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Artistic Serenity at Riker Hill Art Park in Livingston, NJ

by: Sue Adler
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rikerLocated along Beaufort Avenue, beside Becker Hill and Walter Kidde Dinosaur Park in Livingston, sits Riker Hill Art Park, the 42-acre site providing solitude and workspace to a wide variety of creative artists from Essex and surrounding counties.

More than 40 artists call Riker Hill Art Park their work-home.  Artists use the land and buildings that once belonged to the federal government and, until 1974, it was used as a Project Nike missile tracking base for the development of anti-aircraft missiles. The project delivered the Ajax missile in 1953, and continued as a location for missile research until 1974, when the land was sold to the county for one dollar.

Today, the former barracks house painters and various other craftsmen. The no-frills, government-issue buildings has also housed heavy-stone-lifting equipment, a printmaking shop, and a photography studio. At one point, a $25,000 camera for large-scale work, donated by NJ Transit, was in use.

Though the county acquired the property in 1974, it wasn’t until 1981 that the abandoned tract was put to use. That’s when Ben Schaffer, the first staff coordinator of the park, was given the go-ahead on his proposal that the county turn the site into an art park where artists would work in open, public studios. Artists were recruited with the promise of long-term leases and moderate rents ranging from $.06-.38 per square foot per year, standardized to $1.50 in 1988, with the county providing electrical lines, furnaces, and exterior maintenance. Leonard DiNardo, one of the park’s original artists, said that he had to provide his own water source. Today’s rents are higher, but still low.

Riker Hill Art Park is the only self-supporting park in the Essex County park system, with studio rentals, classes, gallery fees, and concerts providing all of the necessary revenues. Some of the artists offer classes they schedule and promote themselves, and those interested are instructed to contact the artists directly. Food and pets are permitted on the grounds but not in the buildings.

Modifications

Electrical improvements costing $30,000 was completed in 2003.

Distinguishing Features

  • Art studios – painting / ceramics / graphic arts.
  • Craft center – glass blowing / woodworking / sculpturing
  • Hill crest provides a panoramic view of western Essex County.
  • Throughout the park there is a collection of outdoor sculptures. These pieces, which were donated to the park, have been valued at well over $300,000

Hours:
Dawn to dusk

Admission: Free

Location:
Off Beaufort Avenue
Livingston, NJ

Directions

From New Jersey: Take Route 280 West to Exit 4A (Eisenhower Parkway South). Turn left onto Beaufort Avenue. Park entrance is on the left.

From New York: Take the George Washington Bridge or Lincoln Tunnel to New Jersey Turnpike South. Then exit 15W for Route 280 West. Follow above directions.

For more information:
973-239-2485
www.essex-countynj.org/parks

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