Above image: Ironbound Executive Director Seth A. Grossman, IBID 1st Vice-President Renato Baptista, East Ward Councilman Augusto Amador, Portuguese Consul-General Maria Amelia Paiva, Assemblyman Al Coutinho, and Hal Laessig, a trustee with the Ironbound-based Sumei Multidisciplinary Arts Center and an IBID board member, joined artists presenting their work at the Ironbound’s Prospect Street Fire Station.
By Guest Contributor: Vince Baglivo
The building may be called the Prospect Street Fire Station. But the red-bricked structure looked more like an art gallery, filled with people of all ages and representing the Ironbound and Newark’s diverse community, for the recent opening reception of Ironbound Unbound #3, part of the 2012 Open Doors Art Project in Newark. (See opening event coverage here)
And that is exactly the point of a coalition of Ironbound stakeholders, led by the Ironbound Business Improvement District (IBID), Councilman Augusto Amador, Assemblyman Albert Coutinho, community organizations and Ironbound residents who want to see the building become a permanent home for the arts and culture in the Ironbound.
Long known as one of New Jersey’s top dining destinations, the Ironbound has also been recognized as a leading cultural hub in the City of Newark. The extensive and growing community of artists who call the Ironbound home is simply the latest in a long history of art, music and dance expression as part of the local cultural heritage. Seth A. Grossman, Executive Director of the IBID, recognized the vision of local leaders who saw the need in the community and the potential of the Fire Station as a cultural center.
More importantly to the local businesses and restaurants the IBID represents, Grossman and the IBID’s board of directors saw how neatly a community arts center would fit in with the neighborhood’s noted restaurants and International shopping. With the Prudential Center and Red Bull Arena just blocks away from the Ironbound and NJPAC, the Newark Museum and more nearby, all attracting people from the local area as well as visitors from across the US and beyond, a permanent arts center in the Ironbound would add even more energy, excitement and interest.
“There is tremendous synergy with the exciting things happening in and around the Ironbound District, including the continuing streetscape improvement project on Ferry Street,” Grossman noted. “We are hopeful that the many supporters of the concept will find a way to make this a reality working in cooperation with the Newark Fire Department and the City.”
Hal Laessig, a member of the IBID Board of Directors and Co-Founder of the Sumei Arts Center, who headed exhibition design and installation for Ironbound Unbound #3 at the Prospect Street Fire Station, echoed other statements from community representatives regarding ongoing dialogue with Newark Fire Department representatives about the building. “We are pleased to thank Fire Director Fateen Ziyád and Captain David Greene and the other members of the Newark Fire Department, who welcomed us into the Fire Station and joined us for the opening reception,” stated Laessig. “With their generous cooperation, we were able to showcase the possibilities this building represents in an incredibly positive way and look forward to continuing discussions.
“The utilization of the Fire House as a ‘Community Art Space’ is a natural extension of the Fire Department’s commitment to community relations and promoting shared neighborhood experiences between the Fire Department and our neighbors in the Ironbound,” added Director Ziyad.
East Ward Councilman Augusto Amador, a longtime champion of a community center for arts and culture at the Prospect Street Fire Station, said he will continue to be an advocate. “I believe it is absolutely possible, and after working on this for the past six years, it would be a dream come true that would benefit the entire Ironbound community and the City of Newark,” he concluded.
The Sumei Arts Center is a 501c3 nonprofit organization founded in 1993 as an alternative arts space that relocated to the Button Factory in the Ironbound in 2009. The mission of Director and Co-Founder Yoland Skeete is to provide a space for artists of diverse backgrounds and disciplines to interact with the local and statewide community through performance, exhibition and education. While Sumei does presentations, programs and exhibitions at its exhibition space on Hamilton Street, the possibilities are almost limitless should the Fire Station become a permanent home in the Ironbound for the arts. “The arts community in the Ironbound and the City of Newark is an asset to everyone who lives or works here, and to the thousands of visitors we welcome,” Skeete noted.