Jersey City Mural Arts Program is a community success story

Interactive feature showing artworks to launch on city website this month

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local artists assist in creating giant mural.
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MadC, an international artist, crafted this mural on Summit Avenue.
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1010, artist, designed the mural on the second side of the Summit Avenue building.
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local artists assist in creating giant mural.
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MadC, an international artist, crafted this mural on Summit Avenue.
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1010, artist, designed the mural on the second side of the Summit Avenue building.

Two 18-story murals created by internationally-acclaimed artists are the latest additions to the Jersey City Mural Arts Program. The images, which adorn the walls of 627 Summit Ave., were painted by international artists Claudia Walde (MadC) and 1010.

The city currently has about 130 murals created by artists from 16 countries, seven states, as well as local talent.

The mural by Walde on Summit Avenue is 180 by 45 feet and took 180 hours to paint over a period of 180 days. Walde was assisted by two Jersey City artists, Distort and John Abarca.

The building, owned by Summit Plaza Inc., contains affordable housing units. One wall is being painted by 1010 and is expected to be completed by mid-July.

The Summit Avenue project was sponsored by New Jersey City University, which has committed to funding the city’s mural program and will commission a dozen large-scale murals over the next year all around the city.

“From local to international artists, Jersey City’s Mural Artist Program is one of the most expansive and diverse in the nation and continues to be a citywide success,” said Mayor Steven Fulop. “This is really testament to how our mural arts program has taken off from its original effort to deter graffiti and vandalism and to encourage local artists to get involved in our community in a positive way.”

Painting power

The mural program started as an offshoot of a larger, citywide anti-graffiti program funded by a state Clean Communities Grant. When announced by the Christie Administration in 2012, the program’s guidelines mostly focused on describing how the money can be spent for anti-litter enforcement.

But a provision in the law allowed the painting of murals as a way to prevent graffiti.

Originally focused on providing opportunities for local artists, the program set aside a portion of the grant to cover paint supplies and small art stipends for artists depending on the size of the wall and the time required to complete the project.

City officials say the murals seek to speak to the community, tell the history of the city, and reflect the culture of Jersey City’s unique and varied neighborhoods.

According to city officials, the mural program is led by a team of managers, artists, and administrators in the mayor’s office, the Department of Cultural Affairs, and the Department of Public Works, who work directly with neighborhood groups, educational institutions, small businesses, and private property owners to select ideal locations, recommend artists, and help to determine the theme and content of the murals.

Most of the artists reach out to this team with their portfolios and mural proposals, according to city officials, or are sometimes recommended by residents or business owners.

Not everybody was pleased with the grant being used for murals rather than litter and graffiti prevention. Ward C Councilman Richard Boggiano was an outspoken critic.

As the program evolved, it relied less on grant money, receiving more funding from corporate and other sponsors. The program has since grown as a mechanism for engaging community groups and educational institutions. It also partners with larger entities that own land in Jersey City, such as Conrail and the Turnpike Authority.

The program has worked closely with many neighborhood associations, including Redstone: The Neighborhood Association (RTNA); Palisades Condominium Association; Garwin Block Association; Jackson Hill Main Street; and the Riverview Plaza Condo Association. These groups help identify ideal mural locations, source local artists, and direct artistic content that’s relevant to the local history, culture, and aesthetics of the neighborhoods where murals are placed.

Virtual murals

In early July, Fulop said the mural program will launch its new interactive platform on its website JCMap.org.

Among Jersey City’s most famous murals are the 180-foot David Bowie mural by the Brazilian artist Eduardo Kobra and the 50-foot WAVE overlooking Grove Street downtown by American artis Shepard Fairey, best known for his iconic Obama “hope” poster.

Artists hail from South Africa, Germany, Italy, Argentina, Cuba, Australia, Spain, Dubai, Chile, Holland, Hungary, France, England, and Switzerland.  All of are featured on the website.

“We are tremendously excited to have partnered with CANVS App in creating a full-fledged, interactive mural website that showcases all of the diverse art our program has commissioned over the last six years,” said Brooke Hansson, mural arts program director. “We finally have a platform to tell the story of the Jersey City Mural Arts Program which allows the project to be much more accessible for our local community and beyond.”

For updates on this and other stories check hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Al Sullivan can be reached at asullivan@hudsonreporter.com