Mana Contemporary and the Creative Soul of JC
For the past decade, I have been living in Jersey City. In that time, I have seen so many places come and go, from galleries and shops, restaurants, hospitals, and even a museum. Sometimes I feel like Jersey City is losing its focus on the creative culture that enticed me to move here in the first place, but in the past decade, there is a shining beacon of creativity that was built that I have to tell you about and that is the Mana Contemporary campus.
Have you heard of Mana? If you’re anything like my clients and acquaintances, you might have heard of it but have never been there. Where is it? WHAT is it? Maybe you heard about a really cool show there and want to go, but to find the entrance, you’ve got to drive around the industrial area surrounding Mana and find the unsigned parking lot. If you make it this far, it’s time to find the entrance. There are no large signs to guide you and so you’ve just got to start trying doors. It’s daunting! But I’m here to tell you, it’s WORTH IT.
Some consider it a gallery – maybe a museum. Others know it as a dance space, an artist residency, arts incubator, a theater, framing office, or a foundry. It’s all of those things, and so much more. You can go there to see dance and music, experimental films, burlesque, take a yoga class (yes, IN a gallery!), learn about sustainability, and get your kids involved in the arts with kids classes. All of this for a very low cost and sometimes at no cost. I was shocked to learn about all of the community programming Mana provides to the general public, for free. On the same hand, they have highly renowned artists working there as well as installations and exhibits of famous art, which anyone can also see for free. So if you ask me, I would describe it as a cultivator of creativity. I have come to see the process of interacting with the space for the first time as a practice in creativity. When I asked Mana how they would suggest first time attendees to interact with their space they said, “we want people to explore. To open as many doors as possible (they mean this literally) until someone tells you to stop. Then turn around and keep trying other doors”. When I heard that, the lack of signage finally made sense to me. It’s like a pilgrimage of creativity. Even when you think you’re there just to view art, you yourself must take on the creative process.
All of this is to say I REALLY want you to come here. It’s such a unique and accessible place, albeit hidden away at the edge of 1&9. To help, I’ve created a little guide for the first time visitor. Follow me on an adventure around the public spaces of Mana, and then go have an adventure of your own.
When you first get there, look for the big mural on the industrial-looking building, and confidently turn into the unmarked parking lot to park. Directly opposite the mural is a wide walkway, going to a bank of glass doors. That is the entrance to the main building. This is the level that the permanent gallery exhibits are on, and you can do a self led tour any time the building is open. The first stop is the front desk to sign yourself in!
To your left is the Dan Flavin exhibit, which you don’t want to miss. It’s the first time it has been displayed with his exact and complete instructions for the exhibit, so you really get to see his vision in full array. One of the highlights of my interview was getting a private tour of the Warhol exhibit. It’s hard to put into words what it was like being surrounded by the iconic and profound pieces of art, with no one else in the room. I felt an almost reverent obsequiousness. I hope you take some time for a tour so you too can experience this incredible collection.
Some of the smaller galleries house shows like Rammellzee, which reminded me of space and dark matter creating our universe.
Then there are the emerging artists, which are on one floor below the main galleries. I have to say, it was a little strange walking down a set of industrial stairs with no windows, and I wasn’t quite sure what I would see – but I was happily surprised to see banks of windows with sunlight streaming into what were creative installations by new artists. As I walked through the space, I came upon Cydney Williams’ studio, and went to chat with her about yoga. You see, she teaches yoga every Wednesday in one of the art galleries. Mana had invited me to take a class with her once before so I just had to meet her. She is curious, grounded, and a free spirit who creates really engaging and colorful artworks. I am looking forward to taking her yoga class!
COMMUNITY AT MANA
While I’ve mostly focused on the art galleries, as it’s the majority of what I interacted with, I also passed by this awesome cafe where artists were sitting and conversing. I also checked out the dance studio where classes and performances are held as well as the black box theater which puts on free avant garde performances. I passed by the framing shop that is open to the public as well as the foundry, which is privately held, but a part of the campus. While all of this is impressive, the most profoundly impactful feeling that I am left with, is the commitment Mana has to public accessibility. Everytime I asked Mana about how much something cost or how to get involved I was told it was free, or that there were possible subsidies and grants – all with an open door policy.
The last thing I did at Mana was attend a performance at The Living Room Theater Space with my husband. To tell you about the experience would start an entirely separate article. However, I plan to return for their future shows, so be on the lookout for that article. I can’t wait to tell you more about it.
So, I have to know, have you been to Mana Contemporary? If so, what did you love about it? What do you wish were different? Comment below! If you haven’t gone yet – check it out.