After festival shooting, will Trenton arts recover?

People express their pride by holding banners at Art All Night in Trenton. (Alan Tu/WHYY)

People express their pride by holding banners at Art All Night in Trenton. (Alan Tu/WHYY)

For twelve years, Art All Night has been a 24-hour community event in Trenton, New Jersey, with music, film, food, and a gallery of 15,00 pieces of art. About 30,000 people attended annually; it is by far the largest art event in the city.

James Peeples has been involved with it every year, and calls it the best art event in the entire Delaware Valley.

“Until this incident, until this specific incident this past Sunday morning, there has never, in the history of Art All Night, ever been a violent incident in 12 years. Period,” he said.

Peeples used to sit on the board of Art All Night’s organizing body, Artworks, and in its earlier years ran security with a handful of volunteers. As the event grew so did security; this year there were more on-duty Trenton police officers involved than ever.

Nevertheless, early Sunday morning what police described as rival gangs came to the event. Gunfire rang out, injuring 22 people and leaving one dead.

Leon Rainbow has been a participating artist since the beginning of Art All Night, and said he had never before seen any fighting at the event. On Saturday night, he and a painting partner were working on a large mural outside the warehouse space.

Early Sunday morning, Rainbow saw police start to disperse the crowd. He decided to wrap up work and come back after daybreak.

“It seemed like it was really busy. There were a lot of people drinking and smoking weed. Most people after 12 or 1 o’clock weren’t there for the art at all,” said Rainbow. “There were a couple small scuffles, and I thought something could happen.”

Rainbow said he heard the popping of gunfire, and crouched behind a brick wall. He saw a man walk past, his shirt stained with blood. Later, police gathered everyone inside the building for a few hours as they did a sweep of the property.

As of Monday afternoon, the building with all the artwork inside was still locked down by law enforcement. Rainbow said he was still waiting for police to release his car.

Now, organizers are trying to figure out what to do with the event in the future.

The popularity of Art All Night pushed Artworks to create a spin-off event in November, Art All Day.

It also inspired community art events all over South Jersey. Bill Horin, founder of the regional arts promoter ArtC, says Atlantic City’s 48 Blocks and the Jersey Fringe Festival in Hammonton took cues from the success of Art All Night.

“You don’t think when you go to an art exhibit that this could possibly happen, at least most people don’t,” said Horin. “Now it can happen anywhere. It’s striking home with a lot more people than it might have before just because of where and what kind of event it was.”

People involved with Art All Night are saying the event will continue in the future, one way or another, although Artworks has not commented.

Rainbow remains committed to Art All Night, but is worried some things can’t be fixed.

“Our art scene is so strong because it’s so open and inclusive, and really so free,” said Rainbow. “That’s why I love it so much. We could have art shows and parties and everything was cool. But now I feel like it will never be like that again. The shooting has changed that.”

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.