A thriving downtown needs people. With that in mind, the Trenton Downtown Association acquired use of the lower floor of the former Broad Street Bank at the corner of East State and South Montgomery streets two years ago to create a space for Trenton’s growing artist community and a place for people to gather around the art.
The result is the striking BSB Gallery, with its tall glass windows high ceilings and period lighting, welcoming artists and visitors as it works to secure a niche as a contemporary arts and education space in Trenton’s Canal to Creek arts district.
BSB, which stands for Broad Street Bank and now is owned by Bayville Holdings, was originally built in 1900 and known as Trenton’s first skyscraper.
The gallery is open Thursdays to Saturdays 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Hours are added for events like openings, special lectures, and parties such as the Saturday, October 26, artist reception and costume party marking the end of the exhibit “The Surreality of Fear” in the new G2, second gallery.
The two gallery curators, Christy O’Connor and Aine Mickey, personally renovated the G2 space, painting the walls a dramatic dark gray. G2 opened this past August. The 17-piece show includes works by artists from New York, New Jersey, Russia, and Europe.
Mickey and O’Connor, in their 20s and 30s respectively, have worked together for two years and seem to complement each other in expertise. As for the direction and mission of the gallery, “We are on the same page,” says Mickey.
O’Connor is a painter, mixed media artist, and sculptor from Monmouth County. She has curated pop art exhibits throughout the state and has had her own art practice for five years with works in many shows throughout the region. Although she did not grow up with artists in the family (her dad was an ice cream salesman), she had a passion for art and photography and majored in art in college. She taught pre-school and decided to make a change and focus on the visual art part of her training as opposed to the art education part.
Mickey, who grew up in Trenton, is a fine art and documentary photographer with a focus on social and economic inequality. She has worked on film sets and owns her own photography business. The daughter of project managers, she has a background in pharmaceutical business development and brings her organizational skills to arts and event marketing with experience producing large outdoor events. Her photography is shown in Trenton galleries and is slated for an exhibitions at the at Mercer County Community College’s downtown JKC Gallery for photography.
TDA Executive Director Tom Gilmour says the BSB “is a gallery where we try different things and have fun.”
TDA was formed in 1986 to stimulate economic growth and investments in Trenton through business recruitment, marketing support, partnerships, and related programs.
The bank had been vacant some 17 years, he says. “TDA is all about revitalizing downtowns, bringing in business, and recruitment and retention. But it doesn’t work unless we also bring in visitors. There is already a strong creative arts community in the city, and BSB is a platform to show off that art.”
Gilmour previously was director of economic development in Asbury Park, where the arts, notably music, transformed the city.
He adds that there is a migration of artists who are being pushed out of larger, more expensive cities, and who find they can afford studio and living space in Trenton. “It’s an artist-friendly city,” he says.
BSB was created with support by a grant from the George H. and Estelle M. Sands Foundation and by Isles Inc., with support from the New Jersey Neighborhood Revitalization Tax Credit Program.
“We had the idea, and once we secured the grant, we picked that specific space because East State Street was inactive, but had potential,” he says. The corner is evolving, with the Commonwealth Building across the street being renovated for mixed use. “Currently the challenge is walk-ins, but TDA is all about challenges,” Gilmour says. He envisions an active block in about five years.
For the next few years, BSB’s objective is to “cultivate creativity and community,” according to its mission statement. The space, says O’Connor, should “bring art to the Trenton Community, to become a staple in the community, so the people in Trenton can have work exhibited, and be a place for professional development.”
The gallery is walking distance from many state offices and a block from the post office. “We want people to know we’re here,” says O’Connor. “We are looking to branch outward but want to be part of the community. We are open to ideas. We want Trenton to be involved, to create a core base of people who want to be here.”
Adds Mickey: “People are busy. They don’t think they have time. We need to incentivize. Once in, the space should engage people. It should become a place that can provide culture that is positive, interesting.” She says print marketing and word of mouth has been helpful.
BSB wants to attract artists from Trenton and from other areas and enlarge the city’s community of artists.
BSB will offer professional development this winter, with classes in business writing, CV writing, and other skills helpful to artists or the general public including lectures, art demonstrations, and children’s programming. Educators are invited to apply to teach.
Mickey, having grown up in Trenton, says she can detect the evolution of the arts community. “It’s always been an interesting place, defined mostly by small businesses. I don’t remember art to be too big a deal in the past, but art has gotten more momentum with murals, festivals, and galleries.”
BSB recently hosted, with the TDA, the first Fiber Arts Festival and public yarn bombing in Mill Hill Park where the trees took on colorful yarn and fiber coatings.
BSB will be part of a November 2 Trenton celebration, Art All Day, which involves more than 20 Trenton arts and other organizations, including Artworks, the Orchid House, JCK Gallery, Hanover Creative, and others, with live art and studio tours, and bike, walking, and trolley tours of the arts district. BSB will offer a Fiber Lit yarn bombing demonstrations. Artist Scott Lewis will discuss his current solo exhibition. “The Anxiety Side Show,” an exploration of, and fascination with the visual and literary, portraying a character’s psyche, continues until November 2. Featured in G2 will be Trenton pen and ink artist ISeeDyfrnt. A native of Ghana, he is inspired by different cultures and spirituality.
Upcoming exhibits will continue to be unique and inclusive. During the first year in 2018, there was already a schedule of exhibitions set up for the gallery, but it didn’t include a plan for after January, 2019. So the curators put out an open call for solo or collaborative proposals and selected the strongest artists.
Upcoming exhibitions include “Road Maps: Navigating Moments,” November 7 to December 7, with an opening reception Friday, November 8. The two separate solo exhibitions feature paintings and mixed-media works by Tali Margolin and Heidi Sussman. They will each present a hands-on class. Margolin presents “Journey Through Memories, Preserving a Memory,” on Saturday, November 9, from 1 to 3 p.m. Sussman offers “A Journey to Paint — A Painting Party with Music,” Saturday, November 16, from 1 to 3 p.m. Participants should register through the BSB web site.
The year will end with “Every Ghetto, Every City,” December 14 to January 4, with an opening reception Friday, December 13. The show examines city life, from corruption to inequality and the communal spirit of perseverance and strength in urban communities.
January brings “Badlands,” January 9 through February 8, featuring works by sculptor Domenic Sansone, who relies on everyday and accessible building materials.
For 2020 O’Connor and Mickey will put their curatorial skills to more use, planning exhibitions with themes and more artists in the larger space. They will switch each month to curate a show, with a theme of their choosing. While the themes are not yet announced, they hinted to look for socially conscious subject matter.
BSB Gallery, 143 East State Street, Trenton. Thursday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. 609-599-3268 or www.bsbgallery.com.