By Valentina Jotovic, C.E.O., YOUniversity of Music and Arts
So much has changed in Hunterdon County since I moved to the area about 14 years ago. As a “City Girl” who grew up in Belgrade, Serbia, Hunterdon living was quite a change of pace for me, though it didn’t take long at all to adjust to the quality of life we have all come to appreciate about this area! Open space and farm land, horse properties, quaint little towns steeped in history, good food—what’s not to like, right?
Well, to be honest, not everything was perfect during my first few years in Hunterdon, and some developments were actually of serious concern. As the Great Recession hit, Flemington—particularly its downtown district—began to decline precipitously. People and businesses were leaving Main Street in a rush, determined to move to greener pastures. What I had missed about Flemington’s downtown district all along—the leisurely street coffees, music-making, art galleries, coffee shops, and a distinct local culture that played such an important role in places where I grew up—now appeared to be forever out of reach, a mere pipe dream. The fate of Main Street was sealed. Or so I thought.
I am very happy, and relieved, to say that more recent developments have created some strong
momentum for making Flemington downtown a place we can enjoy visiting and finally be proud of again. The effort is supported by the Flemington Business Improvement District (BID), whose mission is “to promote Flemington as a place to experience its history, culture, art, shops and restaurants.” Under the leadership of the BID, downtown activity has been increasing as a variety of events are attracting new audiences. Some of these events take place at the Flemington DIY, a community art space and BID initiative that started out as an experiment but has since become quite popular. Another new institution, Flemington Rocks is a small group of small businesses and local residents banding together to promote events at the newly renovated Stangl Stage and other Flemington venues.
What all these new initiatives have in common is the passionate involvement of local businesses and residents. While this joint effort may have started out as a desperate attempt to save in any way possible what was left of Flemington downtown, I think there are now additional and possibly stronger motivations at play. Of course, there has long been an interest in reviving this once illustrious town—location of the 1935
Lindbergh Trial, when reportedly 16,000 (!) cars flooded Flemington and 5,000 people tried to push into the Historic Courthouse building! But what we’re seeing today goes far beyond nostalgic re-enactments, building restorations, or even economic redevelopment (much needed as that may be). We see people eagerly coming together to re-create Flemington as their—our—community.
In closing, I would like to leave you with a call to action. Re-envisioning Flemington as a place we can proudly and lovingly call “our home” requires our active, hands-on, and ongoing involvement. You—the families, alumni, and supporters of Hunterdon Academy of the Arts—are a very significant part of this local community, large in numbers and with an appreciation of the arts and culture. Please get involved! Throw your weight behind the newly emerging Flemington, support local businesses, visit cultural events, and take advantage of volunteer opportunities!
Welcome (back) to Flemington!