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.”


Why Mike and Nancy

We live in a bubble here in Asbury Park. Since 2009, we’ve tried to be a part of the art and cultural “scene” in the city, specifically by opening up the first movie theater since Walter Reade came into town. And we worked at it, day and night. Pretty much everything we did revolved around the theater and casting a wider net to attract more people to the movies. We never realized what impact we were having on the community until we’d found that people would recognize us as “the movie theater people” and comment about how much they loved the theater and enjoyed the films we showed.

In the 10+ years that we participated in the arts and culture of Asbury Park, then expanded to Bradley Beach, we witnessed some great events, some not-so great events and how the arts color community.

Once the pandemic descended on the world and everything shut down, we became a world with less art – or in some cases, no art. Artists tried to pivot to express themselves during lockdown without a live audience. Funding dried up as it was diverted to other priorities. The arts have always struggled with funding – patrons, sponsors and grants have, up to now, underwritten the cost of public art. But with a pandemic, those same funds were being needed to keep people alive and businesses open, very little is left for the products of the imagination, the heart-felt talents and the manifestations of sensory perception that pour from artistic endeavors and fuel the soul.

We witnessed first-hand the devastating effect of a heath emergency lock down on the arts since our Cinemas were among the first businesses to shut down, and the last business to reopen. As we have moved on from being owners of an arts establishment, we have a unique perspective to view what makes an arts community “tick”, grow, thrive and survive because we did it. We believe we know the questions to ask, the people to seek out and the cross section of individuals who can give us an understanding of what can help rebuild the foundation of an arts community.

Why is this important?

The recent 20th anniversary of the world trade towers terrorist attack puts the re-opening of Broadway into perspective. Back in 2001, Broadway was closed for only three days after the tragedy that shattered NYC. The theaters suffered well beyond those three days, but audiences eventually returned. The pandemic event of 2020 with over 600,000 fatalities has a much longer tail with audiences still staying away from theater, movies, concerts and other indoor events. But they ARE returning slowly, just not in the numbers needed for many businesses to cover their costs, let alone be profitable.

Arts speak the truth in ways humans understand viscerally. Even though it may not seem important to your daily life, the arts are economic engines of many cities – driving tourism to appreciate the arts, employing many and stimulating the economy. Business flourishes in such an environment. While the loss of arts, culture and entertainment is highlighted most noticeably in metropolitan areas such as New York or Los Angeles, it is also the life blood to small cities like Asbury Park. Examination of the success stories and best practices that have come through these hard times may be most needed in the future. We look forward to sharing what we find with you.