When it comes to the arts, Hudson County doesn’t stare wistfully across the river at its culturally-hopping New York City neighbor. That’s because Hoboken and Jersey City as well as “NoHu” (North Hudson) towns like Union City and West New York house plenty of homegrown talent – as well as expatriates from Manhattan.
In 2010, residents came out in droves to support local artists through arts and music festivals as well as studio tours. Cities threw their weight behind the arts scene, recognizing the contributions of local artists and performers by erecting markers, holding competitions, and dedicating entire streets to artistic activity.
Hoboken: Art tours, movies, and reality TV
Hoboken continued in its tradition of celebrating present and past resident artists and performers with various festivals, tours, showings, and competitions, and gained more media exposure this year.
Residents saw the return this year of the spring and fall Hoboken Arts and Music Festival, which featured over 300 artists, crafters, photographers, local businesses, restaurants, and food vendors down Washington Street.
In the summertime, hoards of families camped out at Pier A Park for Movies Under the Stars. The city also hosted its Summer Enchanted Evenings Concert Series at the Amphitheater at Sinatra Park, including the Sinatra Idol Contest, in which 15 contestants performed their best Sinatra singing-style interpretations.
The library’s annual fundraiser Novel Night returned in October. Participants made new friends and enjoyed an elaborate novel-themed meal within 20 different city homes, and then met up at the library afterward for dessert. Hoboken also saw some editorial success of its own this year with books and short stories published by residents.
The ever-growing popularity of Carlo’s Bakery, the subject of the TLC reality show “Cake Boss,” yielded hours-long waits for tourists to catch a glimpse of Buddy the baker. Operations recently expanded into a Jersey City warehouse and into a new show, “Next Great Baker.”
The Mustard Seed School was also the subject of media interest, featured in a documentary film by Emmy-award winning filmmaker Brian Fuller as an education model for the rest of the country.
This year also saw another Annual Hoboken Artists’ Studio Tour, co-sponsored by The Hudson Reporter. Now in its 30th year, the ever-popular self-guided walking tour of artists’ studios and galleries drew visitors from all over to town in November. One hundred and fifty artists participated.
Jersey City: Artistic Fridays, historic theater
Long known as home to a thriving artists’ population, Jersey City this year hosted the usual fan favorites and gained even more support due to media outreach and specialized programs.
The quarterly event JC Fridays, a citywide celebration of free arts and culture co-sponsored by The Hudson Reporter, kicked off the year with a record-breaking number of participating venues due to increased outreach efforts. This year marked the fifth year of JC Fridays, which showcases art exhibitions, live music, performance acts, educational demonstrations, and other free arts-oriented events across the city.
The town celebrated several notable anniversaries with the 80th anniversary of the historic Loews Theater, which presented three iconic films from each decade from the 1930s to the 1980s throughout the year, and the 40th season of the Attic Ensemble theater troupe, which celebrated with several productions of high-profile plays.
One of the most popular events in town, the Jersey City Artists’ Studio Tour, celebrated its 20th year in October. People from all over came to celebrate the talented and vibrant artistic community at the event, which featured hundreds of artists at nearly 100 locations.
North Hudson towns
For years, Union City has been steadily evolving into the place for performing and fine artists in the region. Initially a more affordable option to neighboring Hoboken and Jersey City, Union City, with the support of the city and especially Commissioner Lucio Fernandez, has become unparalleled in its support for the arts.
This year, the city put its weight behind existing arts venues and events such as September’s “Celebrate Art Month,” but went a step further by garnering statewide, countrywide, and even international recognition for a few notable events. In May, Union City erected a historical marker for novelists and screenwriter Pietro di Donato. The area where it was placed, at Bergenline Avenue and 31st Street where di Donato once lived, was named Pietro di Donato Plaza in his honor.
September marked the city’s first movie premiere with the independent gothic horror art film, Vampire in Union City, which was directed by Fernandez and filmed entirely in Union City.
The first annual Union City International Film Festival began in December with hundreds of local and international submissions, and was envisioned to become an annual event that would draw filmmakers to the area.
Later in the month, Union City unveiled the Union City Plaza of the Arts as a place for artists to congregate, showcase their work, and sell their wares. Its location on Bergenline Avenue between 30th and 31st streets was chosen for its proximity to Pietro di Donato Plaza and Celia Cruz Plaza, to represent fine arts alongside literature and music.
Unfortunately, the area sadly bid farewell to ArtsEcho Galleria on Park Avenue. Part gallery, part fashion boutique, ArtsEcho had been envisioned as part of the up-and-coming North Hudson arts scene, but owner Sandra Bendor was ultimately unable to “justify it monetarily.”
For both towns, the street parties for the Latin Grammy Awards again found a home in the area. In 2008, a party was held in Union City, and then West New York last year. Due to its success in West New York, the town this year hosted the inaugural street party along a five-block stretch of Boulevard East. North Hudson residents turned out in large numbers for a chance to see some of Latin’s hottest acts, such as bachata duo Carlos & Alejandra and reggaeton sensation Zion & Lennox, as well as up-and-coming local performers.
On a literary front, Union City native W.S. Merwin was named poet laureate.
Most of North Hudson’s towns saw theatrical productions in the schools and from the area’s theater companies, including the Park Theater in Union City, which again performed its famous Passion Play.
In addition, Weehawken’s Hudson Riverfront Performing Arts Center held its usual impressive roster of free concerts all summer long and indoors at lunchtime during the colder months. The group hopes to someday build an entertainment center on Weehawken’s waterfront, but for now they hold concerts in the Lincoln Harbor section near the water.