HACKENSACK — For the past three months, entertainers have gathered at Johnson Public Library to showcase their talents.
Comedians, singers, poets, a playwright and a juggler all took center stage on July 30 in the latest installment of the monthly Open Mic series.
The program, which takes place on the last Thursday of the month, started as a result of the creative placemaking meetings that have been taking place at the library for the last six months, according to Ryan Huban, founder of the improvisational troupe Howdy Stranger, who collaborated with the library to organize the open mic series.
Sponsored by the Main Street Business Alliance, the creative placemaking meetings strive to create ways to attract people and businesses to the city through the arts — further enhancing the city’s redevelopment goals.
“The Johnson Public Library has been offering space for the creative team meetings where artists contribute ideas and have sudden exposure to each other,” Huban, who has participated in the creative placemaking meetings, said. “One day, the library director approached me and said she wanted to do more to utilize the space in the library. We came up with these open mic nights.”
According to Library Director Sharon Castanteen, the library wanted to be part of the downtown’s rehabilitation efforts by welcoming artists and encouraging them to present their crafts.
“With all the people that might move into the city with the redevelopment and the efforts of creative placemaking, I really think that an artistic city can really happen here,” Castanteen said. “I thought we could do our part in that. Plus, there is nothing like this offered on Main Street.”
The latest open mic event attracted approximately 30 people, including spectators and performers. According to Huban, the monthly events bring out a myriad of individuals, with over 50 attending the series’ debut in May.
The open mic series not only allows participants to share their craft, but also fine tune their skills.
“It is inspiring to people to have a place where they can present their work and hone their craft,” Castanteen said.
Danielle De Laurentis, associate director of the Northern New Jersey Community Foundation (NNJCF) in Englewood and participant at the creative placemaking meetings, said events like the open mic series are important in footing a growing art community.
The NNJCF, which also spearheads ArtsBergen — an independent arts council — sets to improve quality of life by fostering collaboration among municipalities, school districts, businesses, non-profit organization and community groups.
Though it is a miniscule step toward converting Hackensack into an artistic hub, the open mic series is not exclusive to city residents — allowing others to visit the area.
Comedienne Linette Palladino, from Dumont, heard about the event from a fellow comedian and decided to participate.
“It was great,” she said. “It was a lot of fun and there was a great turnout … It’s great to come somewhere closer to home than just going into [New York City]. I’d definitely come again.”
John J. Trause, the director of Oradell Public Library, also participated in the open mic event reading a couple of his published poems.
“This was an amazing event, and I am always going to open mics, doing poetry features, and organizing poetry events,” Trause recounted the event to Castanteen. “Most open mics are are mixed or downright awful, but everything about the evening at [Hackensack] was great. Everyone was very strong as performers, and the whole evening was upbeat and humorous.”
Aside from new faces, this series has brought out the “regulars” — like Hackensack resident Dock “Too Sweet” Russell.
Russell, performed a compilation of songs including selections from The Four Tops and Otis Redding.
A writer, musician and producer for the past 40 years, Russell is also a member of the creative placemaking team and is hopeful the city’s redevelopment will foster the arts in the area — especially for the youth.
“[The arts are] so important to the growth of the city,” Russell said. “Art allows the youth to go within themselves, find yourself and allow you to escape what is around you.”
According to Russell, the arts — in all forms — are not only important to the community, but propels a strong sense of identity and pride.
“The arts allow you to be part of a great community, while expressing your individuality,” he said
According to Castanteen, the open mic series is a platform that sheds light on the amount of creativity in the city and surrounding area.
“We are really lucky that we have a lot of talent here.”