Jersey City Arts Council hosts virtual forum pushing to keep trust fund referendum in November


The Jersey City Arts Council hosted a public virtual forum pushing to keep the Arts and Culture Trust Fund referendum on the November ballot, despite Mayor Steven Fulop expressing a preference to have it pulled back in April due to the public health emergency.

Facebook photo.

By Daniel Ulloa/Hudson County View

JCAC Co-Chair Heather Wahl said on a Zoom call last night that Fulop indicated that he would consider supporting the referendum if it garnered the full support of the arts community.

While the mayor called for the referendum to be delayed in the spring, the city council has not voting on pulling the ballot question yet, though they still have until August to do so if they were so inclined, according to state statute.

At the moment, their only meeting scheduled for next month is August 12th.

Fulop indicated this afternoon that he remains undecided on when the best time for the referendum is, but is currently weighing all options.

“We have been working closely with the arts community to consider the best timing for the referendum,” he said in a text message.

“We are trying to balance hardship from COVID that many residents are feeling with also knowing that the arts are crucial to keeping the city as a place that people want to live.”

Jersey City Theater Center Managing Director Beth Cope said she was previously a political campaign and public relations consultant and felt very strongly about moving forward with a ballot question effort.

“Never have I had the pleasure of telling a committee that they had 60 percent support before the election.” She said that it made sense to go forward with the referendum,” she said.

While many on the call were supportive of moving forward, several residents still questioned how realistic the timing would be due to the lingering uncertainty of COVID-19

“I don’t understand what’s the rush: the open space trust allocation took 3 years. The city is in fiscal trouble. The schools are in fiscal crisis. It feels insensitive to me,” stated Sean Hagerty.

“I don’t care if it’s a $1 dollar tax or a $1,000 tax. It’s just not the right time. Even if this passes, they’re not going to give us the funds,” added Bryan Benninghove, the founder of the non-profit group Riverview Jazz.

Jersey City is currently bracing for a $70 million shortfall as a result of the coronavirus, with the mayor telling HCV that layoffs, furloughs, and new employee contracts are among the many current options on the table to try to minimize the impact to taxpayers.

Art House Co-Vice President Jim Peskin pointed out that arts suffered a significant financial impact due to COVID-19 – just like every other industry. Moreover, there is a positive economic benefit to artistic events.

“For every tax dollar the city might spend, it’s going to come back amplified. Every salary, paid, every expense goes through the economy,” said Peskin.

He added there is an entertaining, cultural, spiritual benefit to funding the arts.

“I think we all know when times get tough, the first thing that gets thrown out is funding for the arts,” said Robinson Holloway of Jersey City Art Fair, also a Jersey City Arts Fund Committee member.

“A stable, well-funded arts scene … could help fund an economic recovery. We’re not a luxury. We’re a multi-million force for good.”

According to the committee, funds would go to “performing, visual, and fine arts, music, dance, graphic design, film, digital media and video, architecture and urban design, humanities, literature, arts and culture education, historic preservation, museum curation, crafts, and folk arts,” their website says.


Editor’s note: This story was updated with a comment from Mayor Steven Fulop.