That these are uncertain times was driven home on early on June 17 when Trenton’s annual Art All Night became the scene of a shootout involving alleged gang members and police.
It was the 12th installment of the highly popular 24-hour arts festival that had become a community celebration of the arts — attracting an estimated 30,000 attendees, more than 1,000 submissions by artists, and scores of community musicians who wanted to contribute to the spirit and sound of the event.
In the June 13 U.S. 1 article “Hanging Up and Hanging Out at Art All Night,” writer Susan Van Dongen reported that in addition to the exhibition there would be “live demonstrations and interactive events” throughout the 24-hour span, everything from graffiti artists creating on a huge piece of canvas, to circus professionals walking a high wire, to iron pours, to barbers and hairdressers cutting hair.” “We can never anticipate what’s going to happen,” said longtime volunteer Bruce Toth
Toth’s comment was prophetic, but not in the way he intended. For some unclear reason the event grounds become the site of a grudge match between two individuals. The end result was a gunman shot by the police, 22 people injured, a bruised beloved public event, and stunned coordinators and volunteers watching their community-building event join a list of American tragedies created by men who chose to create a sense of self by unleashing violence at schools, movie theaters, malls, and parades.
Outgoing Trenton mayor Eric Jackson called the occasion a “tragedy for our country and for Trenton,” adding “all shootings — whether multiple or singular, whether in a city or a suburb — are a crisis.”
As the AAN coordinators attempt to process what has happened, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy has stepped forward and said, “The organizers of Art All Night are champions for Trenton. We need that event and events like that to bring this community together. The thousands of peaceful festival-goers are champions. The community leaders working hard to bring peace to the streets are champions. And I will be a champion for Trenton as well.”
Meanwhile hope continues, including those of Mayor Elect Reed Gusciora, who begins his term on July 1 and wants a review on making the event safer. And this week the county and the state are conducting forums to help individuals, families, and community express their feelings about the shock of violence.
The next sessions are set for Thursday, June 28, at the New Jersey State Museum Auditorium, 205 West State Street, from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. and then from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m. Attendees can register at email@example.com or by calling 609-281-7218; no one will be turned away.
All this attention, said Mayor Jackson, “should have been for the actual Art All Night event that brings out more than 25,000 people annually to enjoy art in Trenton.”
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