HACKENSACK, N.J. – As commuters stepped off the NJ Transit buses and moseyed through the Hackensack Bus Station at rush hour on Monday night, members of the city’s Creative Arts Team drew their attention to a funky art installation they’re calling The Hacktivator. 

Inside this neon green-lit booth filled with red balloons, actors who took turns playing a fortuneteller, a Shakespearean rapper, and 19thCentury French stage actress Sarah Bernhardt, awakened to the delight of curious passersby after they pushed a gold button and dropped their cards into a slot which bore their responses or drawings to the question: “What brings you back to life?”

The project – a creative placemaking initiative presented by Creative Hackensack, led by the Main Street Business Alliance’s Creative Arts Team (CAT) in partnership with the Northern New Jersey Community Foundation's ArtsBergen – is aimed at garnering community input to create an art walk at Demarest Place. This walkway would cross Main Street between the Atlantic Street bus stop and the Hackensack Performing Arts Center using arts and culture, lighting, landscaping, seating, events, and activities to transform or “hacktivate” Hackensack’s nondescript transit village into a vibrant destination for the arts to better reflect the city’s artistic character and appeal to visitors and city residents.

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Commuters on Monday filled out a survey which asked questions ranging from if they live, work or travel through Hackensack, if they traverse the walkway to get to Main Street from the bus terminal, and what they think would make using the walkway a more pleasant experience.

“With the Hacktivator, we’re trying to get the opinions of people who use Demarest Place, who use the bus station, what they would like to see to get them to go up to Main Street or to walk the entire way,” explained Danielle said Danielle De Laurentis, associate director, Northern New Jersey Community Foundation. “So we have our actors, and they’re taking surveys about their preferences, what kind of activities would they like to see, would they like to see lighting, murals…”

Earlier this year, world-renowned artist Damien Mitchell painted a mural on the side of the Alexander Real Estate Group building at the corner of Main Street and Demarest Place to build a sense of community and foster civic pride in Hackensack. The art walk would be an extension of the artistic expression that CAT and all the involved organizations, seeks to spread.

“We want people to feel connected,” said De Laurentis. “We kind of look at it like, well, what if it were sort of a mini high line in Hackensack filled with seating, arts, lighting, programming, things like that. We’re trying to build some connection to what people feel towards Demarest Place. So if I answer something that brings me back to life is being with my kids, and they see it in a piece of art that is in a walkway that they’re using, they feel connected to that place.”

She continued, “The city is in a major redevelopment. There’s a lot of transition, so we want to build that connection as this transition is happening.” 

The Current on River, presently under development by Hekemian, is slated to open this winter. The new structure will bring 254 luxury apartments within walking distance of the Hackensack Performing Arts Center, located on State Street mere blocks from the Bus Station.

On Monday night, people young and old lit up as they watched in amusement as Annemarie Hagenaars, the actress who played Bernhardt, engaged them in her best French accent for a minute about how she was a world-renowned actress who told them of her life which, though lonely at times, was often filled with many lovers, admirers and friends. The fortuneteller, played by Claire Porter, read their palms and told them of their so-called “fortunes” from winning a round-trip to Bogota to making coconut cookies on a Bunsen burner.  

“This is exactly what we wanted,” said De Laurentis of the turnout. “The whole idea of creative place making is to engage the community with the arts and really get them excited, and to bring more life especially, to Demarest Place and the bus station and to make it a happier place.”

Commuters are encouraged to visit the Hacktivator Booth, which will be set up at the Atlantic Street Bus Station throughout the rest of the week. 

To join the mailing list, email your contact information to the Northern NJ Community Foundation’s ArtsBergen at artsbergen@nnjcf.orgor follow them on Facebook at Facebook.com/Creative Hackensack.