To fully survey and assess the current state and direction of the arts and culture in Hamilton, the government’s role with and attitude toward the arts is a key component.

Hamilton Post arts columnist Thomas Kelly sat down and spoke with Mayor Jeff Martin in mid-November. The coronavirus pandemic has dominated Martin’s first year as mayor. But, as Martin has promised to build bridges between communities and the neighboring towns, the Post wanted to ask him about his thoughts on arts and culture in Hamilton—and what arts and culture could mean for tourism, dining and shopping in the township. A transcript follows:

Hamilton Post: What arts and culture event, place or tradition do you personally enjoy in Hamilton?

Jeff Martin: I don’t have a specific event but I really enjoy visiting the Grounds for Sculpture. During my time in Europe with the Air Force, I have visited a lot of museums and arts venues. To have this unique outdoor sculpture park in our own town as a focal point is a terrific asset. Visiting at different times during the year is also special as the trees and flowers are in different stages. It is just beautiful.

Jeff Martin

HP: Please share what arts involvement you have had as a youth and any artistic endeavors currently.

JM: I must share that as an 8-year old I was the lead in Peter Pan in a school production. I have always enjoyed theater and seeing shows on Broadway.

HP: The schools all have concerts and theater events. Do you attend any school arts and music events? How can we help get people to appreciate all the work and joy of live shows?

JM: I have not yet seen shows as the mayor. I would like to when things return to normal. I would also like to see how we can help promote the school events so they are welcomed and attended by residents other than the school families.

HP: Do you feel there are enough venues in Hamilton for various arts and culture events? Do we need to repurpose a town-owned building to have a central location for these types of events? Or can we better utilize existing venues?

JM: For this type of question, I feel we must do some market research. With the COVID interference, we really need to gauge what we really need. We have some venues that may possibly be utilized already, such as the schools. We have to look into what we have and what we may possibly need.

HP: In 2009, there began talk and work on the Hamilton Arts District, which was to be anchored by the Grounds For Sculpture. This was a dream project that was never fully realized. Is there any chance to reinvigorate this initiative and what would it take to get there?

JM: Yes, there still exists the arts district. Anchored by Grounds for Sculpture, the district extends to Mill One at Hamilton in the south and encompasses the Congoleum property to the north. Mill One at Hamilton is on North Johnston Avenue. We are still listening to proposals for the Congoleum property, and would like to work is some type of tie in to both the train station and the Grounds For Sculpture. We do not wish to have a warehouse that will only serve the needs of a few.

HP: The new Hamilton Arts Commission has had a few events, and participation showed an appetite for arts and cultural events. Hamilton is surrounded by towns with well-coordinated arts councils and have set a high standard. West Windsor, Princeton and Trenton have very successful arts communities and have beautiful refunctioned buildings as a nexus. Do you think that Hamilton could budget $1,000 a year to fund a Purchase Award prize for a Hamilton Arts Commission exhibition that could be the beginnings of a town art collection?

JM: I think this could be money found in the budget as this would really not be an expenditure but an investment. We have plenty of worthy buildings where we could hang some artwork.

HP: Do you think an open air theater in one of the Hamilton parks or in the arts district could be a good dream project to start with?

JM: I am very patient to see when and how we come out of this difficult time. I am hoping there is pent up demand and energy for entertainment. I think we could look into a portable band shell like Mercer County has. They seem to get a lot of use out of theirs. This is something we could explore.

HP: Would an arts or culture venue be a good fit for the Whitehorse ShopRite property? Maybe with an eatery or complementary businesses?

Hamilton Township council approved the township’s purchase of Whitehorse Plaza Shopping Center during an Oct. 6, 2020 meeting. (Google maps screengrab.)

JM: We have gotten more than 100 suggestions on what to do with the White Horse Avenue property. One of the stipulations of Hamilton buying the property at such an attractive price was that it be designated for public use. We are still in the midst of the environmental studies as part of our due diligence before closing the sale. We are looking at the year end as the hopeful closing date.

From the proposals, there have been quite a lot for an outdoor market, with food, farm products, craft items and hopefully artists and artisans. I think that would be terrific.

HP: Do you see the future bright for the arts and culture community in Hamilton?

JM: I do. With the good news of a coming vaccine in 2021, it looks like we will soon be living life again. I hope to see many things getting back to normal—education, dining, sports and the arts.