Asbury Park

Bittersweet, But Looking Forward

The cold winds are whipping at the Jersey Shore, snow blankets the ground and this time of year always reminds me of being wrapped in Awards Season. It’s that period between Christmas and the Oscars – this year scheduled for March 10th – that kept us warm, cozy and active in the film exhibition business. Listening to the podcasts and reading the industry headlines now, I look back fondly on those weeks of curating the best, most popular, and those films that had a chance to win an award so our audiences could watch them in the comfort of an independent cinema. As a small cinema, the battle was always frantic to attain the right mix against the forces of the major chains. 

The Christmas season usually produced two or three contenders that audiences would clamor to see in a theater. The buzz of the Golden Globes, the DGA awards and the frenzy of Sundance continued the box office machine.

Alas, the industry changed through a chance interruption with something called Covid and a pandemic. And we – all of us – changed forever. Or, at least for a long time. Industry prognosticators now peg the cinema slump through 2025.  In 2024, audiences now are more likely to stay at home and wait for their selections to arrive on their big screen televisions through the proliferation of streaming services. The thrill of being enveloped in a film in a darkened cinema with your neighbors is long past. 

And so is the business of film exhibition. The landscape has changed so dramatically I don’t even recognize it anymore. 

Nancy and I are looking forward, though. While most everyone looks back fondly to what we created – and we’re thankful for all your kind words – we’re moving ahead with our current projects in the Asbury Park Arts Council, APTV and the League of Women Voters. ArtsRule still provides us a voice in arts and culture which we’re pleased to continue.

For those of you still watching, Sundance starts tomorrow January 17th. The Oscar nominations are announced on January 23rd. And the Oscar ceremony is March 10th.

If you get a chance, see a movie in a cinema. Please.

The Cardboard Art Show


In January 2023, artists Porkchop, Bradley Hoffer, and Jason Stumpf sequestered themselves in a studio with a large quantity of cardboard. They used this ubiquitous medium for an exercise in free-form and experimental creative play. The Cardboard Show is the result: a collection of large scale sculptures and forms in three distinct voices, united by medium, friendship, and a commitment to a playful approach to creating art for its own sake. Watch what happens when three local artists and friends take over a gallery to create a collaborative cardboard installation using 50+ sheets of cardboard, 300+ glue sticks and lots and lots of razor blades.

This documentary short goes behind-the-scenes to talk with the artists about this unique project, how it came about and the power of collaboration, creativity and friendship. Celebrate the Art of Cardboard.

Shoot, Edit, Win

Asbury Park Arts Council Announces the APin3 Film Challenge

The Asbury Park Arts Council (APAC) is pleased to announce its first annual ‘AP in 3’, a three- minute film challenge open to all local amateur filmmakers. Those who apply will be required to write, shoot and edit a short film about Asbury Park during a three-day period in October, utilizing a supplied theme, a specific line of dialogue and incorporating a designated location and prop. The top ten short films, as judged by a panel of independent creatives, will be screened at the House of Independents on Sunday, October 23rd. Thousands of dollars in prizes will be awarded to the top three films and one audience-choice winner.

“We know that there are filmmakers, their families and friends who enjoy the teamwork aspect of this type of challenge and this is a great way to showcase talent in our great little city,” said Mike Sodano, one of the founding members of APAC. “Making Asbury Park the focus of short films allows anyone to have a voice in how the city is perceived and keeps the artform on the street.” Sodano, and his partner Nancy Sabino, originally the created the ‘AP in 3’ concept in 2014 when they were owners of the Showroom Cinema on Cookman Avenue; they ran the challenge twice and were impressed with the variety and creativity of the entries. Sodano brought the idea with him to APAC, which was successful in attracting grant funding to help underwrite the project this year.

The online submission platform, Film Freeway, will be utilized for the challenge and applications can be found through the Film Freeway website. There is a $25 entry fee, but no one should feel that the cost is a barrier as there are discounts and sponsorships available to help with the entry fee. The actual filming timeframe will start at 6pm on Thursday, October 13th when filmmaker kits will be sent via email to all applicants and will end at 6pm on Sunday, October 16th, the time by which all films will need to be uploaded

Carrie Turner, Executive Director of APAC said, “It is our hope that there is participation from a wide range of individuals and organizations; Asbury is full of artists and characters alike and we expect to see that represented in the submissions. Since films can be shot on such widely available tools as your cell phone, almost anyone is able to take part in the challenge. APAC looks forward to growing AP in 3 to become an annual event that showcases the creative spirit that is found in every corner of our city.”

Start thinking about how you’d like to tell your story of Asbury Park and apply to be a part of this year’s AP in 3. Mark your calendar for this cinematic weekend in October.

Tickets for the premier screening on the 23rd will be available soon on the Film Freeway website – – and cost $5.

The Asbury Park Arts Council is a 501c3 group formed to advocate for and promote arts and culture initiatives in the city. For more information on APAC:

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 All questions should be sent to by July 7, 

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.


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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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

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.