‘East Orange Boogie Woogie’ mural unveiled

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EAST ORANGE, NJ — East Orange Mayor Ted Green and City Council unveiled a towering, 2,000 square-foot majestic mural at a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Tuesday, Nov. 26.

Inspired by nationally recognized artist Tom Nussbaum’s sculpture, “East Orange Boogie Woogie,” which was in turn inspired by the 1942 artwork “Broadway Boogie Woogie,” by abstract artist Piet Mondrian, the new piece on display on North Oraton Parkway, directly behind 40 North Munn Ave. It was recreated by a local team of expert mural painters, led by Steven Green of Blackbird Arts & Design, as well as artists Malcolm Rolling and Matthew Purefoy, with the guidance of Nussbaum and artist Linda Street.

“We are here at the unveiling of a mural right here on Eastern Parkway, which is done by some local artists, and I’m very proud of it,” Green said at the event. “Not only that, but in the last few months, we have been doing murals all over the city and this is just another testimony of folks wanting to not only open up their ideas and mind to murals around the city, but to have a broader perspective. This piece of artwork is called ‘East Orange Boogie-Woogie,’ which is very unique and special here in an urban community. So, we’re very happy for Tom and Linda to have the foresight along with Councilman Chris Awe to bring this mural to this wall.”

The mural is located in a private space owned by the city of East Orange, which approved the site and gave the artists permission to create “East Orange Boogie-Woogie.”

“Now, people don’t have to just look at a brick wall. They can look at a wall with an image of artwork. So we’re very happy about that,” Green said.

“I’m the happiest guy in Essex County today,” Nussbaum told the Record-Transcript at the event after the unveiling. “As an artist, my name goes on the mural, but this project was a community effort, so this project happened because everyone was working together to make it happen. There were three amazing muralists: Steve Green, Malcolm Rolling and Matthew Purefoy and they did most of the painting. I designed the mural and I came every day and supervised the painting. Their goal was to make it the way that I wanted, and they did an amazing job.”

“The whole project was organized by Linda Street and, without her, this never would’ve happened,” he continued. “This was her baby from the beginning, and she had the vision to get my artwork up on this wall and she was the one that really made it happen.”

Regarding his inspiration, Nussbaum said, “I’m an abstract artist, so I do abstract paintings and sculptures. I look at a lot of textiles, American quilts, modern abstract paintings and those were some of my inspiration points for work that I make.”

The event officially launches the city’s Public Art Initiative, which will be spearheaded by the city’s Department of Policy, Planning and Development. The department’s director, Dan Jennings, attended the ribbon-cutting celebration.

“I think it’s wonderful,” Jennings said at the event. “This unveiling is a harbinger of great things to come for this part of the city. We have other great things in the works to compliment what’s going on here.”

“We’re going to have more murals in the future,” he continued. “We’re finished designing a streetscape project that’s going to stretch for a few blocks from City Hall Plaza to Burnett Street and then there’s a number of projects that are planned. So this place is just going to look different. It’s going to look much more vibrant in the future and today’s just a great start to that.”

In spearheading this project with his council colleagues, Awe played a large role in the process of bringing the “East Orange Boogie Woogie” mural to life.

“This was kind of a brainchild of myself and some council colleagues, through our Committee of Planning and Grants,” Awe told the Record-Transcript at the event. “We sat down and we had to focus and were determined to really get some art out here in our streets. East Orange is essentially a blank canvas and, with all the talent that we have in and outside of East Orange, we thought it was time to bring it back home and showcase their work right here.”

“To see this moment come into fruition after all of the planning is a really proud moment for all of us,” he continued. “The fact that it’s something that’s inspired by our great city and was able to be done by our great artists, I think we have so much talent that’s making waves outside of East Orange, so it’s really a delight to have our artists come and do it. It’s extremely pivotal also. This is just the beginning, but this is just bigger than beautifying a vacant wall. The implications of this crosses all types of other aspects of our city, in terms of building connections, building energy and bringing our light into East Orange. We’re bringing attention and focus to our city.

The mural was funded by the city’s Urban Enterprise Zone, and involved no taxpayer dollars. Instead UEZ money was used to hire low- and moderate-income small businesses to do the work; the city spent $20,000 to do the whole job, including the site preparation.

According to Economic Development Manager Gregory Good, who addressed how to fund public art in East Orange during the developmental process, the mural came together in an interesting way.

“The interesting thing about this mural was that it’s not an original mural, it’s a mural take on a sculptural piece,” Good said after the unveiling. “So there needed to be some fabrications done, some additional drafts, in order to transpose the sculpture into a mural to ensure its integrity.”

Rolling, an artist who participated in producing the mural, said it took a month to create.

“But I think everything began to come together the final two weeks,” Rolling said at the event. “Tom Nussbaum designed this particular mural, the lead on execution was Steve Green, and then Matthew Purefoy and I, we worked on the intricate details within the mural. It was overall produced by Linda Street and Pink Dragon Syndicate.”

“I’m a long-term resident of East Orange,” he continued. “My family has been living in East Orange for a very long time. So, I’m very excited to be a part of some of the first major artwork to be displayed within the city. It’s a big deal. It’s a good time to be here.”

“This unveiling is actually a proud moment, a historic moment even,” Purefoy told the Record-Transcript at the event. “I grew up in the city of East Orange and my biggest dream was to do murals. To actually see my name on the wall means a lot. It means so much to me.”

Street, the chief executive officer of Pink Dragon Artist Syndicate, an arts administration business, coordinated the mural project. She said it took more than a year to officially begin coordinating the project.

“This is actually the culmination of two years of working through the city process, with the various entities within the city of East Orange — council members, Economic Development Planning group, Public Works and, finally, bringing it to life,” Street said at the event. “I’m very excited. I grew up in East Orange and the opportunity that you get to do something in your hometown, something like this, it’s major.”

“So, I’m humbled,” she continued. “I’m very proud, I feel really good working with a great team of guys: the artist Tom Naussbaum, the mural painters we’ve brought on. … Great team and incredibly creative to work with. So, I’m feeling really good.”

Photos by EmilyAnn Jackman.