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Assembly Bill Looks to Strengthen NJ Arts Impact on Local Economies

By Lawrence E. McCullough, Ph.D.

Assembly Bill Looks to Strengthen NJ Arts Impact on Local Economies

Having been unanimously adopted by the New Jersey Assembly’s Tourism, Gaming and the Arts Committee early in the current legislative session, Assembly Bill A-2801 awaits a vote by the full Assembly and eventually the Senate. 

If passed by both chambers during this year’s final calendar, the bill would enable the New Jersey State Council on the Arts to bestow an official “Artist District” designation upon no more than 25 New Jersey municipalities or areas within municipalities.

The Council would establish criteria for the designation and would work with the state Division of Travel and Tourism to promote the districts as destinations for artists to live and work and visitors to shop and spend.

How does a municipality go about creating such a district, or determining if it already has one? What criteria distinguish a successful Artist District? 

Arts districts (their typical appellation, also “cultural districts”) are found in growing numbers across the U.S. as hundreds of municipalities employ cultural tourism initiatives to boost their local economy. 



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Whether defined by a specific neighborhood, centered around major cultural institutions or focused on a particular type of arts production or commerce, an arts district’s most public components are general entertainment and festival events, galleries and museums, restaurants and nightclubs, arts-oriented retail shops, tours and attractions geared toward outsiders.

Not so visible, but vitally important for the district’s ongoing success, is a foundational infrastructure that incorporates three core activities:  teaching, developing, showcasing the arts.

Teaching the arts. The district nurtures a network of the area’s diverse arts education providers — commercial schools and individual teachers of traditional music, dance, theatre, visual and literary arts along with new programs in digital arts technology (audio/video production, web design/content, animation/multi-media creation) that emphasize applied skills for the future workscape. 

This network has links to local private and public schools, colleges, tech and trade schools and is an active partner in numerous public art projects highlighting the community’s reputation as a creativity and knowledge center.

Developing the arts. The district houses a nucleus of businesses that develop and deliver arts-related merchandise and services, ranging from musical instrument makers, graphic designers, dance supply stores and craft artisans to sound and light engineers, stage construction firms, intellectual property attorneys, arts publicists, rehearsal room rentals and nonprofit support groups. A special effort should be made to recruit arts technology businesses (both established entrepreneurs and startups) seeking research, testing and manufacturing space for their new designs and products.  

Frequently, these businesses are concentrated at a specific incubator site offering low-cost space and shared administrative services; they can also be placed throughout the district in commercial buildings whose owners offer reduced rental rates to encourage occupancy and foot traffic.

Showcasing the arts. Most current and potential New Jersey arts districts already have at least one major venue — a concert hall, theatre or museum — that presents well-known touring performers or artists. This revenue stream can be supplemented by organizing smaller satellite venues that present programming by lesser-known and local performers and artists emphasizing experimental, low-cost entertainment appealing to a wide audience spectrum. 

In addition to its larger venues, the district should actively promote showcase spaces that draw new artists and new audiences to the community and enhance the ripple effect of entertainment spending through the community’s economy. The smaller spaces will be used extensively by local arts educators for student presentations and exhibits, by local nonprofits for meetings, seminars and training sessions, by local arts developers and entrepreneurs for R&D demonstrations, product unveilings, trade expositions.

The Teaching-Developing-Showcasing matrix allows the district to rely more on assets created, nurtured and sustained within the community and be less dependent on volatile social and economic trends engendered by fluctuating auto gas prices, recessions, seasonal travel, etc.

Preparing a solid arts district foundation requires careful planning and continuing guidance, best achieved by a unified stakeholder alliance of civic and government groups working together to achieve specific goals that shape and sustain the district’s marketing, operational and long-term growth needs:

·      municipal officials at all levels willing to offer support, direction, funding and personnel resources; 

·      a formal, full-time economic development agency that solicits capital and investment for the district and recruits arts businesses, arts producers and individual artists; 

·      a 501(c)(3) local arts council that vigorously markets the district (its artists, arts businesses, arts events, living amenities) while serving as an information clearinghouse for local artists, residents and visitors and a conduit for obtaining grants and tax-exempt donations;

·      a coalition of local artists and arts organizations able to extend their usual arts activity to a more public, more collaborative level.

 

Scores of academic and government studies over the years have documented the positive benefits the arts deliver to a local economy and the community’s overall quality-of-life. 

As reported by the National Endowment for the Arts, cultural activities annually add more than $700 billion to the American economy (surpassing the construction industry’s $586 billion and transportation/warehousing industry’s $461 billion) while contributing nearly 4.5% toward the nation’s total Gross Domestic Product.

In New Jersey, arts and cultural enterprises generate over $2 billion a year in economic activity while providing more than 100,000 jobs across all 21 counties, according to advocacy group ArtPride New Jersey. 

Assembly Bill A2801 will provide an important marketing tool to help the state’s municipalities reshape their downtowns, neighborhoods and commercial districts into attractive, prosperous, people-friendly places for residents and visitors alike.

As of this writing, 17 states play an active role in defining or creating arts and cultural districts — Arkansas, California, Colorado, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia, Washington and West Virginia. Cultural district bills are currently under consideration in Arizona, Missouri, New York and Pennsylvania.

It is another example of the growing national trend of Business, Government and the Arts finding ways to help each other prosper on behalf of local communities. 

* See text of current Artist District bill.

 

Lawrence E. McCullough, Ph.D. is Executive Director of Arts Guild New Jersey in Burlington, New Jersey. He has been an organizer of arts and non-profit community ventures since 1973. The former executive director of the Music Umbrella of Austin, administrative director of Humanities Theatre Group at Indiana University-Purdue University in Indianapolis and founder/president of the Pennsylvania Folk Arts Cooperative in Pittsburgh, he most recently served as executive director-Union County Performing Arts Center, and executive director-Metuchen Area Chamber of Commerce.

© 2017 Lawrence E. McCullough, Ph.D.



originally published: 2017-12-21 00:00:00


Upcoming Events

Newark Arts announces launch of new name for its Annual October Arts Festival

Newark Arts announces launch of new name for its Annual October Arts Festival

(NEWARK, NJ) -- Newark Arts has announced the launch of a new name and brand for its annual art festival. The former Open Doors Citywide Arts Festival is now the Newark Arts Festival and will take place October 4-7, 2018 in Newark, New Jersey, reflecting the city’s position as a City of the Arts and national arts capital. In keeping with the festival’s beginnings as an artist studio tour, the Open Doors Open Studio Tour will remain a festival highlight, along with a number of exciting spotlight events. Newark Arts welcomes artists of all disciplines to apply to its Call for Participation, open now at the festival website. The deadline to apply is August 3, 2018 by 5:00pm.


Visual Arts Center of New Jersey Presents Member Exhibition Featuring Elaine Denton

Visual Arts Center of New Jersey Presents Member Exhibition Featuring Elaine Denton

(SUMMIT, NJ) -- The Visual Arts Center of New Jersey will present a new show in their member exhibition series, highlighting the work of Livingston, New Jersey artist, Elaine Denton. Selected by the Art Center’s Membership Committee, this show will be on view in Ann’s Place Gallery from June 23rd through August 20, 2018.


The West Windsor Arts Council Presents:  Generation Next: The Family Show

The West Windsor Arts Council Presents: Generation Next: The Family Show

(PRINCETON JUNCTION, NJ) -- West Windsor Arts Council (WWAC) presents Generation Next: The Family Show, part of its annual “Generation Next” exhibition series from June 25 through August 17. Based on an exhibition idea by artist Joy Kreves and curated by her daughter, Ivia Sky Yavelow, this exhibition includes work by 13 visual artists, each part of a family where two consecutive generations are visual artists.


D&R Greenway Land Trust presents Cosmophilia

D&R Greenway Land Trust presents Cosmophilia

(PRINCETON, NJ) -- D&R Greenway Land Trust presents Cosmophilia **, a special exhibition by award-winning environmental artist Cameron (Cami) Davis from June 21 to July 25 in D&R Greenway’s Johnson Education Center, 1 Preservation Place, Princeton.   ​​​​​​​The artwork, on large canvases that draw the viewer into the space, “celebrates our human relationship within a whole, living and evolving Earth and Cosmos,” says the artist.








Event calendar
Saturday, Jun 23, 2018


MUSIC

White Denim @ House of Independents, Asbury Park - 7:30pm

WICKED HOLLOW @ The Saint, Asbury Park - 7:00pm


Parsonsfield @ Hopewell Theater, Hopewell - 8:00pm

Under the Streetlamp @ The Levoy Theatre, Millville - 8:00pm

Memories: A Tribute to Barbra @ Broadway Theatre of Pitman, Pitman - 8:00pm

Princeton Festival Baroque Chamber Ensemble @ The Princeton Abbey, Princeton - 5:00pm

Rockland Bergen Music Festival @ German Masonic Park, Tappan - 11:00am

Big Jon Atkinson and Dean Shot @ Lizzie Rose Music Room, Tuckerton - 7:30pm







THEATRE

DLT Presents Leading Ladies @ Dover Little Theatre, Dover - 8:00pm

The Last 5 Years @ Eagle Theatre, Hammonton - 3:00pm and 8:00pm

Half Time @ Paper Mill Playhouse, Millburn - 1:30pm and 8:00pm

DIRTY DANCING @ Mayo Performing Arts Center (MPAC), Morristown - 2:00pm and 8:00pm

Wizard of Oz Auditions @ The Newton Theatre, Newton - 12:00pm


Phoenix Productions Presents: In the Heights @ Count Basie Center For The Arts, Red Bank - 8:00pm

HAIR: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical @ Black Box PAC, Teaneck - 9:30pm


COMEDY

Anthony DeVito, Greg Stone, James Mattern @ Tropicana Casino and Resort, Atlantic City - 9:00pm


DANCE

WE ARE FAMILY: Celebrating InSpira's 16th Anniversary @ Mainstage @ Union County Performing Arts Center (UCPAC), Rahway - 12:00pm and 5:00pm

Inspirational Dance: Great Times in NYC @ South Orange Performing Arts Center (SOPAC), South Orange - 1:00pm and 5:00pm

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