Art All Night attendees hope successful return will bring crowds back to Trenton next year

One year after gunfire shattered Trenton’s annual Art All Night festival, hundreds flocked to this year’s celebration of local art, music, food, and films — even though, strictly speaking, it no longer lived up to its name.

The formerly “all night” festival took a break from 1 to 7 a.m. Sunday before resuming for the morning and afternoon. And for the first time in the festival’s 13-year history, the event was fenced off. Additionally, attendees had to go through security checkpoints before entering the event space that included visible police and security officers.

While last year’s gun violence that left a suspect dead and 22 injured may have been on the minds of some attendees, others saw their attendance as an act of defiance and a vote of confidence in the future of the Trenton arts scene.

“I just feel like I don’t want to be controlled by fear and neither do my children,” said Trenton resident Kelly Anderson, who has come to Art All Night every year since its inception.

Not coming to the festival was never an option for Anderson’s family. Her five children, four of whom wore t-shirts with the word “artist” printed in gold on the back, couldn’t wait to come after missing last year.

Kelly Anderson lives in Trenton and has been coming to Art All Night since its inception. She said her family of artists always planned on coming to Art All Night this year. Four of the children performed in front of a small Sunday crowd. (Ximena Conde/WHYY News)

The children performed a medley of songs from “The Lion King” for a small crowd early Sunday morning with classmates from Trenton’s Sprout U School of the Arts.

The festival, held at the Roebling Wire Works building in the city’s Chambersburg section, featured an art gallery, more than 30 bands on two stages, interactive events, an assortment of food trucks, a skateboard ramp, and a film festival. Trenton’s signature event has not only been a source of pride for city residents but has served as an inspiration for other arts festivals throughout South Jersey.

Rena Harvey attended for the first time. She moved to Burlington County four years ago from Atlanta where she said there’s a dynamic art scene. Art All Night did not disappoint.

“I love the loft area, the warehouse,” she said. “I like the idea that … there’s so many artists represented.”

Longtime attendees say ‘it feels quieter’

While they were glad to see the event return, longtime attendees said turnout on Sunday appeared lower and hoped former patrons return next year to make the festival as vibrant as it had been in previous years.

“It was always jam-packed, but never an eerie feeling. I swear to you, it was like being in Trenton, but not in Trenton. It was so many people,” Anderson said.

The atmosphere, she said, was “all love, all joy, all positivity.”

“It feels quieter. There are definitely less people than I remember being around at this time of day on a Sunday,” said Rachelle Picarello who came from neighboring Lawrenceville. “And there’s less art, there’s a lot less art.”

Organizers did not yet have an estimated head-count for the whole weekend as of Sunday afternoon.

Jerome Hughes, a native Trentonian who visits from Winston-Salem, North Carolina every year, said he also noticed fewer art pieces in the gallery.

Jerome Hughes, left, is an acrylics mixed-media artist who grew up in Trenton and comes from North Carolina to participate in Art All Night. Hughes sparked a conversation with Rena Harvey, right, who came from Burlington County for her first Art All Night. (Ximena Conde/WHYY News)

This year, Hughes submitted a painting of three Trenton rowhomes of bright red and yellow brick. In front of the homes are small cut-outs of warring neighbors. Hughes said the neighbors in the piece are at odds over the future of the block. Some are working hard to make tiny improvements to the neighborhood, while others refuse to pull their weight.

View this post on Instagram

My newest piece #art #ncart #blackart

A post shared by Jerome Hughes (@brozzy324) on

Hughes sold the piece above, but said: “a lot of the big spenders didn’t show, because I was looking at everything that sold and you know, it’s lowball.”

Some 900 pieces of art were displayed this year.

Festival director Joseph Kuzemka said while that’s less compared to previous years, more art was sold Saturday than any other previous Art All Night — roughly 15% of what was in the gallery.

“The quality of the art is as strong as it’s ever been,” Kuzemka said.

‘People will see it is safe’

Marie Smith, a Trenton native who has attended the festival every year, wondered if the increased police presence kept some people away.

“I think with all the security, it takes away from some of the freedoms people had coming and going,” she said.

Smith hopes that after a successful return, the event will draw even more people next year to see how much Trenton has to offer.

“After this year, people will see it is safe. The city is trying and they will keep them safe,” she said.

And next year’s celebration may live up to the name once more, Trenton Mayor Reed Gusciora hinted.

“We are ecstatic that Art All Night is continuing to perform,” he told the crowd. “Next year I think we are going to go 24 hours again.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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.