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Artists Exhibiting in Neighboring Valley Arts District

South Orange resident Patrick Morrissy is working through non-profit HANDS to help revitalize Orange neighborhood with an arts district.

In the ongoing effort to develop an arts district in the Valley neighborhood in Orange—once dubbed the hat-making capital of the world and dotted with former industrial buildings of the sort that artists have thronged to in communities from Williamsburg, Brooklyn to Jersey City—the proximity to neighboring South Orange has been considered critical from the get-go.

"[The district] is right snug up against a town that's enjoying a tremendous renaissance," said Patrick Morrissy, 63, executive director of HANDS, Inc., a non-profit that focuses on neighborhood revitalization in Orange and East Orange, and a resident of South Orange since 1986.

Plans to develop an arts district in the Valley date back to the earlier part of this decade, and the City of Orange designated the Central Valley Redevelopment Area in December 2005, which called for mixed-use development and 1,000 new condo units on 10 blocks near the Highland Avenue train station. HANDS's role was to develop 100 permanently affordable arts spaces—including subsidized artist live-work lofts—which the non-profit would own and maintain.

About a dozen are currently occupied, and HANDS's first-ever tenant was Arts Unbound on Freeman Street, a non-profit whose mission is to provide visual arts opportunities to people with disabilities, and whose executive director, Catherine Lazen, also lives in South Orange.

By attracting people like Lazen that represent "smaller nodes of creative energy," Morrissy hopes to revitalize the neighborhood while avoiding the gentrification that often ensues when artists move into depressed neighborhoods and make them alluring, ultimately driving up housing prices and pricing residents out.

"The idea of building around people like that became a strategy," said Morrissy, who's also a coach of Columbia High School's girls ultimate frisbee team.

Also among HANDS's first dozen tenants are Anthony and Cybele White, owners of Daily Soup in the Rutgers Law Center in Newark and 15-year South Orange residents, who are eyeing a late May opening for their second location at 501 Central Ave. The cafe/wine bar will serve soup, fondue and light appetizers and is in the process of obtaining a liquor license through HANDS.

Though he's on the vanguard of new businesses moving to the area, Anthony White, 48, is optimistic about the neighborhood's prospects. He first noticed its potential for redevelopment during daily drives from South Orange to Newark and signed a lease with HANDS three years ago.

"If everybody saw it the way I see it, i wouldn't have the opportunity to be there," said White, whose space was once home to the well-known Coquelle's Bakery and, prior to that, a stained-glass factory.

Though some residential construction is stalled due to the economic downturn, "the bigger projects are planned and ready to go," says Morrissy, and that includes 228 units to be developed in the Harvard Printing Site on Central Avenue.

Morrissy's vision is to create a regional destination along the Rahway River that encompasses future arts spaces in the Valley arts district, SOPAC, Cecil's Jazz Club in West Orange, the Gaslight, and various Italian restaurants in the Valley that people who would otherwise avoid Orange still return to, including Libretti's.

"It's a little bit of a stretch from SOPAC to the Orange Valley, but not much," he said.

Artists have already begun showing their work in the Valley. The show Uncharted Territory, will be open May 1-31 on Wednesdays through Sundays from noon to 6 p.m. at the Harvard Printing Company, 540 Central Ave., Orange. There's an opening reception Saturday, May 2, from 5 to 8 p.m.

Here's more info:

Oualie Art, a studio-gallery with a focus on photo-based arts for local, national and international artists and art projects is proud to announce Uncharted Territory.
 
Uncharted Territory is a multiple site event showcasing contemporary site-specific 2-D and 3-D art installations, video and performance art. This is the first of two exhibitions that will take place in 2009 and are part of a long-term project, Sight Specific, which seeks to use installation and performance art to engage both public open space as well as raw interior spaces. 

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