When Michael Gumpert graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a double-major in urban studies and sociology in 1993 he stayed to pursue his two passions, community revitalization and art. He became executive director of Lawrenceville United, a group which targeted and helped improve slumlord situations in Lawrenceville, PA, a municipality in economical and cultural distress. And he became a volunteer for Art All Night, a community-based 24-hour marathon celebration of the arts meant to encourage both art awareness and community involvement, an idea born in Pittsburgh in 1998.
The organizers of the first Art All Night began by getting the authorization from a real estate developer who recently purchased a commercial property to host a one-night, 24-hour art festival on the property before construction began. The event drew 101 artworks for display and 200 attendees. The annual event gained a cult-like following over the years and in 2006, the work of 883 artists was seen by over 10,000 visitors.
Gumpert hopes to bring the same attitude and success to Trenton for Artworks, a visual arts center that has offered a range of non-credit adult art classes, as well as children’s art classes, after-school programs and summer camps, and gallery shows, for over 20 years. Art All Night takes place at Artworks, 19 Everett Alley in Trenton, from 3 p.m. Saturday, June 23 to 3 p.m., Sunday, June 24.
Gumpert has returned to his New Jersey roots — he was born and raised in East Windsor, the son of a marketing executive and a graphic designer — and is the New Jersey Housing Resource Center project manager at the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency.
He has been on the board at Artworks for a year now and says he sees art as “an engine for community revitalization; it beautifies a neighborhood, it promotes social commerce, and it brings people into a city who are willing to get their hands dirty, who are willing to work toward improvement. Art All Night is like no other art fair.”
Unlike most booth-oriented, daytime art fairs, Art All Night is “edgy, something different, something cool,” says Gumpert, adding that the event is considered a “fun-raiser” not a “fund-raiser.” The 9,000-square-foot Artworks facility (historically home to a Sears Roebucks warehouse) will be transformed into an all-night, community celebration of the arts. Everyone is welcome to submit art, no matter the level (or lack) of expertise. The event is free to both submitters and viewers. For artist registration forms and instructions see the website, www.artworkstrenton.org.
The building as well as the parking lot will be transformed into a continuous menu for the senses. Food vendors will offer crepes, wraps and falafels, a serious step up from most art fairs. There will be two stages offering live music. Three movies will be screened on a 25-foot, outdoor movie screen: “Metropolis,” the 1927 version; “Rivers And Tides,” a documentary of Andy Goldsworthy’s works; and “Mysteries of Picasso,” a documentary of Picasso paintings as viewed from behind a transparent “canvas.” Mike McCullock will give a mobile glassblowing performance/exhibition in the parking lot.
Indoors, the front gallery will house more than 300 pieces of art. Other spaces will house additional art, sculpture, and media-based artworks. Many of the art objects are for sale (Artworks will not take any commission on these sales). Exhibiting artists will be presented with a list of potential buyers who have willingly given their interest and information to Art All Night staff.
Anne Gabe, co-chair of Artworks, along with Peter Kasabach, grew up in Amsterdam, New York, outside of Albany, the daughter of a union plumber and a telephone company worker. Gabe remarks how much Trenton reminds her of her old town. “It was a small manufacturing city on the river but most of the manufacturing has left.” She earned her bachelors in community development in 1977 from Rutgers, and later, a masters in real estate development in 1991 from from New York University.
Gabe explains the challenges Artworks has faced in recent years. In 2004 the Artworks board sought out a partnership with Mercer County Community College as the best way to continue its art education effort, to serve aspiring artists from Trenton and Mercer County. By spring, 2006, course enrollment was up and students welcomed the opportunity to take classes in a facility uniquely suited for the visual arts.
“When, unexpectedly,” says Gabe, “the Trenton City Administration offered the Artworks building to developers for a condo project, the college backed away from this important partnership. Where the spring 2006 catalog listed over 40 non-credit visual arts course offerings, all held at the Artworks building in downtown Trenton, recent catalogs list just a handful, all held at the West Windsor campus.”
According to Gabe, the residential condo plan wasn’t viable due to lack of land for parking and other physical constraints. “We now know that this condo development plan won’t move forward any time soon, but art education in the City of Trenton has unquestionably become a casualty,” says Gabe. “The Artworks board and the many new volunteers that rallied during this difficult time have been working quite diligently to enlist instructors and students to get those rosters back up to what they once were, and we think Trenton and the capital region will be better for it.”
Gabe says she thinks it’s ironic that the developers were promising live/work artist housing, thus creating a lively 24/7 arts neighborhood. “I thinks this entire episode illustrates a fundamental misunderstanding of what it means to provide facilities for artists to work. Visual art schools and artists studios are typically quiet places where serious concentration and collaborations take place. Gallery openings are lively but they don’t happen every day, and not even every week.”
In a letter to the Trenton Times on March 15, 2006, Gabe wrote: “We’ve got plenty of empty buildings for additional housing developments. New apartments are being created nearby in the long vacant Broad Street Bank Building. Why must we sacrifice the community cultural asset that is Artworks? It should be the place where we meet our newest neighbors.”
Gabe, a resident of Trenton’s south ward for nine years, hopes that the Art All Night event will “bring the community together, focusing on sharing and viewing art together.” Trying to think of another way in which a community gathers to foster goodwill towards a neighborhood, Gabe could only think of civic associations, Pop Warner football, and Little League baseball. Art All Night is a chance for the Trenton Community to congregate and co-mingle in a way that is unprecedented and potentially revitalizing.
The best thing that came out of Artworks’ recent, shaky past was the community support. “Realizing the support that was there was gratifying in lieu of a bad situation,” says Gabe. And in the midst of this event, “we are looking for event-goers to become interested to take or teach classes or even just find the nerve to become an artist.”
When I ask Gumpert about his biggest recollection of the Art All Night events back in Pittsburgh, he says that the event grew so big, that it was rumored that famous artists were presenting works, just to be seen and appreciated by the people who made it all worthwhile.
Art All Night, Saturday, June 23, 3 p.m. through June 24, 3 p.m., Artworks, 19 Everett Alley, Trenton. 24-hours of art, entertainment, and an all-night beer garden. www.artworkstrenton. org or 609-468-4127.
Art All Night is still looking for volunteers to work three-hour shifts during the event to register/ receive art, chaperone the event, and release art upon completion of the event. Please contact Michael Gumpert for further information, 609-510-8455 or firstname.lastname@example.org.