Interview with Gregory Burrus
of South Orange, NJ
By Patricia Rogers
P.R.: What brought you to the Valley Arts District?
Gregory Burrus: I was drawn to the Valley Arts District because of the 30-minute commute back to NYC and the people you meet. In addition, the diversity, the quality of live music and the artistic exhibitions are all first class and seem to thrive in every area of the Valley Arts District. I especially love the fact it’s a growing, vibrant and changing community.
How long have you been in New Jersey?
Started in NYC, moved to Newport, Jersey City and watched it explode in growth since 1992, and now in South Orange, NJ since 1997 for more space, so a total of 24 years.
What makes this neighborhood unique and attractive to you?
I currently live in South Orange, work around the community, work with musicians in our Downtown After Sundown Summer live music series and interact with local artist a lot. I also work with the local South Orange Performing Art Center.
Wandering around, I came upon the Valley Arts District, which is fantastic, because close to home is another neighborhood with a great cultural environment. The Valley Arts District reminds me of the beginnings of the Village in NYC. There are lots of activities going on that are very visible, while other events are quietly moving along behind-the-scenes at the same time. Buildings are continuously being converted and redeveloped, while at the same time, I see lots of art, music and community events occurring almost every day and to me that is driving and shaping the neighborhood.
What is your profession?
Currently, I am a social media marketing specialist, photoblogger, writer and website developer.
Why do you love covering the events, etc. here?
Well, to understand the love, one needs a little of my background. I worked many years in corporate environments doing Business Process Management, Customer Operations Support and completing large scale Telecommunications and Information Technology projects all over the US, Canada and Europe. I always love working corporate projects that went company-wide, which necessitated a lot of travel. I also love Jazz music. Fortunately for me, I love to travel. I truly enjoy the airplanes, the hotels, the check-ins, the meeting new people every day and finding jazz venues. Not knowing what the day holds excites me, so just put me on a plane and I am happy.
As I always believe in the slogan “Find the Job You Love and Never Work a Day in Your Life Again,” I always wanted to remember and not lose touch with all those wonderful people and experiences. Hence, when we completed a project, when we went someplace new or just shared a good time, we always took a picture and exchanged information amongst us to keep in touch.
To me, covering the events in the Valley Arts District provides the same sort of excitement on a local scene. There are always new artists showing their work in the Valley, the artists are always exhibiting something new, there are new galleries and venues that pop up, hence, I get to meet new artist and see new works every day. The musicians that show up at a jam each week are the regulars, either playing the standards, trying something new or perfecting what they know. Because we are right outside New York City, this area gets some of the best performers from the art and music communities. We get performers from world class showcases like Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall and Madison Square Garden amongst other places around the world. I have also met top notch performers who show up and perform in the valley as their first stop, after leaving their home country, like Brazil or Germany. A lot of them are starting anew on the East Coast and just show up to perform with their local friends and colleagues.
So, a long way to say, I love covering and documenting events because I get to meet new people all the time, I get to interact with people at the top of the game and I get to meet with those starting a career or starting anew in a new country. All of this just happens almost every day in the art and music venues in and around the Valley Arts District.
What are some of the memorable events you have covered?
Talk about your work with South Mountain Blues Festival.
Well, I should note that I am a Board Member of the North Jersey Blues Alliance which sponsors the South Mountain International Blues Festival. That said, I think this is one exciting festival that ends the summer on the right note. A great, day long, all outdoors, free, family-friendly festival where you get to enjoy the music, the performers, friends, neighbors and blues lovers from all over the northeast along with many international artists.
You grew up in New York, too. How does the Valley give you the best of both worlds?
The best part that I see is a lot of the local musicians, artist and business people work in NYC, and since the Valley is short ride away from New York City, Hoboken and Jersey City, I always just hop a train and within 30 minutes I am enjoying one of the top cities of the world.
But even better is the same performers go home to live and thrive in the Valley and surrounding communities. That means we have world class performers who have performed a show in New York or Paris or Australia one day and will bring the same or similar act to a venue like Hat City Kitchen or to the Luna Stage Company in the Valley. Hence, the Valley provides top notch, world class entertainment and in most cases a fraction of the cost.
Where do you see the “Valley Arts District” going in the future?
I see it becoming a strong force and focus in the growth of North Jersey. I see it as a link to New York City, for all the folks that moved out here like myself and or are moving out here. I want a vibrant diverse affordable entertainment scene made up of local, national and international performers.
What would you particularly like to see happen to this neighborhood and artistic community?
Immediately, get a very visual and identifiable identity within the community through signs, posters, directions and more. Let the artist run wild with design ideas . Lots of folks come into town and have no idea that many places in the Valley are just a block or two apart, so they don’t wander and enjoy it all. Folks need to arrive whether by car or train and immediately know they entered the Valley Arts District. This is especially important for those external to the community. Visitors need to see consistency in landmark identifications and directions to the various venues.
Who are some of the tastemakers you see making that happen?
HANDS – Patrick Morrissy of HANDS, which he founded in 1986, to ensure that the neighborhoods in and around Orange, NJ remain good places to raise a family. He’s been steadfast and dedicated from the start. After all, it takes a ton of money to make a place like this happen. His dedication to the Valley is something to be admired.
BLUES – Mike Griot, Executive Director, PACArts Valley Arts, also a serious bass player and founder of the South Mountain Blues Festival. He has also founded the North Jersey Blues Alliance to support the festival and advance the education of the children and the community to the benefits of music in their lives.
Being a musician is hard enough and being a business man at the same time is even harder. Mike does a great job of always working to create events and activities to help fellow musicians and artists to showcase their skills while seeking out financial venues to keep those activities flowing in the community even during turbulent financial times. In addition, he has assembled a great group of people to work with on many events throughout the year.
VALLEYGIRLNJ – Patricia Rogers, aka the Valley Girl and owner of Masconsumption Media who wants you to be inspired by music, art and style. Yes, I am taking about you. I believe you are helping the community discover the potential of the Valley Arts District and at the same time you're helping the Valley Arts District establish an identity through your blog and annual events like The Annual Valley Gala which is in its 3rd year. I like what you do because you uncover the new, the normal and the not so normal and of course many social and political issues of the Valley Arts District. As a writer/reporter, I see you attending many events in the community, and you participate rather than write about them to get the word out. You are teaching by example. Showing how action, dedication and awareness of the issues and events in the Valley can help millennials and young professionals have a bigger voice in terms of making their dreams come true.
Name some of the artists/musicians you've met doing what you do and the effect it has had on you.
I have met many wonderful musicians, and I love the professionalism of a saxophone player like a Don Braden, a Bruce Williams, drummer Vince Ector, guitar players like Dave Stryker and a trumpet player like Mark Gross. Another professional Sax player, Mike Lee, who runs a jazz jam at Hat City Kitchen every Wednesday with many very well know professionals in the music industry. In all cases this to me is extremely important in that all these professionals come in and help the rising musicians, who come in to the Valley from the local colleges, schools and music groups.
It’s also great to meet a bass player like a John Lee who seems to have every musician's name in the world in his rolodex, plays in the area every week, and he brings many of his friends in to perform for us here and in nearby venues like the South Orange Performing Arts Center.
It’s also wonderful to meet a dedicated dance group like the one run by Lara Gonzalez of the Marafanyi Drum, Dance & Song Group. They perform in the Valley Arts Gallery, the New Jersey Performing Arts Center and Hat City Kitchen. It doesn’t matter where as they always bring a tremendous amount of energy, dedication and a strong focus on helping adults and children experience the joy of their art and, more importantly, life the same way they do.
I could go on and on with so many great folks in the valley, but their professionalism and love of what they do just inspires me to do more. And btw we need to start a column to profile all the wonderful Humans of The Valley Arts District. :)
What are Gregory Burrus’s favorite things to do in the Valley?
How would Gregory Burrus sum up what he does and why?
Presently - it is all about supporting and promoting the artists and musicians that are making life happen now. I get to use all those business skills I learned in the past to enjoy various events, document them and share them with the various communities around the Valley Arts District and beyond.
History - To me, history is being made every day in the Valley Arts District. Why wait for it to grow stale and old? So I feel it’s extremely important to document and capture it for what we have now and to ensure it’s available for those thinking "should I come out here?" and for future generations.
First, I want to say thank you for taking the time to interview me. This was a very thoughtful and interesting interview. I would love to contribute more to Masconsumption Media in the future as I truly believe what you are doing is important to growth of the Valley.
And to folks in the Valley Arts District, look me up as I wander around the Valley Arts District. I am the guy with the camera hanging off my shoulder documenting what’s going on. Stop me and say hi, as I am usually at some local event. You can find what I produced on several social media marketing platforms, where I blog, photograph and write all about the events I love in the Valley Arts District and beyond.
Photos courtesy of Gregory Burrus.
About the Writer
Patricia Rogers, #ValleyGirlNJ, lives in New Jersey's Valley Arts District. The native New Yorker works as a writer, blogger and community activist. Starting Masconsumption Media in 2012, she has been passionate about capturing the stories of the vibrant up and coming Valley Arts District neighborhood through her blog, zine, events and more. She blogs for Jersey Indie, Luna Stage, and Hat City Kitchen and offers many creative media services. Visit her blog www.masconsumption.com and keep up with your favorite Valley Girl on social media at @valleygirl_nj (Twitter / Instagram).