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The No Face of Gentrification

nofacewall.trenton.2017.sagecoalitionI came to Trenton on a short trip to see my daughter and to tie up some loose ends a few days ago. It was indeed a quick trip (less than 36 hours). Before I headed back to Vermont I decided to take a wall for ol’ times sake. This idea had been incubating since the fall and was prompted by many issues that had been developing, some of which had influenced my need to move. So many things were going awry. My home was in foreclosure…my organization, SAGE Coalition, was at a crossroads…and my quality time with my daughter was constantly compromised. I was dealing with a lot. During the fall, after spending time with Jennifer Herrera, associate director of the Anderson Freeman Resource Center at Middlebury College in Vermont, I was reintroduced to Hayao Miyazaki films; one in particular being the masterpiece, “Spirited Away”. A character in the film called No Face really stuck out to me. The design was simple yet powerful. No Face is a spirit in the Japanese anime film. He is shown to be capable of reacting to emotions and ingesting other individuals in order to gain their personality and physical traits.

I wanted to represent this character on a wall. At the time, I didn’t know in what context. After being educated about the different appearances and forms No Face can conjure by University of Vermont (UVM) undergrad and self proclaimed “Spirited Away” expert, Alexa Herrera, I proceeded to show No Face in a more aggressive form, given that the theme of the wall was gentrification. I chose to represent No Face as a metaphor for the aforementioned; swallowing up everything around him in a selfish greedy frenzy. Gentrification is a multi-faceted phenomenon that can be defined in different ways. According to wikipedia, gentrification is defined as: “A process of renovation and revival of deteriorated urban neighborhoods by means of influx of more affluent residents, which results in increased property values and the displacing of lower-income families and small businesses”

The building that was selected for the endeavor is as dilapidated as it gets; paint chipping…garbage everywhere. It was a supreme eye sore…but it was also placed in the middle of a city block with tons of traffic passing by, which made it ideal. Onlookers and passersby cheered as Earlie Harrell and I primed and began to layout the wall. Jennifer documented the process via iPhone and even the local city police showed up in support. The officer arrived after someone called in to report that the building was broken into and being vandalized. After a brief conversation, I assured him that I was not trespassing inside, but helping to ease the stress of looking at the building that was obviously not upkept or properly maintained by whoever owned it. The officer went on to say: “I rather see this art than the ugliness that’s currently present”. Needless to say, I was given a pass…and I continued to paint.

The mural only took two hours to produce. As quick as the mural went up, is also how quickly gentrification can spread; not in a literal sense, but defiantly in a metaphorical one. Ironically, artists like myself are used to seed the process of gentrification; we make the areas in distress more palatable for the masses. Like most low income residences and small businesses gentrification affects, we are swiftly moved out and out-priced as well.

There are talks of an impending “arts district” on E. Hanover St. in Trenton, NJ, the same block Sage Coaliton made famous with our frequent gallery shows, community gardens, and music showcases. Unbeknownst to us at the time, we were laying the foundation for “urban development”…and the possible displacement for the blocks inhabitants. We were the first to feel the affects of “urban renewal”.

It was never our motivation or ambition to pass judgment on who deserves what. As SAGE, we just spread the possibilities that can come from living an artistic lifestyle. Gentrification was lying in wait for us too. We became just as much victims of the process as anyone.

As the quote by Vietnamese communist politician, Khang Kijarro Nguyen, which capped off the wall reads: “Excessive gentrification destroys the biodiversity and ecosystem of a community.”…and if we are not careful, it will do the same to the city of Trenton, NJ. Gentrification is not coming…it’s already here.

As Nina Simone said, “an artist’s duty, as far as I’m concerned, is to reflect the times.” This mural does just that.

-William G. Kasso -S.A.G.E. Coalition Inc.

City of Dreams Mural

City of Dreams Mural


Taking Back Trenton from Cynthia Groya on Vimeo.

SAGE Coalition is the heart and soul of the capitol city of Trenton, NJ’s arts community. With its recent mural production, “City of Dreams”, it further reiterate that sentiment.

Sponsored by the ETC (East Trenton Collaborative) and designed by William Kasso, the idea came about while discussing different visions for a youth themed mural. Kasso, who has a long storied history in the production of youth murals, brought up the idea of a kid blowing bubbles over a city landscape. He then enlisted his longtime friend and frequent collaborator, Leon Rainbow, to co-produce.

Leon Rainbow drafted up an abstract surreal background, full of bright yellow, oranges and reds, along with a festive cityscape to balance out Kasso’s massive image of S.A.G.E. member, Rocky Kelly’s daughter, Dreamy.

The bubbles were created with the help of children during a after school art workshop sponsored by the East Trenton Collaborative and Habitat for Humanity. Kasso, Rainbow and Earlie Harrell lead a workshop of roughly 20 students to create dramatic images of bubbles with blue hues and abstract patterns.

The bubbles were installed within the mural using a high density adhesive called Nova Gel. Once the bubbles were placed, Rainbow finished off the background while Kasso continued to work of the image of Dreamy, which stretched from the top of the wall down. The entire figure measured about 25 ft once completed.

The two artist worked in unison while Cynthia Groya, a Harvard University undergrad, documented the process.

Rocky Kelly, S.A.G.E. holistic health guru, wrote the passage to sum up the vision behind the mural, which reads: “In the City of Dreams, a dream can be fulfilled as easy as a child blowing a bubble. It is the power of your intent that will determine how big or small your dreams become”.

The entire production took 4 days; capped off by Earlie Harrell…aka…Messiah, slapping on a few layers of clear coat to seal the wall.

Leon Rainbow and William Kasso. Many call them the dynamic duo of the Trenton Art scene. Each artist has created more works of public art in the capital city than any other artist before or since. Its a pleasure to watch these two artist work their magic…especially in a city like Trenton, NJ; a city struggling to regain its former identity of prosperity and glory.

“Trenton makes the world takes”. That statement is world renown..and so are its artists. The City of Dreams is not only a beautiful piece of public art, but also a vision of what could be.

S.A.G.E Coalition Inc.

MLK Memorial Wall 2016

MLK Memorial Wall 2016

Original Wall from 2005

The year was 2005. Leon Rainbow and William Kasso, two local artists, collaborated on their first mural together. At the time, each artist was only acquainted for a short period; less than a year, and each of their names was beginning to rise in the local art scene. The idea came up to produce this mural while brainstorming different opportunities to evolve their work, while watching graffiti bombing videos at Kasso’s apartment. The opportunity to work together on a groundbreaking project like this was tremindous. That project was the Martin Luther King Memorial Mural.

The original mural, which was created in the 1970s by an unknown artist, was falling apart. It was simple in execution; red brushed block letters with a white background. The two artist designed the new mural with the intention on focusing on MLKs image and message.

Original wall by unknown artist

Original wall by unknown artist

The two worked for hours…12 to be exact..in 115 degree heat. They battled a swam of bees…and a rain storm. But alas, after a full day of trails and tribulations, the wall was complete. It was met with great fanfare and press coverage. The mural put the two graffiti artist in the local limelight and got the kind of attention that most in the graffiti scene would cloak themselves from…it made there faces known.

Since ’05, many murals and projects from each passed. In the fall of 2016, the two artist, now season wall art veterans and each with international recognition, decided to redo the MLK wall, which fell to years of decay and neglect. With proceeds raised from a Go Fund Me campaign, the two artist set out to update this iconic mural yet again.

Leon focus was the background imagery and quote, while Kasso focus was on the portrait. The quote:

“When evil men plot, good men must plan. When evil men burn and bomb, good men must build and bind. When evil men shout ugly words of hatred, good men must commit themselves to the glories of love”. This quote in particular was chosen due to its promotion of standing together in the face of evil and wickedness.”

“Its a great quote, especially in the way it promotes a healthy way of solving conflicts”, say Leon Rainbow.

Leon chose a bright red font for the quote that was balanced out by a baby blue colored sky and titanium white fluffy clouds. Kasso’s portrait centered the wall with a straight forward rendering of Dr. King, while in giant bold white and red letters, the word DREAM stretched across the right half of the mural.

This was a quick production…taking all of two days to produce. During their time working on the mural, the two artists shared tons of laughs and good vibes, no different than 11 years prior. The community response was at first, not so pleasant…mainly because they thought the artists were removing the previous work out of disrespect. Once the community dialogued with Kasso and Rainbow, did their collective fears began to ease.

The work ethic of these two artists and the energy it takes to constantly answer the call to create these masterworks is phenomenal. The neighborhood and city of Trenton owes a huge debit of gratitude to these gentlemen. Art is life and its consistently provides an outlet to many who otherwise have no voice. Its the missing positive link in a chain forged out of hopelessness. Art matters. Trenton matters. Art is the message…and S.A.G.E. Coalition is the method.

-Earlie Harrell, Director of Urban Affairs, S.A.G.E. Coalition Inc.

Art @ the Parks

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I love public parks. They stand at the intersection of so many lives and types of people, and they’re free to everyone, for any wholesome activity. Wholesome activities like building a giant paint-spewing, spiral-making, kid’s shoes ruining pendulum for all to swing around and enjoy! This October, “Pendulum @ the Park” will be a Pendulum-Painting tour, hitting 5 public parks throughout the city, each one being a pop-up art making workshop. Here are the dates and times (weather permitting):

Wednesday, Oct 12th, 1pm-6pm in Roberto Clemente park (map)
Thursday, Oct 13th, 1pm-6pm in Franklin Park (map)
Friday, Oct 14th, 1pm-6pm in Greg Grant Park (map)
Friday, Oct 20th, 1pm-6pm in Martin Luther King Park (map)
Sunday, Oct. 23rd, 1pm-6pm in Lipinski Park (map)

vid_snapIn other parky business, we’re raising some money to re-paint the Martin Luther King Mural in MLK Park, on Brunswick Ave. Check out the GoFundMe and donate if you feel inclined. This could be part of the Pendy @ the Park tour, with Kasso and Leon painting while we swing the pendulum.. wouldn’t that be great?

Finally, Wills and his Bike Polo gang have taken over Lipinski park, and they’re hosting the 2nd Annual Fall F**king Classic, a prestigious tournament open to all polo-ers, on Sunday Oct. 23rd beginning at 9:00 am. Of course we’ll have the pendulum out there as part of the tour.

Windows of Soul This Weekend!

Another year, another chance to rock great artwork on blighted buildings. Windows of Soul is all about transforming blight into beauty. Join us in bringing some positive culture to struggling neighborhoods. You can submit art to be pasted up on vacant buildings, or join us for workshops, music and more. It all goes down this weekend, Sept. 17th and 18th on Walnut Ave, between Chambers and Monmouth St, Trenton NJ.

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The Buddha Of Woodbury


Kasso just did a massive Buddha-themed wall down in Woodbury, NJ. Here are some pics, taken by the talented Habiyb Shu’Aib. The artist describes: “For those that have been following me via social media, know about the mural I recently completed in Woodbury, NJ entitled “The Buddha Of Woodbury.” In collaboration with the Woodbury FAF, who champions initiatives rich in arts, culture, and sustainable design as a catalyst for community development and economic revitalization. They execute these initiatives by creating engaging places and innovative experiences that transform the lives of the community. SAGE Coalitionand FAF first collaborated 4 years ago at their inaugural festival, were SAGE members demonstrated our artistic skills via live painting, welding, and music performances.”

Read the whole post »

To the East… to WALNUT!!

There’s a little spot in Trenton, a couple blocks east of the train station, not far from the place Jay-z nodded to when saying, “East Trenton Grew Me..” But apparently not too close to there either, as Leon Rainbow found out the hard way. When he tried to quote that line in a mural in the neighborhood, residents there wouldn’t have it. “Put Wilbur Section Up!” they said. Man, do they love The Section.. and we love it too, after all, that’s where our candle-making-international-director-of-urban-affairs Messiah hangs out, and that’s where our resident-DJ-and-shade-tent-lender ItsJustAhmad hails from, and that’s where we did our last Windows of Soul street art festival. Recently, SAGE artists Áine Mickey and Graham Apgar have been going out there on a mission to turn the vacant lot at 131 Walnut Ave into a garden. It’s more of a park actually, a place for people to hang out and be around nature, and a chance for youth to be involved in making a creative change in their neighborhood. This project is all about the kids. It’s an after-school/summer program for all those uppity youngsters of all ages, who wander around Tha Section from 7 to 9pm on summer nights (perfect time to get to work!) We’ve already planted a dozen trees, and we’re building a B Home, a fire-pit and some planters. The program is made possible by the Arts Council of Princeton, who have been kindly helping us find some funding for it. Áine is currently building our relationship with them, so we can do even bigger things on this block in the future. She’s also our in-house documentary photographer.. check out her what she’s captured so far:

Soul of the Message 2016 Made it Rain

The spirit of the late Prince was probably in the air at SAGE’s Soul of the Message 2016 Event, which we held on April 22nd and 23rd right here in Trenton, NJ. Every spring we host this show to bring emerging artists and musicians into the spotlight and kick off another summer of creativity. This year we started with an art show at Casa Cultura, a new downtown arts venue focused on latino culture. As you can see from the pics, the art was really poppin, with many new faces and styles.


On Day 2, we brought the scene to another new venue, the Orchid House, on East Hanover St, which is a start-up project of a few local artists and Entrepreneurs, who are turning a previously dilapidated building into a cafe and concert space. In the backyard, we hosted a graffiti jam, bringing in muralists from the tri-state area to bless the walls, and over a dozen musical acts to break in the new stage. Also, as a sideshow, we brought some new life to the old Gandhi Garden down the street, with a comedy show. Just to be out there, on that infamous drug trafficking block, in a garden with a big Gandhi face smiling over us… doing a comedy show.. That was all the material the comics needed. I think everyone, for whatever reason they were there, had a good laugh. Shout out to Black Collar Biz for keeping the wider community in mind and setting that up.

And of course, there was Prince, his face stenciled in perfect minimalism on the Orchid House Door, as if to challenge any young musician entering (there’s a music studio in the works on the third floor) to live up to his genius. Around the corner, a larger tribute was in progress. When leon Rainbow showed up with a paint sprayer and half a dozen cans of purple paint, we knew it was on. Kasso, Lank, Rain, Bale and Uhm went in late into the night, painting a massive tribute wall. The mural was so prominent that it made the front page of the Trentonian the next day, bringing some positive press to the Orchid House and the Arts in Trenton… the power of art at it’s finest.

Windows Of Soul 2015 Recap

WOS (Windows of Soul) 2015 took place on the infamous city block of Walnut Ave. Walnut Ave, located in the Wilbur Section of East Trenton, is quite possibly, the most infamous block in the east ward. It’s one well known for illegal activities and unfortunately, its murder rate. This block is in pain…and it has been for a very long time.

We wanted to originally focus on walnut in 2013, during the seconded installment of WOS, but was unable to make it happen at that point, partly due to politics and contracts which bonded us to downtown Trenton. It was always a goal to do this block. The sheer number of abandoned properties and the strong community was enough to keep attention on the struggling block.

SAGE partnered with the Arts council of Princeton ( http://artscouncilofprinceton.org/ )to fund WOS. With a grant from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts and matching funds from individual donors, we had enough funding to put this project together. During the summer, the WOS team was composed. One Trenton Project which consists of Caitlin Fair and Kimby Heil handled community outreach. Both Hands Artlet, spearheaded by artist/teacher, Bentrice Jusu, covered photography and event documentation. TCNJ Bonner Center provided volunteers for community cleanup and Artworks Trenton hosted the opening artshow that kicked off the weekends festivities.

Saturday, Oct 17th, bright and early that morning, we begin the install of art on the abandoned buildings. TCNJ Bonners and kids form the community produced art on canvas and paper donated by HomFront Artspace, while Graham Apgar of Sage Guerrilla gardening unit broke ground on a new community garden entitled,”Graffiti Garden”.

Leon Rainbow, with assistance from TCNJ students produced a mural book-ending the garden titled “Section Love”. The mural was a homage to the wilbur section and the strong sense of community which connects so many individuals within the neighborhood.

Wils Kinsey, Lori Johansson and their team of volunteers oversaw the install of artwork on the abandoned properties. With a boom truck and tons of art being turned out from the kids in the community, there was no shortage of art and Wils and company kept up a steady pace, installing throughout the weekend.

Ahmad Shakur, SAGE resident DJ an his team musicians held down the music. Classic Hip Hop, House, R&B and Funk was the soundtrack for the weekend…keeping this running smooth and chill.

Sunday, Oct. 18th, the final day of event and the one with heavy attention on the music performances. Local and a few regional acts performed to a steady crown of onlookers and spectators. Ahmad kept the grooves going while Wils and company continued with the install. One trenton project hosted the community BBQ and books and breakfast programs, which passed out children books to the neighborhood kids.

“Reach the world but touch the hood first”… a quote from Brooklyn emcee/actor, Mos Def, define SAGE Coalition’s mission; to never forget were one comes from while striving for something better than what is given. Many born under depressed conditions find it is difficult to raise above what most would consider a dead end socially, spiritually and economically. Windows of Soul is the visual representation of the aforementioned quote. With its 4th installment now complete, SAGE and company looked to go above and beyond our previous community beatification endeavors. This one felt more like the first and more organic than the previous two. I believe its because this one, like the first, had nothing to prove…other than to provide art to those with limited access to it. The kids, parents and all that participated enjoyed themselves and the feeling of connectivity was apparent.

“Windows of Soul” exceeded all of our expectations.We were all riding high from the weekend. Thanks to all who came together to make this happen. Addison Vincent and Jesse Vincent from the Artworks Trenton family, you guys are the “Wonder Twins”. Graham Apgar for keepin’ it real with the “Graffiti Garden”. To my native brother, Leon Rainbow, I think you will forever understand that “Wilbur Section” and “East Trenton” are truly different, but its all love. Wills Kins aka..”THE FOREMAN” for always coming through in the clutch and keeping things in order with the install. Kimby Heiland Caitlin Fair of “One Trenton” for the continued outreach leading up to this project and making Sunday super chill with “Books and Breakfast”.Ahmad Shakir for always setting the mood(Respect the DJ). To my brother Earlie Harrell for keeping the flame going. You are the realist my G. To Bentrice Jusu of “Both Hands” and Aine Mickey for documentation and helping build up this event with your unselfishness in adding light to the hood. To my SAGE Coalition brother Jonathan Conner, the “Larry Bird” of Street-art…salute. To Lori Johansson, Nikki Nailbomb, Drew Glenn and the entire Championship Sports Bar & Grill family for supporting and always being there when needed. Christopher Michael Jones, Mike Murphy, Andrew Wilkinson, Lauren Otis, Kate Graves, Kelvin L. Smith, Chelsea Perron,Elizabeth Amaral, and Marge Caldwell-Wilson for helping, supporting and always representing. To the Bonner Scholars for coming out and being apart with your community service and art output…and all the artist that submitted work and came out to celebrated community with us…thank you. To the community of Walnut Ave and Wilbur section and anyone I may have forgot to add…Salute, Thank You and One Love. Trenton still making it. It Don’t Stop!


Some of the photos in the gallery are courtesy of Scott Ketterer -The Trentonian
To check out the full gallery go to:

http://media.trentonian.com/2015/10/17/photos-from-sage-coalitions-windows-of-soul-4-in-trenton/

Buy a Brother / Sister a Suit Day

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Join us in an initiative to provide young men and women with the style and know-how to compete in today’s local and global marketplace. In collaboration with the Living Hope Empowerment Center, SAGE is raising money to buy suits and provide business education for people in Trenton’s underprivileged neighborhoods. On the weekend of May 20th-22nd, 2016, we will be driving several limos around the city, picking up interested participants and taking them to receive custom-tailored suits. Fostering a positive self image is just the beginning, though. We will be conducting tours of local businesses and facilitating apprenticeships to help aspiring professionals get the education and resources they need to succeed. Check out the brochure to learn more, or click here to make a donation.

We are also looking for artists in Trenton who are operating small businesses to get involved in the project. If you’d be interested in teaching your artistic skills or business know-how, contact us.

  • Members

    Will "Kasso" Condry (Creative Director)
    Wills Kinsley (Financial Manager)
    Ahmad Shakir (Finance/Tech)
    Earlie "Messiah" Harrell (Outreach)
    Áine Mickey (Marketing)
    Byron Marshall (Marketing/Recruiting)
    Cailtin Fair (Administration)
    Graham Apgar (Media)
    Jonathan "LANK" Conner
    James "LUV 1" Kelewae
    Justin "DELVE" Crosby
    Leon Rainbow

    Offices