Jersey Collective: Affording Opportunities While Sticking To a Vision

by Sue Fajgier

I discovered the Jersey Collective Instagram page during Covid. It’s ironic to me now that in a period of deep loneliness and isolation that I would encounter a whole community that would eventually change and enhance my life. Kerri Sullivan, founder and creative creator behind the more-than-an Instagram page will be the first to admit that this site was born out of a search for community as well.

In 2014, Sullivan was finishing graduate school and feeling alone and isolated. “I started when Instagram was very different. You didn’t reveal personal things in the beginning. Initially I was using it just to connect to other photographers in my area. I began finding other people my age, with similar interests. It felt cool to create a sense of community. Most people are searching for a community where they belong. It’s my job now to connect people,” says Sullivan.

What exactly is Jersey Collective now, after ten years of evolution? What began as an Instagram page has become a community of over 34,000 followers. The site is a unifying force for creatives of all types in New Jersey; artists, writers, photographers, illustrators, etc. are all invited to the party. The page is about exploring the potential of what you can do when you harness these various creative forces and unleash them into the universe. So far, Jersey Collective has been able to produce an anthology book, published by Rutgers University Press, a sticker machine that has been making the rounds at pop-up events and so many more events and opportunities for New Jersey artists.  

Kerri Sullivan, founder of Jersey Collective at Old Hights Brewing Co. | photo by Sue Fajgier

Kerri Sullivan is a Jersey girl. She was born in Monmouth County and now lives in North Jersey. Her day job is in a public library. She loves that environment and has a special fondness for assisting patrons with research questions. It’s the perfect job for someone who has a second career running Jersey Collective. 

Sullivan wasn’t always planning to be a Librarian. She did her undergraduate work in film studies. She credits the strong project management skills she acquired during this training as excellent preparation for the daunting task of working with multiple authors and assembling an anthology book later in life. A college internship at the Metropolitan Museum of Art was also a great training ground as she honed her archival skills during this period.

When Jersey Collective began in 2014, it was one Instagram page among several that were popping up, with New Jersey as the focus. Just Jersey was another recent Instagram presence and Sullivan went to a few meet-ups to find other photographers and creatives. Jersey Collective began allowing individuals to do site “take-overs” for the week. This gave photographers – amateur and professional – the opportunity to showcase their work to a larger audience. As someone who was able to take-over twice, I can say, the thrill is real! It’s a generous opportunity to offer 32,000+ eyeballs to a hobby photographer!

jersey collective

Some of the products of Jersey Collective to date | photo by Sue Fajgier

I spent a couple of hours with Sullivan and the word that came up on almost every page of my notes was “opportunity.” Sullivan is on a mission to be the conduit for others to realize their artistic vision. That’s remarkably unselfish. She likes to work on projects. “I like objects.” She has a very specific aesthetic and all of the details matter. Her mission is to make creativity approachable. “I don’t want there to be barriers for being considered for prizes or awards,” she says. Sullivan shares opportunities for publication and production through Jersey Collective’s email newsletter. It is here the writer can learn about the literary magazine calling for entries at little or no cost. In the fall of 2021, through Jersey Collective’s call for entries and a partnership with the Carteret Performing Arts Center, several New Jersey photographers were lucky enough to have their photos selected, printed and framed and now housed in their permanent gallery, at no cost to the photographers. To those of us working quietly at home on stories, photos and art – she is our hero. She turns the ideas into a tangible product that can be shared.

The publication of the New Jersey Fan Club in 2022 was definitely a career milestone. Over forty authors and illustrators contributed to this book which is really a love song to New Jersey. The beauty of the book lies in the diversity of the voices and depth of the experiences. It’s a book that belongs in every New Jersey home.

In October 2022 Sullivan had another vision and a Kickstarter campaign for a sticker vending machine featuring work by New Jersey artists was born! This coin-operated machine is a throwback to the days when we were kids. Eight lucky artists were selected from a pool of entries to have their stickers produced for Series #1. Sullivan has been out there at locations as varied as Bell Works in Holmdel to the Geek Flea in Kearny to Old Hights Brewing Company in Hightstown. Series # 2 came out Winter 2024 and is quickly gaining a following. Stickers touch us where we live; there is the nostalgia of childhood and joy of getting a sticker on people’s faces every time they pull the handle with their quarters loaded. Sullivan calls stickers “approachable art.” A small piece of joy for only $1.00.

So, for ten years Sullivan carefully built her Instagram following – her community – one click at a time. After hundreds of take-overs, publishing a book, producing and re-stocking a traveling sticker machine and many meet-ups, Sullivan is deciding to shift gears. The sticker vending machine isn’t going away. The shift is towards doing more collaborative projects – with individual artists and with groups/organizations.  

The New Jersey Go Fish Card Game is the first of these collaborations.  New Jersey artist and illustrator, Alex Flannery has lent his talents to designing the deck of Jersey themed cards.  You have to see and feel the cards to understand that they were made to Sullivan’s strict tactile standards.  As a bonus, Flannery has also designed a sticker set to go with the card game. They’re almost too nice to let the kids play with them!

I asked Sullivan if she had any regrets, if there were things she would have done differently over the past 10 years?  Her reply was as interesting and complicated as she is; “I have a healthy relationship with failure. What’s the worst that can happen, losing money, people didn’t like it? I have had actual real problems.” Her perspective is so healthy yet unusual. “Every time something doesn’t work out, I go back and figure it out differently.”  Without doing a deep dive into psychoanalysis, it’s pretty clear that Sullivan has a very strong bond with her mom and as a child she was empowered to believe she was capable of anything. And she always had a safety net back home if things got too rough. Sullivan’s solid base is no accident and her shy confidence is really contagious.

The Go Fish Game | photo by Sue Fajgier

When asked what she’s most proud of, Sullivan doesn’t hesitate. “Everything I’ve had the opportunity to do through Jersey Collective has meant a lot to me, but the relationships formed from it mean the most. And knowing that others have had opportunities and formed relationships through their associations with the project is also meaningful to me.The stuff doesn’t matter. I don’t want things to be the accomplishments. It’s the things I did with the stuff – giving people opportunities.” Jersey Collective has done many “things” in 10 years and Sullivan has seen tangible results from her quest to end the loneliness. She met her partner on the site, has been the catalyst for two weddings of people that met on the site, has made numerous friends and connections, but if you ask her, it’s not about her at all. It‘s about giving opportunities to New Jersey creatives of all stripes to live their dreams and turn their art into reality. 

Thank you, Kerri. Community is everything!

About the Author/s

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Sue graduated from Rutgers University with a B.A. in English back when you could still get a degree for reading great literature. She spent nearly 40 years working in the Sales & Marketing field with companies ranging from non-profits to small businesses to Fortune 100 Corporations. Most recently retired after nearly 20 years with S & P Global, she is now free to pursue her true passions for hiking, writing and photography. Sue was born and raised in New York State. As a New Jersey transplant, her passion for the special blend of culture and nature that is uniquely Jersey is what Sue loves to share with the world. She has one grown son that she is insanely proud of. Her husband of many decades is an amazing partner both in life and hiking. When not out exploring, Sue is most likely at home reading a novel with her dog.

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