A Community Affair…

A CommunityaffairrecapLast month I was excited to attend the Art Full Forum: A Community Affair [3/29] hosted byValleyArts in the beautiful Firehouse Gallery.  It was a chance for the community to come together and talk about the current state and future of the Valley and Orange, New Jersey.  It began with an introduction from Rising Tide Capital’s Keith Dent, and new ValleyArts Executive Director, Candace Goldstein, and later on in the evening a “state of Orange” address from Louis Copeland, and even later, the mayor, Dwayne Warren.

As the event went on I realized it was a mix of similar events I have attended in the Valley over the years.  I began to listen to topics being discussed, ones that I have heard so much of.  And because I wanted to cover the event as well, I began to think, what makes this meeting different than all the others (Creative Orange, Valley We Design, etc.)?

I looked around and was glad to see more faces I did not recognize.  Like a young married couple who was new to the neighborhood, the proprietor of the new West Orange Wings who introduced a new angle to the whole Orange/West Orange border situation.  She says, “Let’s bring them [West Orange residents] down the hill [to Orange]!”

A bulk of the time went to the activity, where the group broke up into smaller groups.  On a large white sheet of paper we were instructed to put ideas we had in mind that would improve the Valley Arts District.  In big writing I wrote two things on my group’s paper: INVEST IN AND MAKE ROOM FOR MILLENNIALS and WI-FI CAFE.  I mentioned to Julie, Program Director at ValleyArts, that someone like me would move anywhere if we had a good cafe on the corner with fast wifi and strong coffee.  Karen Wells, City of Orange historian, shared interesting tidbits about Orange and how involved she has been over the years.  And that is when the inevitable topic began to dominate the conversation: Highland Avenue train station.

The train station, I would say, was a hot topic, with all the talk about its rehabilitation recently.  I commute on the train frequently and have my own interests for the city of Orange to back up all of this talk.  However, I did not want to attend this roundtable about the future and spend the entire time complaining about the train station.  I saw this as an opportunity to really stress the importance of engaging my generation.  INVEST IN AND MAKE ROOM FOR MILLENNIALS.  As well as other points to make, ones I felt were refreshing, and needed this platform.

At the end of the group activity one person from each group was supposed to present some of the key ideas discussed in their smaller group.  All of the group presenters were young people, under thirty-years-old.  I was joined by friends Naeema Campbell and Khemani Gibson, who is currently working on a Youth-led Mayoral Debate.  This was refreshing.

It was also fun to hear from Gregory Graham who used to live in Orange but moved to California five years ago.  He was in town visiting a friend, who I recognized from Sunday’s Hat City Kitchen Blues Jam.  He said instead of going to dinner as planned, she suckered him into coming to the community affair event tonight.  He was glad she did.  He shared how impressed he was with everything that has happened in Orange since he moved to the West Coast, and if this many people came out to discuss the future, then his hometown of Orange is well on its way to becoming great.

When working on the growth of a community, it hard to see exactly how much is being done.  I say it all the time, it is important to reflect on the difference you actually did make.  I was grateful to hear this from Gregory, as it showed that change is happening and it’s evident.  I was able to catch up with him after the event at Hat City Kitchen, where he was able to have dinner as originally planned.

New residences, small businesses, surge in community engagement and youth leadership.  You cannot doubt, change is happening.  Feelings of Orange natives get complicated.  Especially when the “g word” is spoken. You know the one no one likes to say as we excitedly talk plans for the future.  GENTRIFICATION.  I listened intently as two people discussed opposite feelings towards gentrifying Orange, both born and raised in Orange.  One was completely for it, saying that if the people that already lived here didn’t do anything to make it better, why not bring in new people with plans to do so?  How much do people want their hometown to change?

On the other end of that, Naeema Campbell said it is important to remember that all types of people that live in Orange need to benefit from the changes.  Other hot topics included,

  • litter and the overall cleanliness of the streets.  For years, the community has complained that there are no trash cans on the sidewalks.  It seems pretty simple to me, people are going to throw trash on the street if there is no where to put it.
  • More opportunities for young people that are already here, hire the local artist/opportunities, crime watch
  • Small Business sustainability: helping small business being able to stay in the neighborhood
  • Beatification and murals, adding more public space and greenery
  • More volunteering and community involvement

What is special about the Valley Arts District, is the amount of community involvement and interest.  The city of Orange and the Valley are rich in history and the arts.  I feel blessed to even have the chance to attend a forum to talk about what I want from my community.  Not everyone has that opportunity, and although we need to change or add to the conversation, the conversation is still happening.  I am proud to be a part of it.

What do I feel is important in making the Valley pop?  Word of mouth.  The only way people are going to change their perception of Orange is to continue to talk about it.  No, as a matter of fact, rave about it.  Impose on people that you live, work and attend some of the coolest, trendiest events here in the Valley.  Make it so that the people around you are like, “let me come by the Valley so you could shut the F up.”  Become a neighborhood ambassador . Also, those that are active on social media: check in when you in town, let everyone know what you are doing there, and use the hashtag #valleyartsdistrict.

Thank you to ValleyArts, ArtFull and everyone who was able to put this event on.  ValleyArts has new programs like PACarts beginning this month, the Open Orange exhibition, and more for the rest of the year.  You can go to www.valleyartsnj.com to find out more information about creative initiatives coming this year.

In the planning stages of the next Masconsumption networking event, it was good to see what is already being talked about to ValleyArts, potential funders and the Mayor.  And more importantly, it made me think about what need to be talking about.  The Takeover Networking event [May 6th] targets the millennials that are already here, and the ones that need to be.

My blog has been doing as much as it can to get the word out there.  Sign up for our newsletter THE SCENE to keep up with New Jersey’s Valley Arts District.  Join me as I continue to brand this neighborhood the coolest ‘hood on the rise, blowing Brooklyn out of the water as the destination for trend. Visit www.masconsumption.com and sign up for our newsletter as Masconsumption continues to be the “curator of cool.”

About the Writer

Patricia Rogers, #ValleyGirlNJ, lives in New Jersey’s Valley Arts District.  The native New Yorker works as a writer, blogger and community activist. Starting Masconsumption Media in 2012, she has been passionate about capturing the stories of the vibrant up and coming Valley Arts District neighborhood through her blog, zine, events and more.  She blogs for Jersey Indie, Luna Stage, and Hat City Kitchen and offers many creative media services.  Visit her blog www.masconsumption.com and keep up with your favorite Valley Girl on social media at @valleygirl_nj (Twitter / Instagram).

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