The 99th annual New Jersey League of Municipalities Conference took place last week and it was ArtPride’s 13th year representing the nonprofit arts industry with over 2,600 exhibitors ranging from well know entities (and arts supporters) like Bank of America and PSEG to vendors like Johnny on the Spot and John Deere Company.
As in the past, the New Jersey State Council on the Arts partnered with ArtPride, but this year the New Jersey Historical Commission and the New Jersey Historic Trust were new collaborators for a booth display and the panel presentation, “Dollars for Downtown: Arts and Heritage Tourism.”
Being part of this gigantic League conference poses a unique set of challenges and opportunities. It’s big — the Atlantic City Convention Center is packed like a municipal grab bag with large vehicles ranging from garbage trucks, ambulances and snow removal equipment to playground apparatus, street lights, and paper product dispensers. All of these are items one would expect to appeal to the thousands of municipal officials in attendance who range from mayors and city clerks, council men and women, state legislators, association leaders, county freeholders, parks and recreation officers and other appointed and elected officials and their spouses.
So where does art and history fit in and at the same time, how do you stand out in the crowd and get noticed?
The fit in part is easy because arts and history are present in all 565 New Jersey municipalities in apparent and less obvious ways, from public art to historical societies, historic sites and local arts councils. It was easy to talk about arts and history with conference delegates from almost any town for that very reason.
“You’re from Paterson? How’s that new Art Factory going?” “Jersey City? We love the growing arts scene, all of the murals, a new home for ArtHouse Productions and Mana Contemporary!” Cape May? The arts and history are focal point in this resort town making it a year round tourism destination.
A great deal of creativity and collaboration went into the exhibit display that boldly proclaimed “NJ — Arts and History Happen Here!” ArtPride NJ commissioned Ylvia Asal, a local Atlantic City fiber artist whose studio is in the Noyes Museum Arts Garage to “yarn bomb” the booth. Ylvia created a giant 10 foot high lace replica of New Jersey with arts and history icons crocheted in appropriate locations. Einstein was present in Princeton, “The Boss” near Asbury Park, the New Jersey State House complete with gold dome in Trenton, pine trees and cones in the Pine Barrens, the Cape May-Lewes Ferry, and so on.
It was a sight to behold along with a fiber mermaid that drew constant smiles, welcomed attendees and triggered continuous conversations (unlike the thousands of tote bags, pens and post it pads that were abundant elsewhere and not particularly good conversation starters).
The panel discussion was well attended and moderated by Mayor Alex Torpey of South Orange. Panelists included Nick Paleologos of the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, Sara Cureton of the New Jersey Historical Commission, Dorothy Guzzo of the New Jersey Historic Trust and Adam Perle of the Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce that is also the regional destination marketing organization and convention and visitors bureau.
Facts and figures were offered regarding the return on investment of arts and heritage tourism along with examples of collaboration between arts and history communities and ways to access funding for cultural tourism related programs through grant programs of the state agencies. Questions were posed on how to get started in cultural heritage tourism, how to pull cultural assets together and how to sustain the energy that is generated as a result of their use in downtowns.
The challenge of participating in this very important statewide conference is clearly outweighed by the opportunities it offers to not only remind municipal leaders that art and history are important to defining the character of their towns, but to gain new supporters on the local level. After all, we all know that New Jersey is characterized by its “home rule.”
But you never know if that young city commissioner you just spoke to at length about public art will be the next State Senator, Secretary of State, or Governor. And chances are he or she will remember that giant state of New Jersey so beautifully rendered in fiber and that Arts and History do happen all over New Jersey!
Ann Marie Miller is Executive Director of ArtPride NJ, a statewide advocate for the arts, and a regular Dodge Blog contributor. Learn more at http://artpridenj.com.