Wellmont Plaza opens up to the arts
Courtesy Michael Levescere
The Seymour Street redevelopment has been opening up, welcoming businesses such as The Gravity Vault. The Wellmont Theater has reopened for concerts. Leasing for residences at Two South Willow has started.
And now, the public art has been erected in the pedestrian plaza — a mural and a sculpture.
Approved by Montclair Township Planning Board in 2017 and breaking ground in December 2018, the $135 million project included plans to create an arts and entertainment district anchored by the Wellmont. The jewel of the project is the Wellmont Arts Plaza as a destination for the arts. The plaza is designed to have outdoor seating and art installations, and the plan is for it to play host to open-air performances and other events.
Below the six-story residential building and 38,000 square feet of retail space, and next to the theater, the 14,000-square-foot public pedestrian arts plaza now houses its two works of art — sculpture “Community” by James Moore and mural “Willow” by artist Jenna Snyder Phillips.
Developers Ironstate Development Company and Brookfield Properties will schedule at least 12 events annually at the property as one of the conditions of the approval for the development.
“The Wellmont Arts Plaza will be activated in the future with programming and events for the community that will include art and activities. Additionally, of the 38,000 square of retail space split between the Plaza and on Bloomfield Avenue, 10,000 square will be dedicated to arts usage and tenants,” Dennis Giuliano, vice president of development at Ironstate Development, said.
Phoebe Pollinger, a local art curator, led a request for proposal process on the developers’ behalf to source the artist for the sculpture. She solicited and submitted proposals to Montclair’s Economic Development Committee, which made the decision as to which artist was awarded the work to properly represent the space, Giuliano said.
For the mural, the developers directly contacted Snyder-Phillips based on her work.
The sculpture and mural are key pieces of the plaza, an effort to give the space an attraction that will bring people in and give them an experience beyond the shopping, rock climbing and concert-going the redevelopment also provides, Giuliano said.
The mural, “Willow,” is Snyder-Phillips’s first exterior and largest mural to date, at more than 100 feet long and 16 feet high, painted on brick at 2 South Willow.
“The organic graphic lines depict the willow branches native to northern New Jersey in bold contrasting fiesta colors,” Snyder-Phillips’ website, describing the work, says. “It’s like you're dancing your way up the hill or celebrating as you go down. Either direction you walk, the energy of the mural reverberates movement. A light at both ends of a tunnel! It’s a high-brow low-brow mix.”
Moore said that public art, whether in the form of a sculpture or a painting, is about providing a shared experience.
“For me, public art is really about the sort of shared visual experience that a really wide variety of people can connect with, or at least kind of understand,” he said from his new studio in Los Angeles, California. “This is a way of kind of giving people that sort of shared experience they can then share conversations or opinions about.”
Moore strives to make his work something anyone can enjoy, regardless of age, education or background, he said.
“The idea is to provide a work of art that is accessible, right?” he said. “So from the age of 1 to 100, people can pretty much look at the piece and go, ‘Oh, OK. That's a dude holding boxes,’ or whatever. So that becomes kind of their entry point and then the conversation kind of goes from there.”
Moore describes his work, including the Seymour Street project, as “geometrically abstracted figurative pieces — block figures, put simply.”
One of the challenges of capital projects, especially so with the Seymour redevelopment according to Moore, is imagining the space before it is ready. Often, that space only exists on blueprints and 3D renderings.
“Fortunately, they did have sort of an architectural rendering of what the space was going to look like,” Moore said. “So that gave me a sense of what the space would feel like, but it's really impossible to know what that's really going to feel like until you're stepping into the space.”
Moore said that his initial inspiration for the piece in terms of scale, orientation and posture was informed by the renderings the developers had.
The piece at Seymour Street is a figure holding up a series of connected, open cubes.
“From my perspective, that's about representing the idea of connection and community,” Moore said. “And so, the particulars of the space weren't that important in terms of the message of the piece.”
All told, from concept to installation, the piece took from 2019 to 2021.
As Moore lives in California, and is currently moving his studio into a new space, he has not had a chance to visit his installation in Montclair.
“I'm really looking forward to getting a chance to go there in person and really just kind of hang out in the plaza to see how people respond to it and how it operates in the space,” Moore said.
As for future events, preparing for health and safety has delayed scheduling, but plans are underway, Giuliano said.
One River School will also be leasing space within the project. The school began in 2012, the brainchild of School of Rock founder Matt Ross, with a mission to “transform art education.”
The company, which currently has 13 schools in six states, developed what Ross terms a “proprietary method” for teaching a wide variety of art and digital programs to students of all ages, “as creative skills are now in greater demand than ever before.”