By GWEN OREL
Hundreds of people came to the opening of the Montclair Bounce Festival on Friday, May 31, which kicked off with a free Blue-Plate Bounce Community Meal on Church Street from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. The intense rain of the previous few days had gone, and Montclairites basked in the sun as they ate cous cous, sandwiches, cookies and brownies. The long tables down the street were covered with papers, and had baskets of legos and crayons on them, so adults and children could play and draw. A band played blues. Small children danced. The street had a carnival feeling to it. Activities at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, the Montclair Public Library, and the Montclair Art Museum also promoted the optimism and well-being that are the goals of the festival.
Bounce @ the Sanctuary, an interactive immersive experience that transformed St. Luke’s Episcopal Church at 73 South Fullerton Ave. into six areas designed to promote well-being, had opened at 2 p.m. Promoting optimism and resilience is the goal of the festival, which runs through Friday, June 7. Toni’s Kitchen and the YMCA of Montclair were partners in presenting the town-wide exploration of events designed to promote creativity and mental health.
Elly Meeks, one of the co-directors of the free Bounce Festival, said that for this first year, the festival wanted to prove its concept. Meeks and Anne Mernin, executive director of Toni’s Kitchen, conceived the Bounce Festival, which includes around 60 events all over town, about a year ago. They were inspired by a mental illness campaign, and after considering how to involve the town, decided to focus not on mental illness but on mental health.
Meeks and Mernin identified six concepts which are research-based: Connect with Empathy; Act with Empathy; Confront your fears; Learn something new; Care for yourself and Practice Altruism. “All the events reflect those themes,” Meeks said, “and the community just jumped right in.” Overall, the Bounce festival presents about 60 events in seven days.
Meeks loves the “happy flag” gardens around town. She’s also looking forward to a youth conference called “IRL Night,” the acronym for texting that is “In Real Life,” on Wednesday, June 5. A local high school band led by Tennis Boy Will will perform, and there sill be workshops on virtual reality and apps, suicide prevention, and mindfulness, she said. “The school district is behind it, and it’s going to be great,” she said. The event will take place at Renaissance at Rand, 176 North Fullerton Ave., at 6 p.m. Bounce @ the Sanctuary will be open throughout the week. The YMCA is offering free fitness events throughout the week.
Some of the other events that will take place during the week include “Wellness from the Outside In: Designing with the KonMari Method,” on Monday, June 3, at Elemental Interiors, 204 Bellevue Ave., at 11 a.m.; “Dance on the Lawn Community Celebration” on Tuesday, June 4, 4 p.m., at Van Vleck House & Gardens, 21 Van Vleck St.; “How to Be Happy: Ancient Wisdom and New Research,” on Wednesday, June 5, 7 p.m., at the Montclair Public Library, 50 South Fullerton Ave., and a “Roll & Rock All Ages Dance Party,” Friday, June 7, 6 p.m., at the YMCA of Montclair, 25 Park St. The full calendar is on the Bounce website.
Adding to the carnival atmosphere on Church Street was an “Intergenerational Advice Table,” called “Been There and Back,” offering advice about anything: your cat and his litterbox habits, advice on a family member. The table offered “Happy Maps,” for people to fill in their favorite places in Montclair, and talk about their happy places, explained 21-year-old Sam Meeks, who manned the table.
Other attractions included a ball pit titled “Have a Seat, Make a Friend,” and stickers handed out by the Montclair Ambulance Unit.“Your Life Story in About a Minute” attracted a crowd, as Dan Hurley sat at an old portable typewriter, wearing a bow-tie and hat. After a brief interview, he would think for a bit, then type up a short, witty story that captured some of the main facts of the person he’d spoken to, gently exaggerated.
“I’m very happy about my life, I’m proud,” Malcolm Lynsung said. “I’m going to take it to work and show my office manager, show it to everyone.” She is checking the schedule so she can “come home from work, drop my bag, and come right out,” she said.
Henry Freyer, 11, a fifth-grader at Hillside School, also had his story written on Saturday. The story was accurate, Freyer said, even though in the story he wrote to Elon Musk and Musk wrote back. That never happened, but it is true that Freyer would like a Tesla. He also enjoyed the ball pit.
Mayor Robert Jackson said that he was amazed by the festival. “The turnout is fantastic. People are doing what we hoped they would do, meeting new people, talking, even talking about serious things, mental health, building up resilience for hard-hitting issues,” he said.
“This is so much fun,” said Mennell, of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, which hosts Bounce @ the Sanctuary, a centerpiece of the festival. “Optimism and resilience is kind of what I do.” He said that the bonds created and the love are where God is. His favorite thing, of course, is Bounce @ the Sanctuary. “Taking an old space and looking at it in a new way, isn’t that what God calls us to do?”
BOUNCE @ THE SANCTUARY
Bounce @ the Sanctuary, a multi-room installation at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, created by Rachael Grachowski and RHG Architecture + Design, is the festival’s centerpiece. At St. Luke’s, visitors enter underneath a plastic archway into the cool of the sanctuary. Ambient sound plays.
Each space has a flyer that connects Bounce @ the Sanctuary to the festival’s goals. For example, “In the Dark” asks participants, “Is it exciting to enter a space of unknowns, or is it uncomfortable?” Objectives included “See how others interact with the dark (connect with community),” “Zone out, relax, meditate (care for yourself),” and “Explore something that at first makes you uncomfortable (confront your fears).”
Tape on the floor directs the visitor where to go. “Balloon Bounce” is a room of balloons; “The Sound Lab” presents different artists creating noise (on Friday evening, it was sound healing and immersion with Manush Balder on the sacred gong); “I Dare You to Look” colorfully presents mirrors with admonitions to stare at a flaw until it disappears, and hand mirrors with tags that have mottoes such as “Be who you are. Not what others want you to be.”
Other areas include a labyrinth taped to the floor; a Sacred Space that includes stories to read and objects from nature such as pine cones and stones to add to a mandala; “Take What You Need,” a kind of giving tree where visitors can take inspirational tags; “Leave a wish,” which invites visitors to write out wishes and hang them to the window, and “Shred what you no longer need,” in which people can write what they wish to discard and feed it to a shredder. A story booth created by The Creativity Caravan sits on the front lawn.
LOVE AND HOPE
The first night of the Bounce Festival was not limited to Church Street. Over at the Montclair Public Library, Kevin Powell, author and activist, led a conversation from 7 to 8:30 p.m. titled “Having Love and Hope in a Time of Hate.” About 60 people gathered to discuss racism, integration and stereotypes.
And from 6 to 9 p.m., the Montclair Art Museum offered an evening of “by teens for teens” events. Ben Jones, whose “Envision Empower Embrace” hangs in MAM’s Laurie Arts Stairway, led an art-making workshop. Lyric Performance Art Center performed step dance and theater, including lines about going at your own pace, setting your own tempo. Teens in the audience snapped their approval.
Other activities had included card making for hospitalized kids and mandala coloring. The Latin Bites food truck (Puerto Rican and Cuban bites) sat in the parking lot, and Lily the therapy dog sat in the lobby offering kisses and cuddles. The small Newfoundland wore a tutu and ribbons.
MAM high school education interns Bushra Choudhury, Angela Wei and Nyakera Ogora largely planned the event, with guidance from Intern Coordinator Noaa Stoler.
Lily was Ogora’s idea. She explained that the organization that sends therapy dogs to different places had recently sent a dog to her school in West Orange for A.P. tests, aa very stressful time. “Because our main target audience are teens, we were thinking that many of them are going through the same things at the same time, so they really need an outlet to destress and be themselves and be in a creative safe space,” she said. Wanting to help teens destress guided the choice of the step team, the dog, and the art, too.
Lily is a favorite element of the evening, said Choudhury with a smile. Wei, who particularly loves art, appreciated Jones’ advice that “putting things together will create a contrast or tension, and pique the interest of the audience, and make them listen to you.’
“The meaning behind the event is important,” Ogora said. “In a time when mental health is being pushed to the foreground, as being such an important thing, this is a good way to promote mental health in a community.”