The wait is finally over for Montclair residents.
Seymour Street in Montclair, New Jersey, was full of commotion from community members, live music and several vendors and artisans. Locals were finally able to celebrate the grand opening of the Wellmont Arts Plaza on Nov. 20 after the event was postponed early on this month.
Located in Montclair’s arts district and adjacent to the Wellmont Theater, it’s no surprise that the pedestrian plaza was occupied by many artists and vendors from Montclair and surrounding cities. Many of the artists present at the grand opening began their art journey when the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic first broke out.
Soo Kim, an alcohol-ink mixed media artist and owner of Soosoo Studios, quit her full-time job to dedicate her time to her art form. Kim’s art pieces feature lightly-colored flower and patterned designs.
“I’m a pandemic-born artist,” Kim said. “[My art] was really about releasing my energy, letting go and being able to breathe.”
Kim was not the only artist who began to master their craft during the height of the pandemic.
Jennifer Eliza also began to focus on her art form when the city was quarantining. Eliza owns Flower Funk and creates flower arrangements using a variety of cans as vases and most favorably La Croix cans.
“Working from home and being on Zoom calls every day, I needed to bring the outdoors inside,” Eliza said. “So, I started playing with flowers and my recycled goods and it kind of formed into this fun thing. It’s like they get a second life; a can gets another life.”
Some artists enlisted the help of locals to help them finish their pieces. Alex Cook, a multi-disciplinary artist, began painting a large mural stating “You Got This,” when the grand opening began. In the span of a few hours, Cook began allowing young children and parents to help paint the mural, instructing them where to add colors and designs.
Along with a number of artists selling their work to locals, some vendors were selling items for a good cause.
Ann Bismal, a volunteer for Montclair High School’s Project Graduation, had a table set up for locals to purchase Montclair High School merchandise to support senior students.
Bismal aims to raise funds throughout the school year to lower ticket prices for seniors.
“Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve been mostly selling online, so we’re really excited to be part of the community and sell to people from the town,” Bismal said.
Coordinators from Two South Willow, the newly built luxury apartments adjacent to the plaza, were largely responsible for getting vendors involved in the grand opening. Many of the vendors saw Two South Willow’s Instagram advertisement for the event and reached out to attend with their booths.
Live music was also provided by Montclair’s School of Rock. Young musicians lined the stage and performed several sets for locals to enjoy while they shopped from the artisans and vendors.
The 15,000 square-foot plaza was initially approved by the Montclair Planning Board back in 2017 but construction began in 2018. Montclair-based architect, Arterial, designed the plaza so residents could enjoy an area with outdoor seating and a space for people to perform outdoors.
The redevelopment of the plaza included 220 new residential units, 50,000 square feet of retail space and 30,000 square feet of office space. The plaza also houses two permanent works of art, one being a sculpture created by James Moore and the other being a mural painted by artist Jenna Snyder-Phillips.
The opening of the Wellmont Arts Plaza marks the first turning point back to normalcy for the arts community in Montclair — a long-anticipated celebration of life and art.