NEWARK, NJ - A moderator’s marker scratched across a large white notepad as ideas about protecting Newark’s art spaces were quickly scrawled down.

“It's not just about providing the space, but also providing the tools so that you're sustainable,” said Cheryl Mack, who runs the Bridge Art Gallery in Bayonne and participates in arts festivals here.

Scratch, scratch the marker went. The scribbling sounds were barely discernible over the discussions taking place in New Jersey Institute of Technology’s Wellness and Events Center.

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Gwen Moten, the executive director of the Mayor’s Office of the Arts, chimed in that Newark has so many vacant, abandoned properties right now. Churches and schools could be used for art spaces too, she said.

“Somehow, we need to step in and develop some kind of collaboration to control those spaces,” Moten piped up after Mack’s point. “Or maybe, that's where we get the businesses in to help support artists renting those spaces.”

The discussion was one of the dozens of breakout sessions today for Creative New Jersey’s Call to Collaboration forum. The two-day event brings together community groups to come up with questions and connect with others to brainstorm solutions.

Creative New Jersey, a statewide initiative of the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, did not come up with the agenda for the forum. Individuals did. They wrote down questions, concerns and issues in Newark and then divided into about 50-minute long break out sessions for each topic.

Call to Collaboration began in 2011 on a statewide level, but the forum is now held annually on a local levels in cities like Camden and Paterson. Creative New Jersey Executive Director Elizabeth Murphy said Newark was chosen this year because it’s a pivotal point across so many different sectors and industries.

“It's like a booster shot,” said Murphy. “It helps to deepen those networks, it helps to strengthen those relationships.”

The questions were a reflection on Newark: How to support adjudicated youth? Or increase voter turnout in local elections? Create healthy communities? Reduce homelessness? Train and support entrepreneurs? Stay on top of Newark’s lead and water issues?

More than 280 adults registered and 80 high school students will attend. Registered groups for the event included Clean Water Action, Girls Scouts Heart of New Jersey, Ironbound Community Corporation, several schools, hospitals, and corporations.

Individuals were encouraged to float around from group to group or even step outside to chat. It was near the water coolers that Newark Arts Executive Director Jeremy Johnson shared an idea about finding - and controlling - art spaces.

“The mayor has talked about this land bank,” Johnson told TAPinto Newark, adding that perhaps artists could purchase vacant, city-owned property on the cheap from that system. “That may be a solution.”

After each break out session, moderators would take their notepads to a computer station and input the information. The notes will be made public and used to create a road map for follow-ups and action.

The forum has resulted in a number of community initiatives, festivals and more.

In Asbury Park, event organizers say the forum sparked a group of artists and arts business owners to petition for an arts and culture Plan in the shore town's new Master Plan. The city’s updated Master Plan report reportedly went on to include a new Arts District, with goals to create more affordable space and housing.

This is the first time the Call to Collaboration has been held in Newark. The event was held in NJIT’s new Wellness and Events Center, which opened last year. The space has also hosted the Voice Summit.

“The great thing is, it really wants to have a community voice with partners across the university, across the community, across the district, across the city,” said NJIT’s Chief External Affairs Officer Angela Garretson of the forum. “So even youth and inter-generational voices, which I think is so unique and beautiful.”

Groups were invited by a local host team that was put together by Creative New Jersey. Those who were unable to register may still attend the last day of the event tomorrow, organizers said.

Friday’s forum will run from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Parking is available at the parking deck at 42 Wilsey St. For more information, contact Creative New Jersey Programming Director Kacy O'Brien at

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