News

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. 


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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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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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


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.”