PATERSON, NJ – Saturday, May 5 was a day that defied expectations. Weather forecasters predicted rain, but the streets of Paterson remained dry well into the late hours of the evening. And while local artists were hopeful about the outcome of Paterson’s Fourth Annual Art Walk, few could have predicted the successful turn-out for a festival that in many ways rivaled DUMBO’s Arts Festival in Brooklyn, minus the ass-to-elbow crowds. 

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Ian Grinyer a painter who teaches art at Ivanhoe and Paterson’s Dawn Treader Christian School was involved in Art Walk for a second year said, “There were more people than we’ve had before. The Dolphin Mill gave us more space to work with.”

Emil Silverman, a sculptor and installation artist from New York said that the Paterson show “drew very high level work.”  He attributed this in part to the fact that artists are not governed by curators at Art Walk, and therefore have more freedom, as well as to the unique architecture of the pre-Civil War era mills, whose enormous brick structures “breathe like ancient walls.” 

According to Silverman, they “reproduce what Soho was like in the 60’s. There you had textile factories and artists worked with the spaces. The work they produced stole the stage from Europe and pushed America to the forefront of art. It was an amazing point in art history and you see artists recreating the same experiences in Paterson. These spaces really stimulate the creative mind to start working.”

Twenty-two locations throughout Paterson’s Commercial and Historic Districts were set aside to showcase the art of two hundred artists from New York and New Jersey. The works were of all genres and ranged from performing arts, live poetry and dance to photography, oil painting and installations.

Many of the highly experimental installation artists drew inspiration from the history of the well-crafted mills and warehouses where their work was located, using found objects as the basis of their exhibits.  With the assistance of such incongruent objects as Christmas trees and FedEx boxes, a little paint and a lot of creativity, century-old warehouses were turned into alternate realities with the feel of madcap fun houses. Beneath the exposed pipes of 20-foot ceilings, artists created everything from royal wedding chapels to native villages.

Amongst a maze of hallways and enormous rooms, some filled with light and swept clean, others with dark corners and unknown contents, objects assumed new identities.  Corner after corner revealed the thrills of new visual delights and the land on the other side of the mirror suddenly became accessible. 

Light bulbs became vases. Floors became candle-filled pools of water reflecting strange black and white images.  Plumbing pipes became diving boards. Loading docks became live music stages for Indie bands, and in the driveways below and the fire escapes above, hipsters reminiscent of Williamsburg danced while local Bongoceros looked on.

The hope among artists and supporters is that the exhibits will become a permanent feature in the mills a la the contemporary arts lab also known as PS 1 Contemporary Art Center in Queens. Standing next to a 10-foot ball of silver wire, and a life sized 14-foot airplane made from metal studs and scrap, a wall sized calendar of coffee cups behind him, one participant named Bob predicted that in years to come “this area will become a Mecca for artists and the festival will become increasingly difficult for artists to enter, which is good and bad, success can be its own failure.”

Silverman elaborated, “Eventually the success of the neighborhood taking over chokes the idea of art. I told the Mayor that he should set aside an area just for the artists. Today in Soho you will not find a single gallery. Chelsea you have galleries but artists can no longer afford to live there. Williamsburg is the same. The neighborhood turns around and the artists are turned away. Somebody who has a real vision should keep some area preserved for art and untouched by law. You have to keep some sort of center totally intact for art. You really want to keep artists in there because they are the ones who will keep it going.”