Month: October 2021

Neighborhood Investment Fosters the Arts

In looking at arts-centricity in cities, ArtsRule is keeping an eye open for innovative ideas throughout the world.  Detroit has an ambitious plan thanks to 2 gallerists who are creating an art center complex.  Here’s a story about a progressive plan to jump start the blocks around an old church and preserving the legacy of a local artist to bring an arts coalition to a community ready for a seat at the table.  This is one way a win for all concerned saves a structure, remembers a leader and forms the partnerships needed to bring the arts organically into a neighborhood. Read About it HERE. 

If you like this post, please share it on your FB page by clicking the FaceBook icon below, or send it to a friend via email by clicking the Paper Airplane icon below. Thanks for helping spread the word.

Art-less in Seattle

Mike’s View:

I started the trip to Seattle, WA with this view in mind, from the Seattle Visitor website:

“From the moment you set foot in Seattle, you can feel it: art is everywhere. The thriving arts scene is a priority in this city—in fact, Seattle has been recognized for having more arts-related businesses and organizations per capita than any other metropolitan area in the U.S., according to Americans for the Arts.”

Needless to say, we were VERY excited to tour downtown Seattle and feel the vibe. Seattle is no where near the population of Asbury Park – in round numbers 750,000 versus 15,000. not a fair comparison to the seaside town where art is its economic engine. However, upon arriving in the downtown, the impression is more dystopian than artistic. Dozens of very tall buildings are empty, under renovation, for lease or sale. Homeless people wander the streets, sleeping in doorways, modern day zombies.

Time has not been kind to the city that built the Space Needle for the 1962 World’s Fair. 

Installation at Seattle Art Museum

A merchant in the Pioneer Square area,  informed us the “city grew too big too fast” and started its descent in 2014. This historically significant area seems the ideal setting for galleries and loft studio space, but really caters to the sports teams and homeless encampments. The pandemic in 2020 was just the capper to throw the city into desolation.

Yet, the latest reports have Seattle booming in the real estate market with companies like Amazon, Expedia, Microsoft and Zillow expanding their roots while Google and Facebook are also setting up shop. But most of this expansion is in outlying neighborhoods away from the downtown. From a street-view, there’s still plenty of space available in the city proper, but a recent NYT article explains otherwise.

Seattle has its hot spots – Pike Place Market is definitely the tourist “boardwalk” akin to AP.  Here, the creativity is culinary, with specialty food pairings taking flight among the tourists and buskers. But the claim of arts centricity is, in my opinion, a bit overblown, there was so little evidence of art-at-work on a daily basis, in our four day swing through town, and we were looking for it.

Nancy’s View:

A trip to the Pacific city of Seattle, WA filled up a warm October weekend, when, after our third booster shot, travel seemed less hazardous.  Mike and I were excited to visit a city with art, museums and sculpture mingling in the downtown.  Coming out of the pandemic, the city seemed poised to resume its self proclaimed position as the most art centric city.  But aside from large edifices like Seattle Art museum, a Frank O. Gehry designed Museum of Pop Culture and a Central Library building designed by Rem Koolhaas, we had a hard time finding small galleries, murals or installs in the downtown.

Seattle Public Library

Granted that Pike Market Place – the city’s farmers market and major tourist attraction –  has crafts, which have grown up along side the food stalls, indicating that one success (food stalls and restaurants) are capable of spawning others.  Buskers on the street corners in front of stores was the only actual example of performance art we found.  The brass pig statue is used as a way to fund the marketplace, tourists are encouraged to feed Rachel their spare change for a photo with her.

Pikes Market Pig

We were told that tech is bringing in new blood for housing and this young, hardworking population seems focused on good jobs, sports teams and restaurants, not, it seemed on the arts and culture.  A city as big as Seattle has soaring rents and major renovations going on downtown but the neighborhoods further away are where growth is visible, as space and community become more desirable than being in the middle of the city.

As in other big cities, smaller neighborhoods further out are being developed with their own personalities, drawing on those who enjoy converted warehouse space, high rise condos, great views or life on the waterways.  (photos of house on the water) Art and artists living within communities usually develops because it is a cheap space to live or a good place to sell art to those buying upscale residences.  

Water Houses

The museums attract out of town tourists and are unique, well curated and attendance is growing.  The art installations are impressive, and the exhibitions crowd pleasing.  Quirky outdoor pieces like the troll under the highway bridge, in a local neighborhood, obviously bring tourists. The performing arts are said to be coming back more slowly as with all assembly space functions – theater, dance, concerts – the audience is still reluctant to jump back in, hitting the high attendance numbers of 2018.  When asked why the decline in entertainment, most said COVID, but others say the writing was on the wall even before.

Seattle is scrappy, the history tells of rebuilding after floods, fires and earthquakes, and a deep harbor means it has and will continue to be a shipping hub, with cruise ships dropping anchor regularly during the season, as many as 7 in a day!  Art flourishes where there is money and Seattle is building as if the money is coming back.  We’ll revisit the city in a few years, for now, in my opinion, it has a way to go to having art on the streets in the downtown. 


How have you found this city recently?

Historic Building Art

Up On The Porch

ArtsRule chose to examine the 2021 Asbury Park PorchFest, and look at the way a grassroots event can galvanize the musical arts, neighborhoods, outdoor activities and a sense of belonging. We asked organizer, Jordan Modell, how does a volunteer event like Porch Fest benefit the city?   “Although only 5 years ago when we started, Asbury was very much a city in transition.  Most people and certainly no tourists ever ventured to the ‘west side’.”

Jordan Modell (right), PorchFest Organizer

“Our goal was to showcase all of Asbury Park not just the beach.  In fact, 75% of our Porches are on the ‘west side’.   Porchfest is the only Asbury Park event that features the whole city.   And by keeping it Free it allows all residents to enjoy.“ When asked to comment on how a free event benefits the city’s well-being, Modell said, “There are plenty of events like Sea Hear Now that focus on money. We chose to focus on the spirit of the city.  To heal the east west divide.  To relax after the summer tourists are gone.  In fact we usually raise over $10.000 and 100% of it goes to make life more fun in Asbury Park.   We have used it to give local kids musical scholarships – to plant public gardens where there were none – to paint murals that stay all year round – and to give scholarships to local kids to attend the college or vocational school of their choice.”

Since all of the monies are given away each year, Modell, who is the head of the Asbury Park Homeowner’s Association, says that the seed money to kick off the event each year starts there, with support for the event.

In the 5 years that the event has been happening, last year’s was perhaps the most profound.  According to Tom Kulesa, a local resident who worked from home instead of NYC all last year, “It was one of the few events in 2020 that allowed people to come out of their burrows and hear live music, it was refreshing and exhilarating.”

This year, the numbers of attendees, are expected to skyrocket because of the weather and the availability of vaccinations, making people more confident in crowds outside.

Modell said that the numbers continue increasing, “We had 40 artists and maybe 800 people year one and now police estimated over 5,000 and close to 120 artists this year.”

And participation by homeowners has also grown, using their porches and front lawns or businesses as temporary performance spaces. “We started with 10 (porches) and now have 23,” said Modell.

Crowds at PorchFest 2021
Broadway on the Porch

Local actor Jill Powell relocated to Asbury Park right before the pandemic lockdown and chose the city because of its unique attributes.  “My wife and I were looking for a community that supported our lifestyle, had grit, diversity and a love of music.  Being the proud mother of a Trans child and knowing others who are as well, I found AP gave me the place where I could be my authentic self, get involved and grow old.”  Her porch and connections to talent brought the Broadway musicals to her location.  Singers who had not worked in front of a live audience for some time said that they would help her.  The attending crowds closed down her street all afternoon and the audiences responded by singing along with standards and jumping up spontaneously for standing ovations.

When questioned about why he continues to run this event, Modell was thoughtful, “I am simply amazed at how many people from across the shore stop me and tell me how much Porchfest means to them.   And working with music impresarios like Dave Vargo inspire me.  Dave not only runs a successful financial firm – tours at least 100 nights a year and writes his own music but finds time – a lot of time to book all our artists.”

Dave Vargo, while introducing performers, running sound, selling T-shirts and performing himself, gave the musician’s point of view, “There are so many talented people who enjoy coming to Asbury Park to perform, and they see it as a way to give back, they may not have a lot of money but they have a generosity of spirit.” 

When Vargo was asked if he thinks this kind of event continues Asbury Park’s legacy of music, he said, “Definitely, bringing live music to the public in the daytime increases the artist’s listening public, I know I’ve found followers who had seen me here performing on a porch.”  And he knows of attendees now “coming in from Europe to follow the event, those who have come before for the Light of Day weekend of music are now coming here again.”

Dave Vargo

Working to find the talent has been easier as Asbury Park and AP Porch Fest already have established a reputation, Vargo said.  The level of performance has been improving, so much so that there are now more who want to perform than hours in the day. Other cities are starting to have their own Porch Fests popping up, lists 161 cities hosting them currently across America.  It takes a lot of coordination but with continued interest and a dedicated core of volunteers behind the scenes, Modell thinks that he “would love for us to attract more acts of color and involve the Southwest even more,” that there is room to grow.

“We begin (planning) in March and run at breakneck speed for the final 4 weeks ending in October.  I thought it would be one and done but here we are in year 5 and looking forward to our 10th. “

The many methods of attending AP PorchFest

The fact that this event is decentralized and takes place in the neighborhoods, with homes and businesses involved, walking is encouraged; bikes, wagons, scooters, skateboards are everywhere; relationships are seen being re-established, the pace of life slows, and it truly is a participatory event.  Being outdoors on a sunny October day helps everyone enjoy nature and conversations spring up organically about the performances, what’s next and there is hope in the air.

The art is integrated, not superimposed, and at least, for one afternoon, music is the catalyst that underscores the community in an arts-centric city.

If you missed this one, come experience Asbury Park Porch Fest in 2022, you will enjoy the music, the porches and the sense of place.

Join the AP PorchFest email list for updates, they should visit our site: and/or follow us on social media




written and edited by Nancy Sabino and Mike Sodano