Jersey City Art Museum Closes Amid Steep Cuts in the Garden State

Jersey City Art Museum Closes Amid Steep Cuts in the Garden State

The New Jersey art scene, which only a few years ago had been experiencing a period of growth that some compared to a Garden State Renaissance, has now been dealt a serious blow in the closure of the Jersey City Museum — a victim of arts cuts stemming from the recession. After a failed bid to partner with New Jersey City University, state and city funding cutbacks have made it impossible for the institution to pay its decade-old bills from a multimillion renovation. Having closed for the holidays, the museum will remain shuttered, with the exception of an off-site display of work by African-American artists from its collection that will remain on view at the Hudson Country Courthouse.

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The museum, formerly serving 11,000 students and 25,000 visitors annually, is a casualty of governor Chris Christie's belt-tightening as he attempts to curb a $10 billion deficit. Last year, the institution's board trimmed staff and hours, but was still unable to make payments — which comes as little surprise. Even when the city had provided almost half of the institution's yearly revenue from 2007 to 2009, it was still left with a $243,000 budget gap at the end of 2009, according to the Star-Ledger. This year, entangled in a fiscal crisis of their own, the city stopped all funding to the museum. The New Jersey State Council on the Arts issued a grant of $77,211 in August, but the terms it included have not been met, and the institution has yet to receive any funding.

Founded in 1901 as an extension of the Jersey City Public Library, the Jersey City Museum filled a role in the community beyond its stewardship of more than 20,000 artworks. As Star-Ledger art critic Dan Bischoff told WNYC, "it was more important as the museum that represented Jersey City where a lot of the contemporary artists in New Jersey live and work, and the museum provided a showcase in their neighborhood to show their art." Bischoff added that the museum provided local schoolchildren not only with "classes in how to do art but classes on art appreciation, and it was a place where they could learn something about international art not just art from Jersey City."

The closure of the museum, which will retain its collection for now despite being unable to remain open, follows the shuttering of Jersey City's Powerhouse Arts District studio complex, another setback for the state's artists. A bright spot, however, is the planned New Jersey Museum of Contemporary Art, which held its inaugural exhibition last fall in a pop-up art space.

The question remains: What is to become of the Jersey City Museum's art? Ofelia Garcia, a board member at the institution, is hopeful that the museum will be able to reopen after dealing with the current crisis. The collections are "professionally cared for, safe and growing," she told the Star-Ledger, referring to a recent gift of an Arthur B. Davies painting.

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