William Paterson University Receives Mellon Foundation Grant for Collaborative Project in Celebration of NJ Artist Ben Jones

Artist Ben Jones in his studio. Photo courtesy of Manuel Acevedo.

William Paterson University has received $150,000 from the Mellon Foundation for a project in collaboration with New Jersey City University that will celebrate the American artist Ben Jones, a 1963 graduate of William Paterson and a New Jersey City University professor emeritus of art.

The project, titled “The Universe of Ben Jones,” will take place from September 2023 through July 2024. The year-long collaboration will include an exhibition of Jones’s work, theatrical performances, and multicultural collective music, as well as the development of a course focused on art, community, and social justice. The project is designed to reach beyond both universities by engaging high school students in Paterson and Jersey City, as well as the surrounding communities, who will be invited and encouraged to participate in its events.

“We are grateful to the Mellon Foundation for funding this collaboration between William Paterson University and New Jersey City University,” says Pamela Ferguson, vice president for institutional advancement at William Paterson University. “Both universities serve a diverse population of students, a majority of whom are the first in their families to attend college. Through our shared connection to Ben Jones, an alumnus of William Paterson and a revered professor emeritus of art at New Jersey City University, both institutions will provide vibrant multicultural artistic and cultural experiences for their students, as well as for the broader communities they serve.”

The collaboration will be centered around a retrospective exhibition of the works of Ben Jones. Over his six-decade career, the artist has focused on interconnections and relationships between global issues including politics, health, the environment, racism, and capitalism, among others. The exhibition, co-curated by Casey Mathern, director of the William Paterson University Galleries, and Midori Yoshimoto, director of the New Jersey City University Galleries, will be on view in the William Paterson University Galleries during fall 2023, and in the Harold B. Lemmerman Gallery at New Jersey City University during spring 2024, with some variations between the two installations. There will be a concurrent exhibition of the artist’s mentees at both institutions titled Constellations, celebrating the legacy of Jones’s teaching and mentorship.

“What’s so exciting about Ben Jones is that he has constantly reinvented himself as an artist. While you know an Andy Warhol or a Jackson Pollock instantly, a Ben Jones work is harder to identify because of the sheer fact that he has risked it all to take his artistic vision in new directions,” says Jason D. Martinek, interim associate dean of humanities, arts, and social sciences in the William J. Maxwell College of Arts and Sciences at New Jersey City University. “And his risks have paid off. Each period of Jones’ work is more remarkable than the last. And you see that element of risk in his students’ work as well.”

In addition, students from both universities will collaborate on performances of Studs Terkel’s Working: People Talk About What They Do and How they Feel About What They Do. The production, under the direction of Marc Dalio, coordinator of musical theatre studies at New Jersey City University, and in collaboration with Christopher Herbert, vocal area coordinator at William Paterson University, will be staged at both institutions in November 2023.

In addition, the Spirit of Life Ensemble, a Jersey City-based ensemble founded by poet, activist, boxing champion, and percussionist Daoud-David Williams in 1975, will perform at William Paterson University as part of the fall 2023 Jazz Room series, as well as at New Jersey City University as part of its African Heritage Month celebration.

A critical outcome of the project will be the establishment of a six-credit course to be offered at William Paterson during the 2023-24 academic year. The course will focus on connections between art, community, and politics.

Ben F. Jones was born in New Jersey in 1941. A graduate of William Paterson University with a BFA, he earned an MA from New York University and an MFA from Pratt Institute. Jones has made nearly 100 cultural exchange visits to Cuba since the 1970s, and is noted by the Granma International of Havana, Cuba as one of the most important African American artists of his generation. For more than four decades, his multimedia installations have reflected his travel and research in Africa, Europe, South America, the United States, and the Caribbean. Jones has lectured at universities, museums, and cultural institutions across the world including Harvard University, Howard University, Savannah College of Art and Design, the Wilfredo Lam Center in Havana, Cuba, and the University of Ghana.