BAYONNE, NJ - Billed as a three-day celebration of arts, music and culture, the Bridge Arts Festival held in Dennis Collins Park over the Sept. 7 weekend was hardly Woodstock – although thousands of people flocked to it from around Bayonne and the region.
Greeted by bright skies and modest temperatures, the event escaped the threat of rain that some forecasters had predicted as an aftermath of hurricane Dorian.
“This turned out to be a great day,” said Bayonne Mayor Jimmy Davis, who strolled through the maze of tents and art exhibits, greeting constituents while posing for pictures with many of the enthusiastic crowd.
The festival was conceived by Cheryl and Christopher Mack in order to allow people to experience quality art and entertainment without having to travel outside of Bayonne.
Set against the backdrop of the Bayonne Bridge – a symbol of the city since its construction in the 1930s, the festival has become a destination for people from within Bayonne and beyond.
Hundreds of people strolled along the park’s paths, pausing at exhibits that included displays of local artists, free activities for kids and adults, arts and crafts vendors and – naturally – plenty of food choices.
The event featured two performance areas, a main stage upon which high energy musicians like Lakecia Benjamin, Alexis Morrast, and MV Caldera provided a large audience with a variety of intense performances.
The second, more intimate, stage allowed smaller, yet equally enthusiastic, audiences to sample ethnic dance and theatrical performances – including Prince Jamian Victor and Surati Dance Company.
Jazz aficionado and organizer of Jersey City’s Riverview Jazz Festival, Bryan Beninghove, said he’d come to the event to “check out the scene,” while promoting an event called Pier Fest in Jersey City scheduled for Sept. 13, 20, 27 and Oct. 4 near Exchange Place.
Beninghove, a Bayonne resident, said Bridge Arts Festival was a hit.
“It’s a great event,” he said.
Of the thousands who attended, all but a handful understood the historic significance of the festival’s location and how crowds like these had routinely visited Uncle Milty’s amusement park – Bayonne’s answer to Palisades Amusement Park – once located here.
Bayonne recently celebrated its 150th anniversary, a fact that representatives of The Golden Door International Film Festival in Jersey City were quick to remind people about.
Nathaniel Sharkey, from Golden Door, said he had come to promote a Bayonne Night at the film festival scheduled for Sept. 17 at Andco in Jersey City during which a documentary on the 150th anniversary will be premiered.
“We have a number of Bayonne film makers showing films throughout the festival, but we felt we needed to give Bayonne a night of its own,” Sharkey said.
For some people – such as Terina Nicole – the Bridge Arts Festival was a good excuse to revisit Bayonne and mingle with old friends. Nicole, a resident of Camden, lived in Bayonne while she attended nearby New Jersey City University. She now makes her living working with leather and returned to the festival bringing with her a hefty sampling of her wares.
“I love Bayonne,” Nicole said.
The festival provided a good mix of artisans, not-for-profits, local artists and vendors. Local businesses like BCB Bank set up booths to introduce their people to the crowds. Jersey City Medical Center – which has plans to expand its Emergency Room facility on Broadway in Bayonne into a full-service center early next year, was also on hand.
Among the most curious of the vendors was Amimodules, creator of non-violent superheroes that provided “public art by the public,” and allowed people to join them in creating magical figures. Many of the multicolored and magical figures decorated the pathways of the festival, helping to create an Alice in Wonderland feeling. Funding by the Barat Foundation, the group – founded in Newark – hoped to promote peace through art.
“We were here last year,” said founder Chandri Barat. “We brought a lot of activities for kids. But these were so popular we ran out.”
While the event was an opportunity for local campaigning, some local politicians came out to meet and greet the public such as Council President Sharon Ashe-Nadrowski who said the Bridge Arts Festival helped bring people from other parts of Bayonne to the southernmost portion of the city.
“This is a great park,” she said. “Events like this help make our residents aware of it.”
The festival was part of several events in Bayonne over the weekend, including a charity baseball game taking place uptown at the 16th Street Park, and Paddle the Peninsula along the waterfront at the same location. A number of politicians such as First Ward Councilman Neil Carroll III jockeyed between the various locations.
“It’s a very busy day in Bayonne,” he said.
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