam-punk shop. The blacksmith who invisibly plies his centuries-old trade in a distinctly unbucolic neighborhood. A rag-tag assortment of self-taught artists – some of the city’s most disadvantaged citizens – who have forged an arts collective and an emotional and economic support system through their creativity. A couple who has taken a building on a forlorn block, once home to an early 20th century music conservatory, and through sweat and determination have turned it into a 21st century haven for the visual and performing arts. A band of muralists and DIYers who carve out garden sanctuaries in some of the city’s most ravaged neighborhoods.
In my years as a Trenton resident, I have been privileged to encounter all these people and more. Five or so years ago, it began to dawn on me that Trenton held within its borders an incredible diversity of creative talent and energy, but the outside world had little idea of what was here. They might come to Art All Night but beyond this and a few other events, the city was a forbidding, unknowable and unappealing landscape they’d prefer to avoid venturing into.
Art All Night brings a ton of people to one site in Trenton for a huge art party, generating good will and changing perceptions of the city in the process. What if we upended this model and brought people into the city but then sent them all throughout it, to visit the spaces and sites where artists and creativity flourish?
Well why not, I thought. The artists, the cool spaces, the positive energy and creativity which belies the city’s unsavory reputation were all out there. Someone, or some organization, simply needed to connect the dots.
In early 2011, then-Mayor Tony Mack’s administration organized a series of “Art Summits” seeking input on how to harness the city’s artists and creativity in the service of revitalizing it. Yes, before … uhm … other things took over Mack’s attention he at least professed to be a big booster of the arts here.
At the end of the first Art Summit, participants sat down together for informal brainstorming sessions. At my session I offered my idea. “Someone should organize a formal public tour around Trenton which showcases all of our artists, public art, creative organizations and the like,” I said. “We have so much going on, someone should connect the dots.”
Silence. Whether no-one around my table thought it was a good idea, or they were too full of their own good ideas, I don’t know. That the reaction was muted was an understatement. “Didn’t somebody already organize something like that years ago?” someone said. Then the conversation moved on.
Open studio tours are not a new or a particularly revolutionary idea. But showcasing Trenton’s dedicated artists of all disciplines, its arts collectives, creative non-profits, plethora of public art both guerrilla and officially sanctioned, and businesses who get it about the necessity and transformative quality of art and creativity, seemed like something that needed doing.
Outside perceptions of Trenton were dismal but those of us who lived here and understood the creative landscape knew otherwise. Bringing people into the city and giving them a map enabling them to tour its creative highlights seemed like a logical step, both to build bridges with the outside world, change perceptions, and spark change.
At the time I served on the board of Artworks, Trenton’s venerable and scrappy visual arts center. If Artworks could produce Art All Night, weren’t we the logical candidate to create and oversee an open-studio, open-city event?
We called it Art All Day, a nice bright yin to Art All Night’s robust yang. The first Art All Day was in 2012, on the second Saturday in November, a crisp time of year that seemed perfect for entering warm and funky artist spaces.
Although Art All Day sites are located strictly within the borders of Trenton, we understand how non-resident artists and others have deep ties here, and we have always made the event inclusive. We welcome artist exhibitors and organizations from outside the city, pairing them with pop-up sites in Trenton for the event. Art All Day is about showcasing the best of Trenton, and taking pride in that. But it is also about recognizing that “no man is an island,” that we don’t exist in a vacuum. It is about reaching out and across to our neighbors and neighboring artists.
Art All Day is my baby, but it is also Trenton’s baby. It is a great event because of all the people who participate, an exercise in collective optimism and achievement. Individually, we’d all be working at making a difference, but collectively we are making a difference.
Right now I’m tired but exhilarated on the eve of another Art All Day. Every year there’s always plenty that is new to see and explore. I hope you’ll join me.
Art All Day takes place this Saturday, November 14 from 12 noon to 5 p.m., followed by a reception at Artworks from 5 to 8 p.m. Visitors can go to Artworks headquarters at 19 Everett Alley in Trenton and pick up a free map/program, then visit over 85 artists at 23 sites around the city. There are guided trolley, bicycle and walking tours of sites too.