In South Orange Festival, Art and Tech Collide

By Maddie Orton
Arts Correspondent

There’s a new festival coming to town. In a press conference at Seton Hall on Wednesday, South Orange Village Trustee Stephen Schnall laid out the plans for next month’s “creative collision” of music, technology and conversation: South by South Orange.

“Inspired by what some other cities have done with their festivals,” says Schnall, “we are combining music, ideas, technology and the arts, and we’ve created a much more intimate and mostly home-grown program.”

If the name rings a bell, you may be thinking of the 10-day Austin, Texas festival, South by Southwest.

South Orange’s homage to the popular Austin event’s title may generate automatic interest from residents — especially the city’s growing millennial population.

“We’re getting a lot of folks coming in from New York City, from Jersey City, from Hoboken,” says Schnall.

Schnall says civic engagement and volunteerism are a big part of what keeps the village of South Orange vital — and able to increase services without increasing property taxes. He thinks young people want to participate in their communities, and festivals like this can attract and engage that demographic.

South Orange may be uniquely positioned to court millenials. Alex Torpey is village president, or mayor. He’s coming to the end of his term — at the ripe, old age of 27.

“One of the things that we’re trying to do with this, and with South by South Orange specifically, is try and make sure that people don’t forget about the greater metropolitan areas when they think about the cities,” says Torpey. “We’ve got a younger population in town with the students of Seton Hall, we have a lot of graduate students who still live in South Orange. We’d love to see a lot of those folks stay in South Orange.”

The festival is also geared toward connecting those already invested in the village — like South Orange resident Brian Gottesman who will host a “Teching Ball” at the festival where computer programmers will create code for an app while musicians perform.

“I think it makes a very clear statement that South Orange is a town that can put on this kind of event because there’s such a rich and diverse community,” Gottesman says.

A community that, in addition to Gottesman, includes people like NPR’s Marketplace Morning Report host David Brancaccio, musician Mike Griot and camera drone developers. All of whom are set to participate.

Torpey himself works in technology. “I think that putting people with different perspectives but who share either similar goals or similar values, putting them in the same room, is brilliant,” he says. “And it doesn’t really happen that often.”

Torpey says gathering people from different backgrounds — technology, government, art, etc. — is how you get innovation. And for Schnall, a former math major and computer science minor, that’s exciting on a personal level.

“I’ve been trying to go in the other direction, which is to explore about the creative aspect of my personality, of my skill set,” says Schnall. “So, this is very meaningful for me as sort of combining both hemispheres.”

The three-day festival begins June 26.