Municipal Arts Group Brings Big Change To Bound Brook
Anyone wondering how much community impact a municipally-sponsored arts group can have in just one year should observe the Bound Brook Cultural Arts Committee in action.
Established by Bound Brook council ordinance in late 2017, the committee has spent the first months of 2018 generating a steady flow of arts activities and installations throughout Somerset County's oldest borough.
The committee's highest-visibity projects have involved creating an extensive array of colorful murals and artwork on public buildings and downtown store windows, in schools and at street intersections. Committee members have also introduced artcrafts, music and dance to established community events such as the annual Holiday Tree Lighting, Santa Run, Trunk-or-Treat, Bound Brook's Got Talent variety show and the 2018 Bound Brook RiverFest Arts & Music Fair that incorporated an all-day Arts Stage featuring a dozen Central New Jersey music and dance groups.
"One of the Cultural Arts Committee's chief goals is to foster collaboration among our local artists and arts organizations," says vice-president Anna Shaffner. That's been achieved by working with a variety of project partners including Bound Brook PTO, Middle Earth Youth Center, Somerset County 4H, Bonnie Brae School, Brook Arts Center, Bound Brook High School Drama Club and Bound Book Revitalization Partnership, the borough-designated Special Improvement District.
Forming the committee was the next logical step after Bound Brook designated a downtown Arts District, one of the first New Jersey municipalities to do so by official ordinance. "It was an important step in defining the borough's identification with the arts," says committee member Curt Schmidt, who also serves as chair of the nonprofit Brook Arts Center that operates the historic Brook Theater. "And now the committee is able to go about putting paint to the blank canvas the Arts District ordinance laid out."
At 1.7 square miles and just under 11,000 residents, the borough's size is optimal - small enough to retain a "small town" flavor with its own lively downtown, yet within easy travel distance of all the cultural, economic and transportation resources of the New York and North Jersey metropolitan area.
"Bound Brook has several venues that present a diverse schedule of arts and heritage events throughout the year," says Lawrence McCullough, downtown manager for Bound Brook Revitalization Partnership. In addition to Brook Arts Center, a steady stream of cultural events are found at Hamilton Street Gallery, Bound Brook Public Library, numerous houses of worship and commercial live music spots like Westbrook Restaurant & Bar specializing in rock and folk performers and Café Imperial and Trackside Bar & Grill, nightclubs that host international Latin American acts throughout the year.
"Combined with the two dozen restaurants in the downtown area, the arts are establishing downtown Bound Brook as a year-round entertainment destination," adds McCullough.
Besides expanding the Arts Stage at 2019 Bound Brook RiverFest, plans are underway for an exciting round of 2019 projects, notes committee member Lesa Mellman-Higgins.
A small mural will complement the existing permanent chess boards in the Main Street Pocket Park, a painting commemorating the Battle of Bound Brook will occupy the front of a new public storage facility and the parking lot wall behind Brook Arts Center will be transformed with a "Lifting the Spirit Mural" combining inspirational art and poetry.
The most ambitious project will be the Council Oak Mural set to emblazon a wall facing the train station entrance in the heart of downtown. "In 1681, under this tree, two Lenni Lenape chiefs sold the area now known as Bound Brook to European settlers," says Mellman-Higgins. "The Council Oak represents the birth of our community, and the mural will include a panorama of people and events that shaped Bound Brook's history to the present."
The committee's wide-ranging scope of activity is a major part of its mission, states Bound Brook councilman Abel Gomez, who serves as the committee's council liaison.
"The arts tell our history in a way that many people can readily understand," he says. "The Cultural Arts Committee has helped more Bound Brook residents get involved in telling that history through the arts."