Art and music take hold in Downtown Somerville
September 14, 2016 | Vince Baglivo
SOMERVILLE – A lengthy list of popular restaurants and annual events like the Tour of Somerville and summertime’s Friday Night Classic Car Shows earn high marks from residents and visitors when they think about Downtown Somerville.
The coming together of two relatively new happenings, each less than 10 years old, however, on the weekend of Sept. 15 to 18, underscores the emerging social scene in Somerville in a brand new way. A contemporary take on art, performance and entertainment, blended with the more traditional dining and retail, is redefining the downtown experience.
For the first time, Arts on Division, a three-day festival of arts, video and live performances, will overlap with the Central Jersey Jazz Festival on Sunday, Sept. 18 from 1 to 6 p.m. Friday starts the weekend with Jazz Festival performances in Flemington from 6. to 10 p.m. and New Brunswick on Saturday from 1 to 6 p.m.
Arts on Division, the charitable organization behind the festival of the same name, says its goal is to infuse the arts into life in downtown Somerville. A collaborative partnership between three county seats, Flemington, New Brunswick and Somerville, led by the Hunterdon County Rotary Clubs, the New Brunswick Jazz Project and the event originator, the Downtown Somerville Alliance (DSA), has created the largest music festival of its kind in the area in the three-day Central Jersey Jazz Festival.
Rick St. Pierre, the owner of Verve restaurant in downtown Somerville and a member of the Arts on Division, Central Jersey Jazz Festival and DSA boards, notes that the sponsoring organizations behind the events understand that the arts are a critical factor in keeping their respective cities active and vibrant.
Shaun Daley, who owns Gallery on Main along with Michelle Pankowski Mundt in the heart of downtown Somerville, said he has seen participation in and the popularity of the annual arts event grow significantly over the past few years.
He credits that growth, and the corresponding revitalization of downtown Somerville, with sealing the decision on where to locate after extensive research and consideration of other options in the area. The gallery is across the street from the Division Street Plaza, where Arts on Division will be staged and is a natural complement to the many cultural events that take place on Division Street throughout the year.
Gallery on Main will host an opening reception for Arts on Division on Thursday, Sept. 15, including a “Somerville Perspectives” Exhibit featuring works of all kinds with Somerville as their inspiration. Arts on Division will officially open at 6 p.m. Friday, Sept. 16, and will include a presentation by the Whitehouse Wind Symphony at 7 p.m. It will continue on Saturday, Sept. 17, from 12 to 8 p.m. with an “Art all Day” Artisan Market featuring individual artists and Printmaking Center of NJ mural painting, along with art exhibits and music music from 12 to 6 p.m.
Daley said he has seen a synergy between events like the classic car shows and simply people dining in downtown Somerville after opening Gallery on Main in July with foot traffic that sometimes keeps the space busy till 10 p.m. He credits the Downtown Somerville Alliance, providing the partnership between the borough and local business and property owners, with marketing the downtown as a destination and presenting activities and events year-round like movies, comedy nights, live music and holiday celebrations that attract residents and a steady flow of visitors.
Beth Anne Macdonald, the DSA’s executive director, added that the integration of the arts and music creates economic opportunities that represent win-win situations for all of downtown Somerville’s stakeholders.”
Restaurants and coffee houses are featuring local musicians; the work of local artists and artisans are on display in downtown businesses and for sale at our shops and boutiques,” Macdonald said. “Our businesses and restaurants attract customers who are very savvy and they aren’t looking for a cookie-cutter experience. They want the hand-crafted, one of a kind, original; whether that is a specialty cocktail, seasonal fashion or an entertainment experience. We have all of those offerings.”
Jimmy Kastner and his wife recently moved to Somerville, and quickly found subject matter close to home for his interest in photography. A graphic designer by trade, he hopes to make photography profitable as well as his passion. Kastner has already sold several of his images and found other business opportunities after displaying his photos on social media and making connections in the community.“
I feel honored to be part of the growth in downtown Somerville,” he said. “It’s a great place to be.”
For more information about Arts on Division, visit www.artsondivision.com.
For more information about the Central Jersey Jazz Festival, visit www.centraljerseyjazzfestival.com.For more information about programs and services provided by the Downtown Somerville Alliance, visit www.downtownsomerville.com, or follow news from Somerville on social media at Facebook.com/DowntownSomervilleAlliance and Instagram.com/DowntownSomerville.