As state and local leaders convene in Atlantic City today to discuss the city’s fate in light of falling casino revenues and increasing casino closures, they should be reminded of recent investments in its arts and culture that are already changing the face of the state’s legendary vacation destination — not just because they are valuable to any community, but because they will be valuable to any Atlantic City solution.
These improvements have nothing to do with gambling, per se, but everything to do with what will attract tourists, gamers and investors. What’s more, the recent commitments of local leaders and agencies to undertake these projects have demonstrated they can be accomplished quickly, at relatively low cost and with a reasonable prospect for durable impact. The beauty of it all is that once again arts and culture address the needs of the industries Atlantic City must attract and retain and the people who must live and work there.
Here is a quick scan of recent developments, all new within the last two years:
The NJ Casino Redevelopment Authority (CRDA) in partnership with the Atlantic City Alliance (ACA) created “Artlantic,” a multi-element series of installations curated by renowned artist Lance Fung that transformed a 7,500-square-foot blighted tract at the north end of casino row into a green art park. They filled it with distinctive, high impact artworks and installations by New Jersey artists Kiki Smith, Robert Barry, Jedidiah Morfit and Robert Lach as well as Ilya and Emilia Kabokov. Eight blocks south along the boardwalk, seaside strollers now enjoy another Artlantic project, John Roloff’s spell-binding geometric mural, which now also serves as a setting for daily Zumba classes and performances by the Atlantic City Ballet. Artlantic has been featured in national publications like Art in America and named as one of the Best 50 Public Art Projects of 2013 by Americans for the Arts.
The Casino Redevelopment Authority and Atlantic City Alliance again teamed up this spring to unveil “Journey,” a massive, digitally created mural by Mitsu Overstreet on the 700 ft. façade of Historic Boardwalk Hall’s West Hall. Journey celebrates the beauty of the city’s natural environment under the themes of ‘Sunrise’ and ‘Sunset’ and intends to instill equal measures of tourist delight and local community pride. On Atlantic City’s north Marina end, a Waterfront Sculpture Park provides a new venue for local and regional artists and reacquaints strollers with an underused yet beautiful section of the boardwalk.
The Garden State Film Festival has relocated to Atlantic City from Asbury Park and with CRDA assistance over a three-year period. The Atlantic City Ballet also received financial aid to relocate from Galloway Township to Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall. The Bay Atlantic Symphony is now a regular at the Borgata.
With broad-base city and county support another major development was celebrated last fall with the grand opening of the Noyes Art Garage Stockton College, the 16,000-square-foot cornerstone of the new Arts District in Atlantic City. Located near the Convention Center, at the city’s welcome mat to the Atlantic City Expressway and adjacent to a key shopping district, this education center and resource for emerging artists comprises 15 artist studios, galleries, shops, café, flexible classroom, and a 1,200-square- foot satellite gallery of The Noyes Museum of Art. It is also the new home of the African American Heritage Museum and Atlantic City Arts Center. Just three months ago, ArtPlace America awarded the Noyes Museum of Art $150,000 to expand the Art Garage and add new public spaces in which to feature art and design, new public amenities and greenery for residents and tourists alike.
All of this recent and relatively quick good work by so many leaders in government and education as well as by the artists and arts groups themselves, is rapidly painting-in the seashore landscape, filling niches everywhere with intrigue and whimsy, surprise and delight and all in addition to such Atlantic City cultural mainstays as Dante Hall and the Civil Rights Garden.
And all of it grows from an enlightened Atlantic City Master Plan, which like Las Vegas 10 years earlier, recognized that a key to success of any “place-based,” casino-anchored resort is the richness and diversity of the community’s cultural offerings outside the casino.
In Atlantic City the challenge of balancing the needs of the industry with the needs of the community has always been steep and jagged. The beauty of investments in art and cultural is that they serve both and are as attractive to visitors and investors as they are to the people who live and work there. A.C. as a casino-gaming tourist destination and economic engine for the city, region and state will prevail in one way or another. Its cultural assets are forceful factors that must be at the policy making table that strategizes Atlantic City’s future and addresses its current challenges.
Any way you roll the dice, the more arts and culture, the better.
Ann Marie Miller is the Executive Director of ArtPride, the premier arts advocacy organization in New Jersey, and a regular contributor to the Dodge Blog.