A historic building in East Orange that houses studios for artists and small businesses — and is home to the state’s largest Black Lives Matter mural — could be sold off to developers. The owners of Manufacturers Village have given the occupants until October to come up with a proposal to save the building.
“This building is more than just art studios,” said Mona Brody, an artist at Manufacturers Village since 2006. “It’s bringing a community, culture, and education to East Orange.”
Built in the late 19th century, the red-brick industrial building at 356 Glenwood Avenue is still owned by the descendants of George Seabury. The Victorian-era businessman teamed up with Robert Wood Johnson — of Johnson & Johnson fame— to manufacture medical supplies. The building, however, does not have any historic landmark designation and some fear it could be demolished.
Brody told Jersey Digs that, while the news was a blow to the community, she believes something good could come out of the situation if community partners can come up with a winning proposal.
“We all mourned for a day,” Brody said. “But then we said ‘enough’ and went into action.”
The world-class artists that comprise the steering committee partnered with the Arts Council of East Orange to fundraise and develop an arts initiative.
“If you want to go up against the big boys you need to have the money,” said Helena Branch, president of the ACEO.
The ACEO has worked with Manufacturers Village in planning a much celebrated Black Lives Matter mural that debuted last year. At 9,000 square feet, the mural is considered the largest in the state. The project will be featured on ArtNation on the Smithsonian Channel this fall.
Branch said not only would the ACEO move their administrative offices to the site, but the council would also have gallery space for exhibitions.
Christine Romanell, a graphic designer and artist who is a member of the steering committee, said artist studios are increasingly rare in the current real estate landscape. Artists are usually the first people priced out of gentrifying areas. East Orange residents are no strangers to fears of gentrification with major development on the horizon, like the Crossings at Brick Church Plaza.
“There aren’t a lot of places like this in New Jersey,” said Christine Romanell. “People often come in and look at my work. I couldn’t do this at home.”
Donate to save the building here.