Is All Art Really Local?

Posted on by Ann Marie Miller,

Junebug Art Fest

“Think globally, act locally” urges people to consider the health of the entire planet and to take action in their own communities and cities (source, Wikipedia).  In many ways, the same philosophy applies to the arts and related advocacy efforts.

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Ann Marie Miller

The Star Ledger on Saturday reported a new and likely major music event, Gentlemen of the Road Stopovers Festival, that will start at Seaside Heights in June with three other tour stops in Iowa, Washington and Colorado.

“It’s meant to feel like a giant block party,” Mike Luba of Madison House Presents, told the newspaper. “Each town’s own character publicly manifests itself and it’s not just a festival, it’s a fully integrated community event.”

Music lovers (for a fee) will be invited to camp out on the beach and business owners are encouraged to paint their windows to add to the celebration.

As we are only too keenly aware, the townspeople of Seaside Heights suffered tragic physical and emotional losses over the past several years due to Hurricane Sandy, a devastating boardwalk fire, and the unfortunate brand recognition brought by the disreputable Jersey Shore TV crew.  Seaside Heights is ready for a rebound. This singular local music event will undoubtedly bring a much-needed boost to this Shore town and have a far-reaching ripple effect on neighboring communities.

While this is a for-profit entertainment venture, similar happenings are occurring in the non-profit arts sector in towns all over New Jersey, rendering the old standard of “statewide and regional impact” required for a direct state grant, perhaps a concept worth revisiting for the very ripple effect mentioned above.

Local arts commissions and councils are popping up (like one in my hometown of Hightstown) to address the cultural needs of a diverse community, to drive business, help build a sense of place, and develop a distinct flavor that is attractive to out-of-towners.

Metuchen, Hopewell Valley, Toms River, and the more urban centers of Jersey City and Camden are all working with resources that are characteristic of their locale whether it be a collection of restaurants, artists, retail merchants or just the will of the populace for cultural activities that bring young and old together in the park (or town hall) for an art exhibit, concert or theatrical performance.

It is no coincidence that the outcomes resulting from creative teams driven by the desire for sustainable towns has much to do with this local movement. Coupled with success stories like those in Millville, Orange, Red Bank, and Montclair, local leaders are recognizing the economic impact of what is now labeled as “creative placemaking.”

noyesartsgarageAdd the high test transformative power of “calls to collaboration” by Creative New Jersey in places like Trenton, Atlantic City and Elizabeth, and the connections between the creative sector and other challenges facing towns —from vacant storefronts to low graduation rates to high crime rates — are obvious with solutions now more creatively collaborative and less insurmountable and scary.

All of this is to say that the cumulative (or collective) impact of dozens of local efforts to make towns more attractive and dynamic has a definitive statewide impact by showcasing the determination of citizens to make their lives better through the arts.

Pride is a direct result. But if you don’t believe me, check out the pins marking towns that are reinventing themselves through the arts at the Art Matters page on ArtPride New Jersey’s web site (or artmattersnj.org) and hear businesspeople, educators, city planners and just regular Jersey folks speak for themselves.

Ann Marie Miller is the Director of Public Policy at ArtPride New Jersey.  Miller is a regular contributor of the Dodge Blog.  

Photo at top is courtesy of Metuchen Living 

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