State of the City 2010

Mayor James Kennedy focused almost exclusively on the arts during his State of City remarks at Tuesday night’s City Council meeting.

In addition to the expected groundbreaking of an amphitheater at the former Hamilton Laundry site and a 200-seat black box theater at the adjacent Bell building, the mayor mentioned a few other arts-related projects in the works for 2010:

* A Manhattan-based piano restoration company plans to establish the Klavierhaus Piano Conservatory in office space adjacent to the Union County Performing Arts Center on Irving Street. It plans to offer a variety of recitals, lessons, performances and more “with special emphasis given to young people.”

* Three floors of its Irving Street facility have been vacant since a fire 30 years ago but the Rahway branch of the YMCA of Eastern Union County is negotiating with the city and RSI Bank to convert 6,000 square feet of vacant space into work space for artists.

* The former Elizabethtown Gas building, at the corner of Hamilton Street and Central Avenue, will be marketed as the home of a future art school and cooperative gallery, and possible “live-work space” for professional artists. (Also mentioned in the 2009 State of the City.)

“The arts make good business sense and artists are powerful creative capital,” said Kennedy, adding that New Jersey ranked 8th among the 50 states in the number of arts-related employment and business. He emphasized that the projects eventually must become self-sustaining. “You can’t keep pumping money into this,” the mayor said.

The Bell property will include dance and performance space and will be open to a dance troupe, theater company and comedy performances, including 15 weeks by the Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company. Details of who will manage these facilities remain to be finalized, but it’s expected to be some combination of the groups, and/or a nonprofit to be created through a cultural arts trust fund.

The mayor anticipates hosting an “arts conclave” in the spring to “bring all of these elements together and to make a coordinated, cooperative plan a reality in 2010 and beyond.” The conservatory could being as early as this month, he said, and some of the initiatives might get rolling in a “reasonable amount of time,” perhaps three to four months.

Jan. 13 UPDATE: Here’s an editorial from the News-Tribune regarding the mayor’s State of the City address and the city’s “ambitious goals” for 2010, entitled “Rahway on revitalization track with arts commitment.” You can the complete State of the City address here.