By Thomas Kelly -December 27, 2020
The arts contribute more than $750 billion annually to the U.S. economy and employ more than 5 million people. And, in Hamilton, we happen to be smack dab in the middle of the best geographical area for fine arts in the country.
With some of America’s best art museums within a day’s drive (from Boston to Washington, D.C.), this is a terrific area for art, artists and collectors.
But what about Hamilton itself? What is going well here with the fine arts?
“Fine art” usually means paintings, sculpture, printmaking photography and mixed media. Fine art is usually one of a kind or a limited series. Fine art is handmade and not mass produced.
The Post asked Hamilton artists Leni Morante, Joe Gyurcsak, Margaret Simpson, Megan Uhaze Wear, Adriana Groza and Pat Proniewski for their opinion on what is going well, what may need attention and what they would like to see in the future.
All of the artists interviewed echoed the same sentiment—Grounds For Sculpture is a world-class venue.
Grounds For Sculpture is a 42-acre sculpture park, museum, and arboretum founded on the site of the former New Jersey State Fairgrounds. Opened to the public in 1992, founded by artist and philanthropist Seward Johnson, GFS presents and conserves a collection of contemporary sculpture, offers programming for all ages and provides rotating exhibitions in six indoor galleries. There are restaurants, gift shops, concerts, tours and classes. Memberships are available, as are single date tickets.
Grounds For Sculpture brings in visitors from all over the country, and many foreign languages can be heard from visitors. If you visit, be sure to block out at least two hours to get a cursory overview.
Another strong point for Hamilton is the amount of artists living and working here. Some were drawn to Hamilton by the Grounds For Sculpture and the nearby Seward Johnson Atelier, which fabricates, restores, maintains and places sculpture all over the world. Making the sculpture requires craftspeople, such as carpenters, metal workers, welders and painters.
There are also painters, photographers, graffiti artists, sculptors and more living and working in Hamilton. The Hamilton Post has been showcasing these residents each month, in an art column that both promotes the artist and attempts to engage the community in the arts. The artists themselves are aware of each other’s work and events largely through social media.
The recently reformed Hamilton Arts Commission is an advisory board of artists, performers, actors and writers in the township. The board helps promote and showcase the arts in town, and has a direct line to government in the form of township council member Nancy Phillips, who serves as council liaison. There has been an art exhibition at the Hamilton Public Library with music and snacks, with more planned post-pandemic. There have been intimate artist studio talks with area artists speaking about topics of interest. The commission also has launched a project that solicits residents to create an artwork based on the theme of thankfulness. All submissions are due before Jan. 18, and will be displayed on the township website.
What can be better?
The artists said Hamilton lacks in a few areas. One that comes to the forefront is a bricks and mortar arts center. The artists who live here also showcase their work in neighboring towns. West Windsor, Princeton, Trenton and Yardley all have dedicated buildings for gallery exhibition space, performance spaces, lectures, meetings and classes. A real space to have a home for the arts and the community would keep Hamilton artists in town to showcase their talents here.
The artists also said they would like to have a virtual meeting place. A website, Instagram, Zoom chats or some other corner of the new virtual world would be a way for the artists to meet, learn, teach, share and sell work in the community. A comprehensive information hub is not possible without resources, both financial and manpower, but the benefits would be tremendous in the ability to engage with the entire community, the artists said.
Beyond artists supporting each other, there is a need to be able to bring the arts to the people for sale. The artists said that, if given the chance, the public would support pop up art markets as they do in neighboring towns. West Windsor has an Off the Wall Holiday Marketplace, Princeton has Sauce for the Goose with art and handmade pieces, and Trenton has the hugely popular Punk Rock Flea Market with much art and other original pieces. In lieu of a permanent art center, pop up events such as these could stir interest, sales and enjoyment in Hamilton.
Getting big ideas from artists is the easy part. Dream type projects of an arts center, with performance space, art gallery with rotating exhibitions and classes for all segments of people would help Hamilton compare well with our neighboring towns. While money is a question, the real issue would be engagement and value. Does Hamilton value arts and culture enough to support it?
There are no art galleries in Hamilton. There are some venues that show and sell art in addition to their regular offerings, such as Brookwood Café in Mercerville. The township has seen the need to prioritize open space, parks and keeping historic sites funded and viable. Can the arts be understood enough to be an addition to Hamilton’s recreation offerings?
Will seniors take classes and show their art in exhibitions? Will we be able to showcase student work in rotating exhibitions? Can an artist talk, film or poetry slam draw an audience? Will Hamilton residents purchase original art from local artists instead of mass produced works from home stores? These are the questions of the future.