Paterson looks to highlight the arts as part of city’s revival

BY Leah Mishkin, Correspondent |

While studying poetry in New York, Elizabeth Estella Valverde started delving more into the work of famous poets William Carlos Williams and Allen Ginsberg.

Her fiancé is from Paterson, which also happens to be where Ginsberg grew up.

She says she fell in love with the city rich in literary history and made the move to call it home.

“I understand why this city inspired two of the greatest American poets, and I thought, I need to be working out of that space,” said Valverde.

Beat poet Allen Ginsberg’s poem “Howl” is considered one of the most significant works of American literature. The city of Paterson’s poetry center gives out an award in Ginsberg’s name every year.

“You also have some really important visual artists like George Tice, the photographer whose work and initial works were on Paterson, and the famous landscape artist who never comes into the picture, Robert Smithson. Unfortunately he died a bit young as many fantastic artists often do but he began his work in Paterson, though he was from Passaic,” Valverde said.

Jersey-born poet William Carlos Williams was also inspired by the city. His epic poem “Paterson” centers on the city and the Great Falls.

Williams was also a doctor, he served as the head pediatrician of Passaic General in Paterson for nearly 40 years.

“When you read the actual work by Williams about the city of Paterson, you understand how this man could have this love affair with a city like this,” said Valverde.

But Lewis Cole, chair of the Grass Roots Arts Commission in the City of Paterson, says over the years the arts have received less attention.

“The desires are still there to do the arts you see, but because of the sustainability and the economic challenges that we have within urban cities have us a little scattered right now,” said Cole.

That is, until now. Mayor Andre Sayegh was elected in May and he’s expressed a desire to put the spotlight back on the arts, starting by reviving the arts commission so it can start initiatives like art installation projects throughout the city.

“We are cutting the ribbon on an amphitheater at the Great Falls in a few months so we want to help bring events, we want to promote the amphitheater,” said Sayegh.

That has the principal of the Rosa Parks School of the Fine and Performing Arts hopeful about the future. She wants to see a performing arts center built in her city.

“As an alum of this school, as a singer, as someone who appreciates the arts, it will help if I see the arts program cultivated as we continue to move forward to build a better Paterson,” said Principal Jalyn Lyde.

The mayor stood alongside a crowd who all want to see the arts highlighted here once again because they themselves are actors – and singers – and poets.

“We can’t ignore any longer that Paterson needs to be treated a little better when it comes to considering our legacy in the arts,” said Valverde.