Downtown Bohemian Festival offers something different

Funk and blues band Jivestock will perform Friday, Jan. 3 at the Downtown Bohemian Festival in Rahway, a three-day arts festival at the Union County Performing Arts Center’s Hamilton Stage.

RAHWAY, N.J. — The city’s newest art gala, which runs from Jan. 3 to 5, will be as unconventional as its name suggests: The Downtown Bohemian Festival, hosted by the Rahway Creative Alliance, will host artists like slam poet Mike Bertram, painter Pedro Da Paz and filmmaker Arthur Vincie.

The alliance, co-founded less than a month ago by Da Paz and Nick Rosal, owner of the Atelier Rosal Custom Framing and Fine Arts Service gallery on Cherry Street, will feature about 20 local artists at the Union County Performing Arts Center’s Hamilton Stage, and is scheduled so that festival-goers won’t have to miss one performance to attend another.

“This is an event that got started because of Brian Remo,” Rosal said in an interview on Dec. 11 referring to the director of UCPAC. “He approached me with all these things. I was doing poetry in my gallery, all the art shows. We were very involved in the community and bringing the arts to the general public. He approached me mid-September, so it’s a big rush. I would rather have a year, this is the first time we’re doing it.”

Rosal said he expects 20 to 50 people to attend each performance, emphasizing that the event is a collective effort. He, along with many of the artists, said he’d like the festival to expand and become an annual event.

The setup for the gala will only take a few hours and vendors, including ceramicists and jewelers, will be in attendance for all three days. Each night of the festival will feature a mixed performance of music and poetry in a room adjoining the Hamilton Stage.

“I’ve been in the art world for over three years,” Rosal said. “I’ve developed a lot of contacts and resources. We wanted to share talented people as much as my own work. This is just a great opportunity to accept this offer to do everything that I do.”

He said the city has been very welcoming and that the Rahway Creative Alliance started working with the municipality’s Arts and Business Partnership, as well as UCPAC and the gallery spaces along Irving Street and Seminary Avenue.

The most difficult part about organizing Rahway Bohemian Day, Rosal said, is the scale of the festival and because it is working with so many genres.

“The visual arts isn’t just painting and photography, it’s also ceramicists and jewelers,” Rosal said. “And organizing that area, and organizing the musicians and poets. On top of that, the filmmakers, getting the proper films in. … All of that happens again in a micro way.”

Getting the right people to assist makes a difference, and there are a lot of components to the organization process, he added.

“I couldn’t do this all by myself,” Rosal said. “The thing with the arts, you can be the greatest painter, musician, poet, but you need an audience. What I want Downtown Bohemian Festival to become is people who recognize talent and need to be seen, and farther outside of Union County. We’re creating a larger pool of talent, and that creates culture, all to exchange ideas.”
Support for the festival is coming in part from local businesses, including coffee shops that display local art.

“Because we are individual artists as well, we want to keep our events manageable. It’s not just visual artists; we have fashion designers, we have filmmakers. We keep it was diverse as possible.”
Vincie has collected 14 films with a total screen time of two and a half hours; they will will be shown consecutively on Saturday, Jan. 4, with a half hour question-and-answer session as part of the program.

“I’ve tried to include mostly New Jersey-based filmmakers,” he said. “It ended up being a bit of a mix of filmmakers from all over the place, but many of them have a connection to New Jersey.”
The festival has been scheduled sequentially so that attendees do not have to choose between hearing such musical performers as Al Reynolds and his funk and blues band Jivestock, which performs Friday, Jan. 3, and other types of events.

“There’s a diverse set of directors and stories,” Vincie said. “I’m pretty happy with how that turned out. There’s a certain amount of politically themed films, but I don’t think it’s more or less than what you’re going to see now.”

“Big Mike” Bertram is a third-grade teacher in South Plainfield and a published poet who runs the Youth Poetry program at Rosal’s gallery in Rahway and The Pit on Cherry Street. He has been performing poetry since 2002, and was featured on the HBO series Def Poetry Jam. Bertram also co-founded the New Juru Slam Team and is the 2008 champion of the Southern Fried Individual Poetry Slam Champion. His Poetry at the Pit — a “slam” or performance poetry event — occurs every other month and aims to provide a safe and supportive environment for young people to share their creative work.

“Big Mike” Bertram

“The county came to us and asked us to do this,” he said in an interview on Dec. 11. “We get 60 to 100 kids, and we give them food and we have a DJ. The hardest part is trying to get them to open up and read. They’re super respectful. It’s cool to see high school kids that often get a bad rap … it’s good for them to have a safe space and stay out of trouble. We also try to bring in some adult poets, too. We’ve had kids from 6 years old up to 19 perform.”

And for painters like Da Paz, the new festival offers an opportunity to display their art. There will be approximately 10 to 15 artists featured in the Downtown Bohemian Festival’s gallery show.

“The room that we’re going to be showing will be part of the Rahway Creative Alliance and the duCret School, an art school out of Plainfield,” Da Paz said in a Dec. 11 interview. “Musical instruments are very dominant in my work. I wanted to incorporate music into my audience.”