Waste Not, Want Not

The Asbury Park Public Arts Commission, with support from the Asbury Park Arts Council and Monmouth Arts is seeking artists from all backgrounds, locations, and levels of experience to create public art (murals) for a permanent mural project located on the city-owned Wastewater Treatment Facility located at 1700 Kingsley Street on the north end of the Asbury Park Boardwalk. The program emphasizes focus on artistic freedom and expression, encouraging participating artists to bring their personal artistic vision to life leading to a diverse range of styles and content in a permanent public art installation in Asbury Park. The City seeks to create opportunities for muralists at different experience levels and will offer multiple wall/panel sizes as palettes. Selected artists will be compensated for their design. More information can be found at https://www.cityofasburypark.com/Bids.aspx. All questions should be sent to apmurals@cityofasburypark.com by July 7, 
2022. 


Helen, Mike and Nancy

Asbury Park: A Dreamer's Paradise

Recently Nancy and Mike had the chance to speak with noted author Helen Pike about Arts Vibrancy in Asbury Park. Helen has been researching, photographing and writing about Asbury Park for over a dozen years and has a comprehensive understanding of the city’s history, present and future. In our quest to investigate what qualities it takes to make a city “arts-centric”, we turned to Helen to give us some insights. As always when speaking with Helen, the conversation was enlightening and enjoyable.

Take a listen, send us your comments.

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Grandest of Sandcastles

I caught this post recently on FB from our friend and wordsmith Tom Chesek regarding one of Asbury Park’s most iconic buildings: The Convention Hall/Paramount Theater complex that overlooks the ocean. Tom is the author of LEGENDARY LOCALS OF ASBURY PARK, which I strongly urge you to pick up a copy at this link.

Tom’s post provides an interesting perspective on the famed brick building and his writing is, as always, expressed in a style that we haven’t seen duplicated. Tom is truly one of the more quiet creatives here in Asbury and Nancy and I always look forward to his work. We’re glad he resides in Asbury Park as he is an integral participant in the creative community.

TOM CHESEK WRITES:

A reporter from the Asbury Park Press (like so many other folks these days, acting under the mistaken assumption that I’m some kind of official historian/ unimpeachable authority) asked for my thoughts on the city’s Convention Hall…what it means to people; the scenes it’s seen, and oh the places it may or may not go. Here’s what I sent ’em…

Like pretty much any place outside of a handful of immediately recognizable cities, New Jersey can claim very little in the way of “iconic” buildings…and with Lucy the Elephant currently shrouded in scaffolding, it falls upon Asbury Park’s Convention Hall/ Paramount Theatre complex to represent the past and present and hopes and dreams and pride and ambition and ever-complicated collective identity of our Garden State.

Now more than ever it seems, this grandest of sandcastles serves as a split-second signifier in the drone shots of countless commercials and videos. Its colorful brickwork and copper baubles make for a sought-after backdrop to news dispatches (as reported by everyone from local public access personnel to the likes of Anderson Cooper), official pronouncements (from mayor/ council and assemblypersons, to multiple gubernatorial administrations and President Barack Obama), and…in tandem with its fallen sister the Casino…every other area wedding party photo shoot this side of the Deep Cut Gardens pergola.

This is a place…likened by Debbie Harry to “a concrete bathtub” for its notoriously muddy acoustics…that’s resounded with the echoes of countless trade shows, pageants, boxing bouts, wrestling slams, professional basketball games (any love out there for the NJ Shorecats?), grand operas and yes CONVENTIONS, as well as midnight marriages and movie star appearances (The Marx Brothers, Fredric March, Ginger Rogers, hometown favorite son Danny De Vito), tattoo meets and TED talks, flea markets and filmfests, CatCons and of course concerts: The Rolling Stones, Ray Charles, Janis, Dylan, The Duke, The Doors, The Who, The Clash, The (Johnny) Cash, some fella named Bruce, and what was purported to be the nation’s first Rock ‘n Roll Riot. 

For a generation-plus of locals like myself, it was the place where you saw your very first concert (Black Sabbath! Well okay, Black Oak Arkansas)…a place where indelible memories were forged, whether on the main floor and upper level walkways, or in many cases on the beach beneath its pilings.

Even in its present, largely silenced and sidelined state, the backdrop to the story continues to become the story in itself…whether suspending all scheduled events during a highly uncertain interlude, or generating a cardboard controversy over the installation of a unique holiday tree (a move that resonated in particular with all those who still don’t get that the building has been private property, and not city property, for decades). 

TV-show paranormal investigators seek out traces of the fabled ghosts from the SS Morro Castle disaster; mysteries still swirl about the “Great Copper Caper” disappearance of some irreplaceable architectural features, while the current conflicts between City Hall and the present-day stewards of the structure remain the stuff of local-news headlines and social media kerfuffle.

Even though it’s still shy of a hundred years old, the old castle holds more than its share of tales, you gotta reckon, within and beyond the “secret” spaces where pieces of antique pipe organs and projection equipment dwell…but at the same time, it exists as a place of contemporary commerce, where electronic purchase transactions are booped into the permanent record on the Grand Arcade floor, and where a flight of stairs and an intriguing door lead you to the wired workstations and conference cabanas of the boardwalk’s managers. 

Still, in a deliriously dynamic and ever-changing environment where no “landmark point of reference” is necessarily sacred…not even a century-old Roman Catholic church going Luxury Condo…the roller-coaster ride of history will inevitably cast many of its unsecured riders loose, often just seconds after their thrilled faces were snapshotted as they ascended to what they thought was the top of the world.

So appreciate it for it was and maybe will be again, this brick-and-mortar behemoth that has loomed large in our Jersey dreams; this Depression-era land liner that had the audacity to block Founder Bradley’s stony gaze to the seaward horizon; this conveyor of “Greetings from Asbury Park” that has stood fast against so many of the most epic storms of Jersey Shore lore…even as the interfaces of time and tide do their thing in ways that are not always readily apparent to the wonderstruck observer.

Dance in the ghostly sights and sounds of summers past, here in our undisputed Nexus of All Nostalgia…or be among those who are making memories NOW and gazing upon possible futures during this city’s work-in-progress latest chapter. Buy yourself a snack or a souvenir; explore the beach and the boards and the city boulevards that beckon beyond the arcade; take a really deeply detailed look at the up and down and inside and outside of it all…

…and go ahead, TAKE those selfies that say you were there inside that uniquely New Jersey moment. Get that wedding party together and snap away…just don’t get TOO married to these beloved castles made of shifting sand.


Oh Tannenbaum

The Christmas Tree Kerfuffle that arose with the installation of a non-traditional 17′ tall cardboard art sculpture in the Grand Arcade on the Asbury Park Boardwalk has received national and international attention. It was only natural that ArtsRule would want to explore the genesis and impact this art has had from the perspective of the three individuals responsible for its creation.

The GIVING TREE in the Grand Arcade
Art as tradition
"NJ Mourns Tradition" - NY Post

This is a wide-ranging conversation that took place on December 16th 2021, with Jenn Hampton, curator of The Wooden Walls Project and gallerista of Parlor Gallery and two of Asbury’s own from the art community with us, your Arts Rule hosts Mike Sodano and Nancy Sabino. The artists, Porkchop (Michael LaValle) and Brad Hoffer, designed and installed the cardboard Christmas tree titled THE GIVING TREE for developer Madison Marquette. Located inside the Grand Arcade on the Asbury Park Boardwalk, the tree has created quite the buzz. Touching upon art, developers, city government and the role they all play in defining an arts-centric city, it’s clear that there is no straight path to becoming arts-centric. Serendipity plays as much a role as planning. Take a listen, and if you’d prefer to watch the interview, it’s available here on our Vimeo site.

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What's the Story about a Tour?

“I don’t consider tour-guiding an art form.  However, I do consider story-telling an art form.” – Kathy Kelly, owner Paranormal Books and Curiosities

When traveling to a new city, Mike and I often stop at the Visitor Center and ask about a walking tour to get a lay of the land, see those ‘particular to the area’ sights and listen to the tour guide take us through the history.  Walking tours are much like the shared experiences of movies and theater, the information is better assimilated in a group, the diversity of strangers heightens the excitement of a new experience.  Our tours have been memorable from the Big Onion Original Multi Ethnic walking tour in NYC winding through Chinatown, Little Italy and the Jewish neighborhoods of my parents.   Or around the canals in Amsterdam where marijuana wafted from the cafes and we learned of squatters who took over an abandoned building and legally got to keep it because the owner had long neglected it.  Or on a boat trip up the Chao Phraya river in Bangkok, which hasn’t changed all that much since the Vietnam War period, with homes perched on poles and fishing, washing and bathing all still daily activities on the banks.

 

Our own city of Asbury Park has weekly tours in the downtown for the public given, with flair, by Kathy Kelly, owner of Paranormal Books and Curiosities and her band of tour guides.  She came into town in 2008, opened her book store dedicated to all things off-beat and otherworldly and has become a force of nature ever since.  She has learned that “everyone craves and enjoys losing themselves in a story that connects them to the past and to other people.”

When I asked Kelly whether she would consider her very popular ghost tours an art form, she explained, “Many tour guides are great and proficient, but some elevate that to something different.  In the case of a ghost tour, the guide needs to do more than just relate a narrative, or exchange dates and times etc. He or she needs to connect with the audience, use voice, mannerisms, words and tone to create an experience that enthralls, entertains, but also makes them lose themselves in that experience.  The tent poles of a story can be told by anyone, but it takes more to make people step outside themselves and let themselves get lost for a few minutes in a fantastic tale.  Someone who can do that is an artist.”

 

Ghost tours cater to the occult, revel in crimes and spirits, and are ideally suited for a night on the town.  Historic tours highlight architecture, changes in city landscape and the politics behind statues and public art.  Building tours celebrate the grandeur and scope of the structure.  Walking tours cover ground and the participation is felt in the company of others.  Mural tours cover graffiti, and large and small wall art in public and hidden outdoor spaces.  National Park tours can be found in the obvious but also in New Orleans and Boston Patriot’s Trail.  There are now tours for every niche imaginable, in a large way, these cater to vibe of a place, showcasing a landscape and imparting ‘personal’ knowledge.  There is always something to see.

 

In Seattle recently, our Food Tour guide for Pike Place Market, Chef Eric, was a great help in encouraging our tour group to frequent the generous stalls he had given us tastes from, what a natural selling tool and synergistic.  He was also a chef himself, a long-time resident of Seattle and an outgoing personality, enjoying himself as well as his guests, bringing out stories from them as well.  The participatory nature of his immersion into Seattle history while we were standing in the middle of the Market on a sunny morning was infectious. The value-added nature of the tour was evident, he even guided everyone to other tours, or restaurants he personally recommended in any price range or neighborhood.  Kelly also uses her tours to encourage her guests to return, to other tours or events, like the upcoming Krampus Festival she started.  Krampus, a horned, anthropomorphic figure from pre-Christian Alpine folk-lore, rewards the good and punishes the bad children around the Christmas holidays and has grown in stature in the US as family fun.

 

In Cleveland, we were guided by a very helpful Visitor Center representative to experience, a spectacular art museum (free), a cemetery with the largest Tiffany window in the US and 2 walking tours.  What made these tours special was that the tour guide was aided by actors in period costumes, at 2 stops along each tour.  Portraying famous city residents who invented, developed or were influential in shaping the city, these additional characters made the city’s history come alive in the first person words of those who had ‘lived it’.  Tours give life to the history, helping those in attendance experience the city through the eyes of the guides.

 

New York City’s Up Close Broadway Tours during the pandemic started back outdoors and were in operation even before the theaters re-opened.  Of course, an ex-actor, John, gave our tour to a group of theater lovers and out of towners desperate for something related to their beloved Great White Way.  Who knew how many theaters there were on 42nd street?  Or the actors who were most notable of their times?  And what about those developers who designed the spaces to their audiences preferences – a roof top petting zoo and clever interior routes to make the best use of the busy street’s entrances and exits.  We were unexpectedly immersed, on the busy sidewalks, and we never walked more than around the block.  This tour guide made his talk into the artform of a great storyteller, WE were breathless when he was done with his 90 minutes.

Kathy Kelly (center) during Krampus event
Visitors touring during Krampus

Is having tours good for a city?  Kelly has no qualms, “It is always a positive.  Ghost tours are history tours in disguise.  By telling the private history of a place, they remind people that other people lived and prospered, and lost and died in that place. Our market base is not locals. It has always come from all over the tristate area.”

Your city’s features, history and charm can be wrapped into an enticing story that can make it a destination and benefit the economy. The art of storytelling can be found within the ambassadors that are your tour guides.

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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. 

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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, porchfest.org 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: https://www.apporchfest.org and/or follow us on social media

 

 

 

written and edited by Nancy Sabino and Mike Sodano


What Exactly is Arts-Centric?

In order for us to look at arts-centric cities, one first has to define what it is we’re talking about.

According to the Eden Gallery, a global network of high end art galleries with multiple locations across the globe, for the most part, “art falls into pretty much seven classical forms: painting, sculpture, literature, architecture, cinema, music, theater.”

If these are the forms of art that enrich our everyday lives, how many are needed to have a city be considered ‘arts-centric’?

What helps creates the perception, either internally or externally, that a city is driven by the arts?

How does one quantify what percentage of a city’s economy is derived from the arts and its art “halo” effect?

Is it more about a vibe and less how much income is generated by the arts?

How do people who live in arts-centric towns feel about their city?

How do the local officials support their city’s focus on the arts?

How do arts-centric cities deal with the popularity brought about by the arts?

These are just some of the discussion points we’ll be exploring throughout these pages in upcoming installments. Stay tuned.


Back on Track

Arts funding took a real hit during the pandemic and crushed many institutions – both large and small – that support arts-centric cities and initiatives.

Funding is a key support for the arts, whether that be live/work space, internships, public art projects or public/private partnerships. Artists are very much like aspiring athletes, only a very few strike it rich, most struggle under the radar, without much more than subsistent income to allow them more time for their passion. How do artist communities survive and what do arts-centric cities do to help support their artists?

Support from the top may be coming. President Joe Biden’s White House recently proposed an increase in funding for the NEA and NEH. Some of his supporters also have proposed elevating the arts into a White House office, similar to the Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Biden said, “We look forward to working with the art and cultural organizations in the big cities, small towns and rural communities, to make art more accessible to people at every age and every background, to lift up more voices and stories, to remember what President Kennedy believed, that in serving their vision of the truth, artists best serve the nation.”