PATERSON, NJ - A major hallmark of the Renaissance period was artistic development.  Recognizing this, Center City Galleries (CCG) looks to facilitate Paterson’s renaissance and invest in the city’s cultural rebirth by opening its doors to local artists.

“This is the place that artists will have to show (their work) and have exposure, especially young artists who have never done shows before and are just breaking through and wanted to exhibit. We give everybody a fair shot,” said Nicola Nucci, part owner of CCG, Paterson’s newest gallery, which opened in Center City Mall in spring 2010.

To date, this openness and vision has lent itself to a bountiful and wide-ranging body of work produced by over 70 area artists.  The gallery has the exhilarating feel of an over-caffeinated mind -bursting with wild ideas, fantastic images, exuberant emotion, and a rainbow of colors.

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And due to the Galleries’ vast size - more than 16,000 square feet divided into four active galleries - they are able to host multiple events, appealing to various sensibilities, simultaneously. In addition to the regular exhibitions of its artists, CCG holds solo and group shows, as well as an assortment of classes.

February ushered in the opening of “The Rising Phoenix Black Fine Art Exhibit,” a powerful month-long exhibition by 11 area artists in honor of Black History Month.  It was also the beginning of February Fridays with Indi-Art favorite,  Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School.

Paterson resident and Curator Chris Fabor Muhammad selected Rising Phoenix as the theme for this year’s Black History month show as symbolic of the Black experience.  The Rising Phoenix is, “the story of a bird rising from burning ashes. From destruction comes a beautiful majestic bird.” Muhammad explained.  “With our history and legacy of slavery and oppression, whether it’s the struggles today with the economy, natural disasters in Haiti and New Orleans…we have struggled...and we have always risen to overcome whatever struggle or obstacle was put before us.”

While several of the masterful pieces in the “Rising Phoenix” exhibit are illustrative of the struggles facing the black community - incarceration, gun violence, mis-education; Muhammad’s hope-filled work is designed to operate as guideposts to help those navigating the struggle to rise up like the Phoenix. 

Inspired by the works of Professor Manu Ampim and author Dr. Juwanza Kunjufu, Muhammad’s vibrant series of five paintings focuses on African rights of passage.  The rights of passage, Muhammad explains, help to shape people and prepare them to live in accordance with their purpose.

 “The rights of passages give us training or practice so that when we go out in life we perform our purpose well, so that when we struggle we gain strength and knowledge from the struggle, so that we can leave something behind that will further others in the struggle,” he said.

 Patersonians Janet Brieva and her husband found themselves strolling through the “Rising Phoenix” exhibit on February 4 after after dining at the mall’s Hamilton & Ward Steakhouse.  When asked her thoughts, Brieva, who was clearly moved, said, “The exhibit is great. It’s interesting to see all the talent that you have here locally. It makes you feel proud to live here in Paterson.”

Meanwhile, in the next gallery, the upbeat sounds of live 1920s-style piano music could be heard dancing through the air. There, a diverse group of self-titled “Art Monkeys,” had come together to partake in the cabaret wonders of Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School.  Sketchpads in hand, pencils vigorously moving, the artists passed the night drawing the spectacularly costumed Burlesque twin models Alex and Juli Abene, who moved from pose to pose before an elaborate Prohibition period basement speakeasy set.

In 2005, New York City artist Molly Crabapple created Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School, which offers cabaret themed drawing sessions with live Burlesque models.  Six years later the school has branches throughout the world. Carol Kino of the New York Times, called Dr. Sketchy’s, “a cross between old-fashioned life drawing sessions and new-wave cabaret.”

During the drawing sessions’ intermission, the Northern New Jersey Branch Director, Paterson Art School teacher Kathy Benevento, and her partners, Karen Sudol, and Christine Conforti, raffled off prizes.  Entertainment was also provided by Amaris Skye on Ukulele with renditions of Radio Head's, “Creep” and Jason Moras’ “I’m Yours.” 

Mike Kellner of Teaneck, a first-timer to Dr. Sketchy’s said, “I haven’t done any figure drawing for a long time, so I’m feeling kind of rusty, but having fun. I will definitely be coming back.”  When asked about his impression of the Galleries overall, Kellner said, “It’s amazing that they put aside this much space for art.”

Carol Magnatta, an artist from Reddington Township, who has been going to Dr. Sketchy’s for years, explained her enthusiasm for Dr. Sketchy’s. “A lot of times when you go to a live drawing class you focus on the face, with these girls they put their whole selves into portraying the theme of the night.  This allows me to be more free to focus on movements and truly capture the models’ essence.”

About this evening she continued, “I thought it was fabulous. The models were really fun.”  She was also very impressed with the galleries, “This is a wonderful space. The galleries are beautiful. They are featuring up and coming people from the area which is exciting to see.”