Updated: Mar 27, 2019
By Andrea Orlando
The National Consortium for Creative Placemaking
From Hackensack's Main Street a quick way to get to the performing arts center is to go through what locals call the Demarest Place Alley. Quick, but not pleasant. The tunnel-like, grimy-gray concrete passageway does not invite. But within a month the space will transform into a visual delight, and it all started with an idea in a Strategy Lab led by The National Consortium for Creative Placemaking.
New York City-based spray paint artist Damien Mitchell will create a mural to make the space more fun and inviting. At the behest of local organizers Mitchell had extensive discussions with the city, property owners and arts committees to arrive at the final design for the work, which is set to begin next month.
"[W]e came up with a design that celebrates all things Hackensack," Mitchell wrote. "[W]e plan to cover this wall end-to-end and top-to-bottom with a design inspired by the old 'Greetings from' town postcards." Mitchell estimates it will take 10 days to complete the mural.
The mural project started as an idea in an NCCP Strategy Lab. Strategy Labs are designed to engage communities through a quick, collaborative brainstorming session tailored to the needs of the town or city. The labs employ crowdsourcing tactics and technical expertise to strategize, design, and curate ideas for underused spaces. ArtsBergen sought to transform the blank wall in the downtown into a captivating treat for pedestrians as they travel to and from the Hackensack Performing Arts Center (HACPAC). ArtsBergen is an initiative of the The Northern New Jersey Community Foundation (NNJCF), which works to improve communities through the arts. The mural project is a collaboration between ArtsBergen, the Hackensack Main Street Alliance, and its Creative Arts Team. The Hackensack Strategy Lab was a joint initiative of NCCP and ArtsBergen.
"The Strategy Lab was a great way to get local residents and businesses interested in the project," wrote Albert Dib, Director of Redevelopment for the City of Hackensack. "We received tons of great feedback... NCCP was key to organizing this effort which yielded some very positive results."
Mitchell is originally from Wagga Wagga in Australia, and his murals appear worldwide in several locations. One of his projects is Hartford Paints the City in Connecticut, a citywide public art project. Another site is Meeting of Styles in Frankfurt, Germany. Mitchell’s work is also exhibited in the Empire Insurance office building in New York City. His art also graced the Major League Baseball Allstar game in San Diego, California and appeared on an album-of-the-year award at the MTV Video Music Awards in New York City.
ArtsBergen selected Mitchell after putting out a competitive request for proposals. They announced the selection in early March of 2019. ArtsBergen works with the Hackensack Creative Arts Team (CAT), the Main Street Business Alliance, the City of Hackensack, and Alexander Anderson Real Estate Group. The group collaborated on this project at 135 Main Street located on the corner of Demarest Place. In addition, the real estate group granted permission to use the building’s north sidewall.
Demarest Place is a unique pedestrian walkway, crossing Main Street, between the Atlantic Street bus stop and the HACPAC. The strategy lab took place on October 17 of 2017 at the site. Residents of Hackensack and the surrounding communities met to brainstorm ideas on art, physical elements and cultural programming. The goal of the mural project is to create an enlivened, beautified public walkway that serves as a gateway to Main Street from the bus stop and the HACPAC.
NCCP conducted Community Coaching for Hackensack in 2016.