ArtBender 2016: South Orange Man Pays it Forward to His Community

by The Village Green
0 FacebookTwitterPinterestEmail


South Orange, Maplewood and surrounding towns will participate in ArtBender, a 24-hour art-creating session from Saturday, May 14 to Sunday, May 15. Hosted by Arts Unbound, a non-profit arts organization in Orange that supports and promotes artistic achievement by people with disabilities and seniors, the event encourages local businesses and residents to get on their inner artist by hosting, sponsoring or sponsoring a Bender event. (Visit this page to learn about events taking place in SOMA and beyond.)

ArtsBender is an expanded version of an Arts Marathon event Arts Unbound hosted last year, and was the brainchild of South Orange resident Danni Michaeli. Michaeli explains how the event was born in the following essay.

Two years ago my husband Dave was diagnosed with ALS. In January of 2016, he was honored with the South Orange Villager of the Month award, and gave me a speech to read for him where he explained how the award was really a thank you to all of our wonderful neighbors who for the past two years have been cooking us meals, shoveling our snow, removing our yard waste, delivering childrens’ clothing and toys, babysitting our one-year-old and massaging, stretching, driving around, reading to and meditating with my husband. Many of these kindnesses were done without any request given, and often enough, by people we had never met or only knew in passing. We were blown away, and we can never adequately repay the kindness, love and generosity we have known during this time.

So, earlier in the year I became preoccupied with getting involved in a community development project to give something back to my neighbors, and had a vague idea about tying it somehow to art, just because it appealed to me and I saw it all around me. I was at an art opening at Arts Unbound and I was really impressed with the work and was talking to the executive director about my idea. She asked if I was interested in signing up for the Art Marathon. She explained that the Art Marathon was conceived by an artist they work with who lives in South Orange and is a Jespy House member.

The concept is that people would do art for 24 hours, get sponsors like regular walk-a-thons and would then donate their art to Arts Unbound for a silent auction the following week. I thought the idea sounded very cool and started thinking about how to get involved, not really being an artist myself. Over the next few weeks, I spoke to some friends about the idea and a lot of people were into it. We came up with a new name and broadened the idea, and I presented our proposal to the Arts Unbound staff. They were extremely receptive and ArtBender was born.

ArtBender is 24 hours of creative self-expression. It can happen anywhere and anyone can participate. It’s an opportunity for people to do their unfinished, or most often UNSTARTED UNFINISHED projects, those things they see on TV and think, “I want to try that” or that creative piece they come across and think, “I could do that”. It’s about committing one day out of 365 to the creative, courageous and curious within all of us. And it’s a day to let people know what you’re up to, encourage them to do the same and turn it into a party.

It’ll still be a fundraising opportunity for Arts Unbound, who have generously committed resources to this event for us, but much more. It gives a voice to the idea that anyone can create something new if they try and if they have their community encouraging them to succeed. And it gives individuals who are often marginalized in our world an opportunity to lead through creativity.

As our town develops, it can go in so many directions. I would like to encourage it to prosper as a creative hub, and I’m certainly not alone. ArtBender is the inaugural event for a summer of cultural opportunities, including the SOMA studio tour; North Jersey Pride; SouthNext; the concerts and films at the train station, in Spiotta Park and at Floods Hill; Maplewoodstock; and the season finale happening at the South Orange Public Library’s 150th anniversary celebration in September. And there is more that I don’t even know about.

Seton Village is particularly well suited for ArtBender. We’re a very concentrated illustration of what makes South Orange unique. We’re down the block from Newark, around the corner from Montrose, and the gateway to Seton Hall University. We have a highly cohesive and energetic community, lots of creatives, lots of foot traffic, lots of collisions, and lots of opportunity for new stuff to emerge.

So on Saturday May 14, we’ll be blocking off Fairview Avenue between Irvington and Gardner Avenues for a block party where we’ll have a bunch of supplies for fooling around with art. We’ll be making mosaics, and giant puppets for the library anniversary. We’ll have a writers’ corner on Riggs and Irvington, and we’re painting a large mural on one of the street corners. Anyone is invited to join, help and have fun.

We hope ArtBender has the opportunity to grow year after year, continuing to create unique new community projects, beautify and distinguish those forgotten corners of our small enclave, and empower our identity as a village and a home. People have already approached me about new ideas for next year! But for now, for more information about ArtBender, visit

Lots of cool stuff has already been created, including these amazing short video teasers. Enjoy!

Related Articles