Rahway Culture Crawl brings arts to mile-long area in downtown

Photo by Rebecca Panico
Belly dancer Amber Sol balances a sword on her head at the Union County Performing Arts Center’s Hamilton Stage.

RAHWAY, NJ — In Rahway, a group of about 35 people sat on haystacks in a lot tucked behind Irving Street and enjoyed empanadas from a food truck while waiting for a local band to start up a set on Saturday, Sept. 23.

“This is our first time ever playing [the Rahway Culture Crawl], and yeah, it’s amazing,” said Adrian Amador, a member of the band Fire is Motion, after performing. “The crew just did a great job organizing everything.”

The same stage near the corner of Irving Street and Seminary Avenue saw about 10 other musical acts perform earlier in the afternoon as part of Rahway’s fifth annual Culture Crawl.

The event featured about 200 artists, including everything from pole and belly dancers to painters along an expanse of nearly mile in downtown Rahway.

Local businesses, photographers, jewelry makers, painters and clothing designers lined the blocks and some side streets along Irving and Main streets from 1 to 6 p.m.

“It’s important because the arts are being attacked in our country a little bit,” said Amy Garcia-Phillips, executive director of the Rahway Arts and Business Partnership. “They’re being underfunded and we, as a community — as our school system, as our art center — we support the arts robustly. We want to create an environment where artists feel welcome and feel support.”

The Downtown Rahway Special Improvement District, known as the Rahway Arts and Business Partnership, has organized the crawl to showcase mom-and-pop businesses and show support for local artists.

Photo by Rebecca Panico
Fire is Motion, a Union band, performs during the fifth annual Rahway Culture Crawl on Saturday, Sept. 23.

“The city is amazing in being supportive for us and they help us with so many different components,” said Ann Marie Williams, economic development specialist for Rahway. “So it really is a collaborative effort. Everybody’s interested in getting people into the downtown and really highlighting what it is we have to offer.”

Several other stages were set up throughout the downtown area to showcase musical groups and other acts. Pole and belly dancers performed in the Hamilton Stage Building, part of the Union County Performing Arts Center.

The crawl attracted people both near and far. Max Zandstein, who lives in North Carolina, was visiting his family in New Jersey and last attended the event in 2015; he came this year to hear the band ManDancing.

Sharese Suriel, a friend of the ManDancing bassist, was also waiting for the band to perform, and said it was her first time attending the Culture Crawl.

“It’s seems pretty chill. It’s overall a nice event. Definitely the right day for it, although it’s pretty hot,” Suriel said of the unseasonably warm afternoon temperature, which reached close to 90 degrees.

The crawl has expanded in previous years, Garcia-Phillips said. This year’s event took place on a Saturday instead of a Friday night after the SID received feedback from attendees who wanted itl to last longer.

This was also the first year the crawl featured the Reel Short Film Festival, which screened documentaries, international films, animation, drama and comedies.

All performances were free and the event was funded by a number of sponsors, along with the downtown SID, which has recently moved its offices to City Hall. Cutting back on rent for its offices has allowed the SID to put more funds toward events. About 50 volunteers worked in the downtown area to help people find events, and city police and the Rahway Public Works Department also provided assistance.

“Everybody comes together in this town to make things happen, which is what I don’t think you find in other towns,” Garcia-Phillips said. “In other towns, somebody has an idea and it’s all the reasons why you can’t do it. In Rahway it’s like, ‘How do we make that happen?'”

Williams echoed that sentiment, thanking Rahway Mayor Samson Steinman and business administrator Cherron Rountree, too. “It’s definitely a ‘yes’ town,” Williams said.