Crime and drugs force an art gallery to relocate

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When Outlander Gallery (126 Monticello Ave.) scrapped an exhibition of paintings by Marianne Nowottny at the last minute, eyebrows raised. The Nowottny show, which was scheduled to open on April 2, was an anticipated highlight of the spring cultural calendar: a leap into the visual arts of an accomplished and fun-loving avant-garde pop singer-songwriter that tickled the Hudson County basement for many years. Its cancellation hinted that Outlander might be in trouble. The gallery on Monticello has hosted many intriguing exhibitions since it opened in 2020. Does it have a future?

The answer: yes and no. According to the gallery owner and curator Charlie Cano, Outlander’s days on Monticello Avenue are numbered. But Cano intends to reopen Outlander soon in a new location that he says will be friendlier to the exhibits he puts on and the people who come to view the works. It plans to launch a new Outlander at 862 Newark Avenue – a much larger space across Senate Square from the sprawling MANA Contemporary complex. The target move date is June 1and he started a GoFundMe page to help grease the gears for the next move.

Cano doesn’t mince words about why he left the neighborhood. He blames the state of the region, which he characterizes as a haven for crime, drugs and disorderly conduct. He has had difficulty convincing collectors to make the move to Monticello Avenue, and he doubts anyone in a position of authority intends to take action to change the character of the block.

It’s exciting to think what Cano and Outlander could do with a great venue – one that will surely benefit from its proximity to the biggest and best-funded arts institution in town. At the same time, this is tragic news for Monticello Avenue. Neighborhood groups have been trying to revitalize the historic shopping street for decades, and after many false starts, the block has finally started to buzz. Companies like The Cottage, Lastplacewinners, Snapdragon Coffee & Social, Baonanas, Poor Man Vegan and other new openings have enlivened Monticello; Winard Harper’s Jazz Series at Moore’s Lounge, too, is a local creative institution and the cornerstone of the region. Outlander Gallery was part of this revival. With SMUSH in funding limbo and Outlander heading for release, McGinley Square and the surrounding area may soon find itself without an independent art gallery for the first time in years.

We caught up with Charley Cano for a quick chat about the present and future of Outlander.

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Tris McCall/Jersey City Times: Why didn’t Marianne Nomottny’s show take place? Will it be rescheduled?

Charley Cano/Outlander: It could be rescheduled. We are friends and we are in touch. We can do it at the new location.

It just got to the point where I wasn’t able to do the show justice. It wouldn’t have been right to do it here. The prevalence of the drug culture does not allow this. I’ve spent half my time since I opened the gallery chasing drug dealers and addicts. I look out the window and I can see what is happening right now. It’s difficult to bring people here because the neighborhood refuses them.

 "Bar me," by Teague Smith, presented at Outlander in January 2022

“Bar Me Up,” by Teague Smith, premiered at Outlander in January 2022

TMC: You’re planning on doing a few more events at the Monticello site before you go, right? An experimental music show?

CC: No, I don’t think we can do that here. Events after dark just don’t make sense. I’m doing everything I can to speed things up and move. I have plenty of room for the new location. Once we open we will have a full schedule.

The Jersey City ARTS High School Program show graduate theses here in May. It was something we had planned in October. We are delighted with this. But that will be the last thing we expose here.

TMC: I’ve always seen Monticello as a busy street with a lot going on – The Cottage, Snapdragon, Moore’s Place, the bike shop. What am I missing?

CC: Some people just visit the shops. They drive in luxury cars, then they leave. They don’t always notice what’s going on.

TMC: For the record, I cycle there.

CC: You are adventurous.

By Richard Isgard

Richard Isgard’s work featured in Outlander

TMC: The restoration of Avenue Monticello has long been a local priority. Has anyone in the neighborhood or town tried to convince you to stay?

CC: No.

TMC: What are the neighborhood conditions necessary for an independent art gallery to thrive?

CC: An absence of an open-air drug market nearby! That’s basically it.

To be fair, there are many, many decent residents in this neighborhood who enjoyed Outlander. But when there are dealers on every corner, people don’t travel here, and you can’t blame them. It’s hard to ask artists from out of town to deal with that. This new location will be much more accessible.

TMC: Why did you choose the 862 Newark?

CC: It’s a great building, just across from MANA Contemporary. Believe me, I’ve looked around for a long time — I’m still looking. This is the place that caught my attention.

Prior to 2020, I was doing arts events in Newark. I wanted to open a gallery in Newark or Jersey City, and I chose the original Outlander space. I would have liked to see this place before I open there. It’s 2500 square feet. We’re going to have sculpture, photography, music, dance, all kinds of events.

TMC: Sounds exciting. But does moving to a bigger space mean changing the type of art you show? Do understated artists like Richard Isgard still fit into the Outlander vision?

CC: It will be better for them. Here at Monticello, I’ve always wished for higher ceilings. An artist like Valérie Huhn would have benefited from a larger space. I wanted to give his works the place they deserved. One of the exhibitions that we are going to do is going to be devoted to higher pieces. But there will also be plenty of room for small jobs.

TMC: SMUSH, as you may know, recently appealed for financial assistance. Eonta space still hasn’t come back. Do you think Jersey City is becoming more and more untenable for small galleries? Especially for those who are not located downtown?

CC: It’s hard. I am not a non-profit association. Outlander is a labor of love, and I worked at a loss. But what am I going to do? Do not do it ? Certainly not. We continue.

(Outlander Gallery continues to fundraise for their move to the new space. You can support them on their GoFundMe page.)

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