Jersey City Funding the Arts? Maybe

Recently, the Jersey City council approved a ballot referendum for creating an arts trust fund in Jersey City. The proposal would dedicate permanent revenue for local arts and culture organizations. A small additional property tax would collect an estimated $800,000 to $1,000,000 per year–all for the arts.

Historically, Jersey City has received scant arts funding from government, non-profit, and corporate sources. This is especially troubling considering the city’s growing population, visible arts community, and its geographic proximity to New York City.

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An art exhibit at Casa Colombo–one organization which might benefit from an arts trust. (Photograph by author)

Local arts organizations and advocates have lobbied for permanent arts funding for years. Finally, their work finally might be paying off.

The New Jersey government recently passed and signed legislation allowing for municipalities to create long-term funding mechanisms for art and culture. Jersey City hopes to be the first to do that in the Garden State.

As expected, the referendum and the potential arts trust fund have drawn questions. How would the trust be managed? Who would decide which organizations and individuals receive awards? Are creative activities defined too broadly? These critiques and queries are not without merit or justification. A history of government corruption, nepotism, patronage, and poor decisions haunts the public imagination in Jersey City.

However, the proposed arts trust–if well-managed–will demonstrate that Jersey City values art and culture. Practically speaking, this financial commitment might help attract resources from outside parties. Non-profit, corporate, and government organizations and agencies might see Jersey City as a real partner in supporting and promoting the arts.

Will emerging artists look to Jersey City as a place to live and work? Will creative industries see Jersey City as a place to grow their businesses? Will arts organizations be able to build sustainable programs? Will donors look to invest in Jersey City’s cultural landscape? Will art belong to the fabric of the city?

Will an arts trust resolve all the challenges faced by artists and cultural organizations in Jersey City? Certainly not. But it’s a good start.

Jersey City voters will make their choice in November.

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