Project Title: 31 Central is Falling Down: The Effects of a Sick Building on Three Communities Beholden to a Behemoth.
Artists and grassroots organizations play a pivotal role in the development of any city, often functioning with little to no resources, but providing great service to a city’s inhabitants. With few resources, but needing accessibility to their communities, these groups can become pawns to larger corporate interests looking to hedge their bets on real estate ventures.
In 2019 Jerry Gant’s last piece of artwork was removed from 31 Central, and so marked the end of an era in Newark’s Artist Community. 31 Central is located on the corner of Central Ave. and Halsey St. in downtown Newark, NJ. It was once home to a plethora of diverse businesses and organizations throughout the twentieth century, but by the end of the century the building was becoming sick, ultimately falling into a dilapidated state. From the 1990s until it’s closing, the building was rented to artists as well as two grassroots organizations: YouthBuild Newark, and the Newark LGBTQ Center, all while being observably infected by mold, leaky ceilings, and peeling paint. The inside was falling apart, but directly outside of 31 Central’s walls, Newark was being built up with glass towers and skyrocketing rents. Both 31 and the aforementioned Prudential Tower are located in downtown Newark, and both are owned by Prudential (31 is listed under subsidiary Cottage Street Orbit Acquisition, LLC).
I want to understand how the artists, grassroots organizations, and Prudential were affected by the renting of spaces that were in undeniable states of disrepair in conjunction with the perceived value of the neighborhood directly outside the building. Understanding who benefits and who pays the price, be it financial or health related, in this complicated relationship of ownership and community, aims to provide an opportunity in discovering new channels of healthy and symbiotic collaboration. It is important to the integrity of any city to maintain niche communities which serve them, even when that service is difficult to quantify in Capitalist terms.
Colleen Gutwein O’Neal is a photographer, curator, and 1st year student in the American Studies MA program at Rutgers|Newark.
O’Neal’s work is focused on the human experience through community engagement. In her most recent longterm work, The Newark Artists Photo Documentary Project, O’Neal pays tribute and immortalizes through photographs 90+ artists within the Newark arts community. The project acknowledges the industrial and photographic history of Newark by incorporating the use of film cameras manufactured in the city during the 1940s, resulting in etherial portraits of the artists and ever-changing landscape of the city they inhabit, coupled with high resolution color digital images seen online.
A natural extension to her photographic work, O’Neal curates contemporary exhibitions inspired by the artists she has built relationships with. Her curatorial approach is in collaboration with the artists, exploring socially conscious themes and providing space for conceptual and experimental works.
Keywords: Toxic, Community, Artist, Business, Air