Friday, June 28, 2013

Whatever happened to the arts and culture mayor?

This week, we received the following message on our office phone...a phone, by the way, that was NEVER registered with the city of Trenton but receives their robocalls. Anyway, here is the message (as relayed via the internet service provider that logged the message for our VoIP phone):

"This is Gordon James. Good evening, the first day of summer was last Friday and Heritage Days is finally here. Two days of music food and fun for the entire family with live music performances from Grace Little and the amazing Grace, Gordon James, Swing Sabroso, SWAG and many more."

"This year we've expanded our children's Village to include triple the inflatable's we've had in the previous year. There will be face painting, pony rides and all types of ethnic food and drinks. Join us at Mill Hill Park."

This is Mayor's Mack defiant way of asserting his authority. He promised the city council he would NOT stage the costly, poorly organized and sparsely attended event this year but then, "changed his mind." Raiding other budget lines, he has come up with some $40,000 of taxpayer dollars that he will use to throw a self-aggrandizing, wasteful party.

In the meantime, we also received the following email:

The Trenton Film Society regretfully announces that the screenings of Landfall: The Eyes of Sandy and the finalists in 2013 Not Quite Legal Film Festival on Saturday, June 29th, have been cancelled.

The City of Trenton just announced that Heritage Days will be taking place in Mill Hill Park, with some events planned for the Mill Hill Playhouse. The Trenton Film Society will work with the staff of the Mill Hill Playhouse to reschedule the screenings of Landfall and the finalists in this year's NQL Film Festival in late-July or early-August.

Apparently, what happened was the organizers of the Heritage Days faux-festival took it upon themselves to pledge access to the Mill Hill Playhouse to a solo filmmaker. They did not bother to check with anyone else about possible conflicts.

Now, it should be noted that the Mill Hill Playhouse is a city owned facility. The primary tenant of the Mill Hill Playhouse is the independent and non-profit Passage Theatre. The last we knew under the terms of the MOU between the theater company and the city, Passage had first dibs on use of the facility and was responsible for the scheduling of other uses.

It is always possible things have changed and we certainly wouldn't know since the city has yet to comply with the year old ordinance that states an inventory of city owned properties, who uses them and under what terms and agreements be provided to the city council (and thus made public).

The key thing here is that it just makes sense that a professional theater company that is the primary user of a facility should keep the schedule for ALL usage. Unfortunately, the Tony Mack administration has proven repeatedly that it cannot and generally will not adhere to any agreements, pledges or promises if it does not suit the whim of the mayor.

We understand that the solo filmmaker was very gracious and willing to work with the Trenton Film Society folks to accommodate their event. He reportedly offered to screen his film on Sunday only, leaving Saturday for the already scheduled event.

That would have been a wonderful compromise except for one thing. The general noise level from the performances outside at the festival will be loud enough to be heard inside of the playhouse. External sound carries very well into the space and in all likelihood will make hearing the soundtrack of any film hard to hear.

Therefore, the Trenton Film Festival folks are opting to try to find another weekend later in the summer for their event.

The poor filmmaker who now has total clearance to use the playhouse may still face the problem of no audience.

The city in its "exhaustive" (NOT) marketing campaign for the Heritage Days event has made no mention that we have seen or heard of the screening. Not only is it unreasonable to expect a reasonable turnout for this waste of money event, the lack of promotion will also likely leave this poor filmmaker sitting alone in the Mill Hill Playhouse listening to the throbbing music seeping through the walls from the main stage a block away.

The Tony Mack has effectively killed off two events for the sake of holding onto his desire to "throw a party" for the city.

Meanwhile, across town, we have another example of the inability of this administration to manage the simplest things.

The Trenton City Museum is housed in the 19th century Ellarslie Mansion in Cadwalader Park. The building and the park are the property and responsibility of the city. The collection housed in the museum and all the programming there are the work of the Trenton Museum Society. The TMS is an independent non-profit organization.

Under the decades old MOU between the city and the TMS, the city was supposed to provide (as in hire and pay for) a full-time museum director. This individual was not only the liaison between the city and the TMS, they were the on-site eyes and ears that oversaw and managed the routine maintenance of the facility.

In the great "layoff of 2011", the museum director was let go. This forced the TMS to cancel exhibits and programs while they figured out what to do. In the interim, there was no one onsite who really understood, cared about, or demonstrated the will or knowledge to keep things running.

The TMS finally bit the bullet and, using its own funds, hired a part-time director of its own to help get things back on track. The problem with this arrangement is that the director is NOT a city employee and not part of the bureaucracy of city government. Getting things done in an efficient and timely manner is always a struggle.

This week, as the weather turned decidedly summer-ish with temperatures in the 90’s, the aging HVAC system for the building went down. (NOTE: the HVAC system would have been replaced with a newer one if the city had been able to win an National Endownment for the Humanities grant a couple of years ago. Unfortunately, that grant application was written by one of Mayor Mack’s inexperienced hires. Her grant application was denied and the city has had to struggle on with the antiquated system. This is not only a matter of comfort for the patrons, it puts the collection at risk from the effects of unstable environmental conditions).

The A/C goes out in the middle of a heat wave and the replacement part comes in by Friday but cannot be installed until the following Wednesday. This necessitates the relocation from Ellarslie to the Trent House of a lecture scheduled for Sunday because the museum is just too warm without the A/C.

The lecture is about a current exhibit at the museum and will be given by the curator of that exhibit. Unfortunately for the audience, the lecture will be given in a completely different facility than the one two and half miles away that houses the exhibit.

And all because this incompetent mayor cannot manage to keep his word and support the city’s cultural institutions.

Party on, Mayor Mack. Party on.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A well written understanding of the
unfortunate circumstances of our city and our most incapable mayor. Tony Mack lacks any ability to serve Trenton's needs.