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Arts in New Brunswick

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You can often measure the vibrancy of a city by exploring its arts and culture scene. But we're not just talking about fun and games. In the National League of Cities' 2017 State of the Cities report, Arts and Culture was an important sub-topic when discussing economic development. This is because the arts and culture play a role in just about every issue a city faces, from job creation to education, community development, quality of life, etc. And this makes this sector a major magnet for economic growth. In New Brunswick, arts and culture have always been a main component of urban life.

One important sign of New Brunswick's continued investment in arts and culture is the $172 million New Brunswick Performing Arts Center, currently under construction, a development project that will transform the downtown area. Set to open in 2019, this massive project will house the George Street Playhouse, the Crossroads Theatre Company, the American Repertory Ballet, the New Brunswick Cultural Center, and the Mason Gross School of the Arts, as well as over 200 mixed-income housing units and a 344-car parking garage. And this, right next door to the State Theatre New Jersey and surrounded by acclaimed restaurants, bars, comedy clubs, art galleries, parks, and other attractions.

Rutgers University also plays a major role in making New Brunswick a vibrant hub for arts and culture, with a wide range of museums and galleries, ethnic and cultural centers, film and music festivals, and readings and lectures, held all around the city and throughout the year. Other important "players"in the arts and culture scene in New Brunswick include the New Brunswick Community Arts Council, coLAB Arts, the New Brunswick Jazz Project, New Brunswick Public Sculpture, New Brunswick Cultural Center, and many others.

During the summer months, New Brunswick hosts a range of events - many of them free - that bring people together in celebration of arts and culture, for example: Hub City Sounds, a free and family-welcoming performing, visual, and culinary arts festival series with events for all tastes, such as the Caribbean and Indo-American festivals; Summer Afternoons at Kilmer Square Park; free movies at State Theatre New Jersey, The Yard, and Rutgers Gardens; exhibitions at various galleries; the Central Jersey Jazz Festival; the Raritan River Festival; and live performances four nights a week downtown, just to name a few.

But perhaps some of the most exciting projects feature initiatives by community-based organizations, such as New Brunswick Tomorrow's Esperanza Neighborhood Project, that showcase and bring together the city's diverse neighborhoods with events such as Ciclovia, and their collaborations with coLAB Arts, such as the unveiling of a series of colorful mural paintings, the most recent one titled "Una Gota Rompe La Piedra/A Drop Breaks the Stone", which included a story slam celebration at Oaxaca Park/War Memorial Park, where residents shared stories of perseverance, grit, and determination; and an earlier one this year, the second Miracle/Milagros community mural, at the corner of Hamilton and Harvey streets, dedicated to promoting Healthy Relationships and Dating Violence Prevention (sponsors included the Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital/RWJ Barnabas Health, Verizon, the Rutgers Collaborative Center for Community-Based Research and Service, and The City of New Brunswick).

In fact, New Brunswick has a long history of promoting artistic expression combined with community initiatives, in collaboration with different stakeholders such as those mentioned above, through a long series of murals throughout the city dating back to the late 1990s. From the colorful paintings in Boyd Park and along Route 18, to the walls of restaurants, parking garages and other locations near downtown, the murals often represent stories of the struggles of immigrants and ethnic minorities, but also depictions of unity and the hope for a better future.

And downtown businesses are also getting into the arts: for example, Blackthorn Restaurant and Irish Pub recently announced a call to New Brunswick artists, inviting them to submit renderings of an Irish-themed mural proposal for a wall space in their downstairs dining room.

The arts and culture scene in New Brunswick is an excellent example of a city coming together to improve life for residents, businesses, and institutions alike, and those investments will keep on paying dividends well into the future.

New Brunswick Tomorrow/coLAB Arts' latest mural, at the heart of the French Street Corridor. (Photo by Monica Reyes).