This week, Jersey City’s Mana Contemporary made the surprise announcement that they will be creating a street art and graffiti museum in a 100,000-square-foot former ice factory near the Holland Tunnel entrance. Founded by Eugene Lemay, founder and director of Mana Contemporary, the museum — touted as the first permanent museum of its kind — has enlisted street artists Logan Hicks and Joe Iurato to curate the programming. Construction is slated to begin next month and they hope to open the doors of the renovated factory space by September. I had a few questions for Lemay about this big mysterious news and what we should expect.
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Hrag Vartanian: Why a graffiti and street art museum?
Eugene Lemay: The museum will deal with more than graffiti and street art. We will include all kinds of artwork that respond to the urban environment. Mana Contemporary’s main mission is to be a creative community for all forms of art – we have 110 artists studios (and growing), a contemporary dance studio, a theater, more than eight nonprofit exhibition spaces dedicated to visual art, a foundry, a silkscreen print studio, the Richard Meier Model Museum, artist residency programs, a 50,000-square-foot Glass Gallery, and in the near future we are adding music and performing art programming, education programs, and a sculpture park. So a street art museum is a natural direction for us.
HV: How would you respond to people to think institutionalizing graffiti and street art like this destroys the power of the work?
EL: This sounds to me like a question coming from a place of fear. The idea is not to institutionalize the artwork, but to create a platform for learning about its rich history, increase accessibility, and build a gathering place.
HV: Will the museum allow graffiti and street art on the facade of the museum?
EL: Yes, we will have both curated work on the exterior and interior of the building and additional walls for anyone in the community of all ages to create work on.
HV: Who or what is funding the initiative?
EL: Mana Contemporary is providing the funding.
HV: What is currently in the permanent collection? And will it have a geographic, medium, or other focus?
EL: We have work by major artists and historical documents, and we will announce the details closer to the fall opening.
HV: What is your own background in the field?
EL: I am not a street artist. I am a visual artist working in digital printing and sculpture. However, my work does deal with the written language as an ongoing narrative. I also have 20-plus years experience running businesses. That is why I have brought on artists to help lead the programming — Mana is all about giving artists strong curatorial and leadership roles.
HV: What do you think the museum will contribute to the wider conversation about graffiti and street art?
EL: We hope the programming will encourage a deeper understanding and appreciation for this ephemeral medium. We hope to become a destination for the community. We look forward to lively conversations surrounding this art form’s role in history, and how it can affect and inform the environment.
HV: Will the museum fund art historical research in the field?
EL: Yes we are working with experts who have documented the urban art movement. Again, details will be released closer to the fall opening.
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The Mana Museum of Urban Arts will be located at 581 Monmouth Street, Jersey City, New Jersey.