Mike Sodano and Nancy Sabino talk with Dan Jacobson, publisher of the TriCity News – Monmouth County’s news and arts weekly – and the  Asbury Park Sun online news site. We discuss the arts-vibrancy of Asbury Park and Dan’s unique perspective of Asbury Park as part of the regional arts scene.

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Dan Jacobson (00:03):

I think what makes a city arts vibrant is a range of different generations of creative people. And Asbury has that. Now the most vibrant is when you have people who are creative oriented artistic, or appreciate creativity or build platforms for people with creativity or patronize and support creative people. When you have them of all different ages and they interact. I think that’s about as powerful as it gets. And I think we’re pretty close to that Asbury park.

Michael Sodano (00:31):

Welcome to the arts rule podcast, providing insight analysis and dialogue, highlighting the arts vibrant landscape of small to medium sized cities, guiding you to determine where to visit work and live with an arts centric focus. I’m Mike Sodano

Nancy Sabino (00:50):

And I’m Nancy Sabino. And today we’re speaking with Dan Jacobson, the publisher of the Tri-City news, Monmouth county arts and entertainment, weekly newspaper.

Michael Sodano (01:01):

One of the challenges of arts vibrancy in any geographical area is the balance between the arts city administration and development. How that balance is managed is key to a community that supports an arts based economic engine.

Nancy Sabino (01:18):

Since 1999. Dan Jacobson has brought his unique perspective to what he sees as a regional community of arts and culture, specifically in the cities of Asbury park, Long Branch and Red Bank.

Michael Sodano (01:35):

We’re here today with Dan Jacobson, he’s the publisher of the vaulted Tri-City news. Dan. Welcome.

Dan Jacobson (01:43):

Welcome. Thank You.

Michael Sodano (01:44):

Thank you for being here. You used to be a lawyer back in the day and even politician, what in the world made you change from law and politics into publishing?

Dan Jacobson (01:59):

So I always had been interested in journalism. I was also a reporter before I went to law school and I always thought that I would like to own a newspaper and run a newspaper and be able to figure out how to do it and not have to worry about the filter and be able to run it. However I saw fit.

Michael Sodano (02:17):

First off, what made you decide to start in Asbury Park?

Dan Jacobson (02:25):

Asbury Park has almost a mystical quality, although even for people who moved here recently, that’s the unique thing about this place. People get very attached to it. There’s a real emotional attachment to it. And being old enough to see Asbury Park in its different forms somewhat up and then very down and living here since the mid nineties. Yeah. Everyone wanted to always see the city thrive and do better here. I had the opportunity to start something that was really pretty unique. I’ve never seen a paper like this, and it’s a voice, it’s a platform. And I know how to position the platform in a certain way to achieve, you know, various objectives that I sent out as the mission and that that’s how it worked, but Asbury was always the center of it. And as I say, the ultimate end game is, is regional transformation, but the first one was to make Asbury. Once again, you know, one of the best small cities in the country, if not the world. And then that would lead to transformation of Eastern Monmouth.

Michael Sodano (03:15):

But it’s also a, a platform or a a vehicle for your voice too.

Dan Jacobson (03:21):

I like the idea of it positioning, Asbury Park as the center of the universe in the early days, I was very careful and purposely when I’d write, whenever I’d write about Asbury Park, I’d say, you know, down here in Asbury park or here in Asbury park, when I wrote about Redbank, I’d say up at Redbank and I made it very purposely a voice of this city, which people really didn’t know about and was somewhat vacant and was really trashed by the people. So all of a sudden, I, some of it is kind of like a foe act, some of it’s serious, but you kind of had like this, this you know, traditional type of strong journalistic voice coming out of the city cuz it needed it. So that’s how I became the paper became spokesperson for the city. And of course what I used to do in politics informed that because in politics, you’re what I was doing in government, you’re trying to lead, you’re trying to make things happen.

Michael Sodano (04:11):

Why did you think Asbury park needed a arts and culture newspaper?

Dan Jacobson (04:16):

I didn’t know. I just did what I thought I wanted to do. I mean, I didn’t yeah. The idea of running a conventional general interest newspaper, which are very important these days, but I didn’t at this, at that stage of my life. I was about 37, 38. I didn’t want to do one of those. I wanted to do something totally different. That was more in line with crusading journalism and all the stuff that I wanted to do in politics. But you can’t, it’s hard to do. It’s hard to get things done.

Michael Sodano (04:39):

Well, I will say when we travel Nancy’s always picking up a newspaper that we think mimics the Tri-City

Dan Jacobson (04:49):

And a lot of them, I know, cause I read them, I subscribed to ’em like the one out in Portland I knew,

Michael Sodano (04:52):

But you’d be surprised how many really don’t have the, the writing that Tri-City does. Mm. A lot of ’em are just advertising. A lot of ’em are just here’s what’s happening in the city sure. Event listings, things like that. Right. That don’t go into the discovery of a new artist, the discovery of a new gallery, you know, that kind of thing.

Dan Jacobson (05:15):

The traditional alternative papers, they had a lot of arts and culture and they had a lot of politics too. Usually left wing stuff and it was just written differently. It was very densely. It was, the articles were very long mm-hmm,  usually very, a lot of technical things about, you know, whether some utility should be publicly owned or not. I mean, it was, it was good. It was good stuff. It was valuable civic stuff, but people had such short attention spans. Mm. And yeah, I guess my writing philosophy from the beginning, and I always thought you have to kind of grab the, you gotta grab the reader by the throat, right from the beginning and pull him and her along. And, and, and when you can’t hold many longer, you’re done you can’t that’s my style, the general philosophy was grab ’em strip it down, par it down, keep it to the point, keep it simple, try to hold their attention or else what’s the point. Right. They can’t read it. You know, there’s, it’s not, it’s not providing any service.

Nancy Sabino (06:05):

You’ve chosen three cities, Red Bank, Long Branch and Asbury Park. How do you compare and contrast them? Or, or why did you choose those three cities to make your Tri-City?

Dan Jacobson (06:16):

Well, I’m from this area. When I, I served one term in the state legislature and I happen to serve in a district that was pretty much among those boundaries. And I always moved in those circles. I always moved along the coast. That’s kind of where I was oriented here, my whole life. So I just had a vision of this region, this east, coastal Monmouth, Eastern Monmouth region and the three urban type areas and urban meaning vibrant areas were interesting. Things were happening were as braid, long branch and Redbank. So I envisioned having them as the main focus, the Tri-City region, just kind of it, I just looked at those three places as the anchor, particularly Asbury and rent bank you know, to anchor this region and give it a regional identity. So I went to school out at UC Berkeley and I went there, sight unseen.

Dan Jacobson (07:03):

I always wanted to go there. So I go out to what is supposedly in urban area out to Berkeley in the San Francisco bay area. And I I’m, I’m driving around. I’m like, I can’t believe this is a city. I mean, the, the flatter areas of the, of the Oakland Berkeley area and the flatter areas of Western San Francisco, you know, where they have homes from the thirties, forties, and yeah, even fifties, it’s like, it was like one big Asbury Park and one big won. And I said, this is unbelievable. And, and to me it redefined when an urban area, I mean the San Francisco bay area have Oakland. You have Berkeley, you have San Francisco, you have these urban areas in this very progressive broadminded region. They’re all linked together by beautiful water. And so in my mind it was kind of like a dream.

Dan Jacobson (07:42):

I came back and envisioned all these progressive things, alternative things linked among the water in these little towns. So to me, we all link together by Easter Monmouth, coastal Monmouth. And I, I, that’s the regional thing. I envision, you know, if I could, when everyone’s asleep and I could reprogram their brains and redraw the map and make the map of Asbury park, I still, instead of this one and three quarter square mile place, if I could make the map of Asbury park from like, you know, Belmar and up the coast to Atlantic Highlands with all the readership area include red bank, long branch Asbury park, Neptune city, and make that Asbury park. And if you took this Eastern mom, that’s section of, of the area that I’ve kind of identified this distinct area, it’s still smaller than major cities. I’m still much smaller than, you know, Austin or Nashville, but yeah, but people they get, they get so locked into thinking. Everything has to be Asbury park in this little small town and nothing can change in it and it’s wrong. So to me, it’s ultimately a regional play

Nancy Sabino (08:43):

In 20 years. You’ve been at it and obviously it’s changed from what you thought it was gonna be to what it actually is. Yeah. Where do you actually find you get the most pleasure from what you do?

Dan Jacobson (08:55):

I think part of my job is to meet people, to meet people, to write about. And I’m always curious about people. I love biographies. I love finding out what people are up to. So it’s kind of like a social life. It’s great. You know, it’s great in that way. Another thing that’s great and very rewarding after being in politics before this is being able to have such a direct impact. And that’s very gratifying, but you know, I’ve been very successful in terms of my record of, you know, positions I advocated where voters eventually took those positions. And that’s been very gratifying to be able to impact the debate and the other good part of it is, you know, no offense to lawyers in law, but it was a great background. I’m glad I did it for, you know, 10, 12 years, but this is much more, you know, interesting and more exciting to me. And it’s a very flexible lifestyle. And, you know, I get to walk around in jeans and or shorts and sandals.

Michael Sodano (09:44):

Dan was one of the first people we met and he, he met us across the street and said, Hey, I need to talk to you. I hear

Dan Jacobson (09:54):

That was about you. That’s about when you opening your theater. Yeah,

Michael Sodano (09:56):

Sure. I hear you’re opening a movie theater and we looked at each other and said, wait a minute, how, who are you? And how did you know we’re doing that? And you just looked at me and said, that’s my job. That’s my, I’m the publisher of the Tri-City. And I went the newspaper Uhhuh. I said, that’s impossible. We just got the key. How did you even know about it?

Dan Jacobson (10:15):

It’s the way it works. So I was actually a reporter at a daily newspaper. That’s now defunct. And I did that. I dunno for about a year, less than a year, but it was great because you had to find stories. You had to source stories, you had to develop sources, you had to make the calls. Then you made the calls or you went to on site. So I had to go develop you stories every day. Yeah, like one or two or three a day. And so here, this is once a week, so I have to develop stories. So I have a rhythm about it, but I kind of know where to look and I know where to look. So I was a lawyer, a municipal lawyer. I was, you know, I kind of know where everything is.

Michael Sodano (10:46):

Do you, do people throw stories at you? I mean, throw ideas

Dan Jacobson (10:50):

Oh, all the time. Yeah. And that’s a big source of stories too. So and what’s interesting about is some, some weeks I’ll be all set. Some weeks I’ll have nothing. And when I have nothing, I just have to think about it or drive around or talk to somebody. And all of a sudden there’ll be some small idea and that’s it, I’m done I’m off and running.

Nancy Sabino (11:12):

You state that the mission of the Tri-City is to transform the region into a suburban area, like no other where the creative and alternative are ascendant. Part of our mission at ArtsRule is to distill down what qualities make a city arts vibrant. You’ve been writing about the arts in three cities in this Monmouth county region for the last 20 year, 20 years. What’s your perspective now? What makes a city arts vibrant?

Dan Jacobson (11:39):

Well, I think I think what makes a city arts vibrant is a range of different generations of creative people. And Asbury has that now. So if, what can really be the, the most, I’m gonna say the most vibrant, the most vibrant is when you have people who are creative oriented artistic, or appreciate creativity or build platforms for people with creativity or patronize and support creative people. When you have them of all different ages and they interact. I think that’s about as powerful as it gets. And I think we’re pretty close to that Asbury park. The other thing, that’s an important aspect from what I’ve seen. And I note this a lot from what I saw in Asbury now in Redbank is when you have a very diverse group of stakeholders, truly buying into it. But when you have like elected officials who really get it, like maybe arts artists, themselves involved in the arts, that’s part of it. When you get developers who, who get it or try to get it, that’s part of it. You know, when you have when you have businesses that are doing it beyond just, you know, let me put some paintings on my wall to I’ll get some people in, I’ll help the artists, but they they’re go beyond that. They they’re creative business people, or if they’re not creative business people, they position their businesses to be reviewed. So when you have all those different aspects, I think that’s important. The range of stakeholders

Nancy Sabino (12:56):

With major developers coming into town, they’ve made living in the city, obviously much more expensive. Artists have always had a hard time living their art. It just doesn’t always pay the bills.

Dan Jacobson (13:07):

Now you talked about affordability, you know, I mean, beyond for artists, I mean, one of the greatest challenges in our economy is housing affordability. I mean, if we knew the answer, if someone knew the answer, we’d do it. I mean, we would do it. We don’t wanna develop vacant land yet. We have a shortage housing and who wants to develop farms, but you know, we want to have it in cities, but then when you build in cities, people complain, cuz it’s too dense. I mean, it’s like, you can’t win. But so the ultimate challenge is always, how do you have housing? That’s affordable for artists. And we all know that when a city starts out like ours down on its luck, artists always come in because it’s great, it’s affordable. And it’s, it’s, you know, you have the place to yourself and it’s a great campus for people to do their things.

Dan Jacobson (13:47):

The city itself has done a few good things. They, they put a rent control ordinance in that I think was broadly acceptable. There’s been some issues since then. Unfortunately the waterfront does not have an affordable housing component cuz that’s how it was set up in the mid eighties. But at least the, the waterfront re developers, there is a fund they have to pay into that could be used for affordable housing. And that, that could, that could rack up millions in the end. So the city’s done its best. Now the reason I I’m glad we had the discussion before about the regional aspect. I always felt that I knew this would happen. You know, Asbury park got such cache and everyone to be here and everyone would be a part of it cuz it’s, it’s almost validating if you’re you’re a creative person, but because it’s so small, I, I always anticipated that would inevitably cause problems.

Dan Jacobson (14:29):

If everyone wants to be here, the housing prices are gonna go up. But if we’re talking about artists today, the prices inevitably go up. You can’t expect to be able to stay in a place like Asbury park, which is a small neighborhood of a large city. So that’s where I always talk about this regional aspect. If I could  reprogram people’s brains overnight. And this whole region is Asbury park. Housing has gotten expensive throughout this region throughout the country, but there’s less expensive options outside of Asbury park and you know, artistic, creative people would live there. So that’s why it has to be the, the, the, the curse of Asbury. Everybody wants to be here. It’s got such cache, but you know, it’s so small. You, you can’t expect to accommodate people, let alone the working class and economically struggling people who are here already, who are an artist. So that’s why I always hoped it was a regional play.

Michael Sodano (15:16):

Well, you know, that’s interesting because the big complaint is that how can you be an arts vibrant city, but not be welcoming to artists living here.

Dan Jacobson (15:26):

So when people say that, I think it’s just a false ill-informed thought cuz it’s, it’s complicated when a place becomes popular. For whatever reason, the nature of how our system works is it gets more expensive. It gets more difficult for people to, to live here. That’s as I like to say, you know, you can’t repeal the laws of gravity and you can’t repeal the laws of economics. So you gotta be realistic about it. And you just do the best you can to mitigate it as much as you can. So, and I’m not saying I’m right. I mean some stuff I, you know, it’s, it’s, there’s no, there’s no set answer for any set project, but these, these are really they’re really difficult. Economic choices, cultural choices, development, choices, planning, choices. I mean, what’s been another thing that’s been remarkable I’ve noticed particularly in the last decade is Asbury has surged. How many young people stayed here. And when I talk to people about where they’re from, like, like kids in their twenties, it’s it cracks me up. How many are from like Toms river, Brick town, Southern ocean county. And they’re here. If Asbury wasn’t was, wasn’t what it became. They would never have been here. They would’ve left ocean county, no offense to ocean county, but that’s the way it goes. But they would’ve left for other places where they could have sustained their creativity.

Nancy Sabino (16:34):

People wanna live where there’s vibrancy and the older people, like when we came down, we were in our fifties, we came down because you wanted a walking city. Sure. You wanted someplace where you could move around. Of course, of course. And, and you know, if Wanamassa developed something like a main street or a downtown or even a, you know, a strip mall that had some interest to it, you know, they would have something to offer, but without that, everybody descends on Asbury and then they go back to their suburban city town and live their own little quiet lives. We discover that in Bradley beach, Bradley beach is lively in June, July, and August. And then everybody goes somewhere else. Then it goes back to that beach city of the shore that everybody, like you said, sleepy little town that Asbury was, it’s not sleepy little town anymore in the wintertime. Sure. So the arts tend to drive that as well so that you have things you can do in the winter where you don’t have things you can do in almost any other shore town. Right. They just wait for the summer.

Dan Jacobson (17:36):

But you’re still getting trapped into these, these municipal boundaries, which I ignore if I could melt those municipal boundaries away and, and people would stop thinking about them, which is really my ultimate goal. In a sense, you’d be thinking a lot differently about it. You wouldn’t be paying attention. I mean, I could see someone saying, I love the area. I, you know, what I try to is I try to show people there’s other stuff besides Asbury. And that’s the key. I mean, that’s the life I live. There is enough year round here now. I mean, a lot of it’s in Asbury, but it’s increasingly in red bank and because Asbury and red bank became more crowded. It, it goes in other places like you talk about how do I get stories? Like someone keeps telling me, I gotta get over to Neptune city.

Dan Jacobson (18:12):

Cause I’ve been talking about Neptune city is a perfect place for this. You know, this, this type of you know, broad minded, creative growth. And a lot of people are moved there. Now there’s a couple places, businesses there that I gotta see. I think there’s like, oh, there’s like a vegan. I actually know it’s like a vegan bakery and cafe. I think there’s like some type of art gallery there now. So I mean, that stuff starts happening. I, I see it in, in Atlantic Highlands in particular, there’s some great places in Highlands. And it’s gonna catch on. So I used to talk to a lot of business owners in Belmar and they would say, listen, we, we started getting more vibrant because a lot of our base is the Asbury area. So it’s, I see it all integrated and, and it will continue to evolve. I mean, it’s not okay. It’s gonna stay very, it’s gonna be very fluid.

Nancy Sabino (18:52):

How do you see the arts changing in Asbury after the pandemic? Because while everybody is hoping things are gonna come back, nothing’s coming back the way it used to.

Dan Jacobson (19:02):

Well, first of all, you know, one of the premises that I always write about and I believe nothing will stay the same. Everything will change, especially if a place becomes popular pandemic or no, just by the development patterns in this city, it’s gonna change. I, I always assume that was gonna happen. You know? So what, what I like to write about now is what, you’re, what we’re trying to promote with the arts in this natural economic evolution of our city. What we’re trying to promote in the arts, both in the city and nearby, and the region is you, you look at the evolution, how things change. Like, so for example, I think last week I wrote about the original, I don’t know if you guys were around for this, but when the Asbury lanes, the vintage Asbury lanes was converted to a music venue in 2004, it was incredible.

Dan Jacobson (19:42):

I mean, I was about 40. When it happened. I knew enough to say to younger people, I said, enjoy this, cuz they’ll probably last for five years and it, and I said, and also enjoy it because one day this thing’s gonna go down and be ripped down for condos. It lasted 10, 12 years. So Jen Hampton and Tina Kereckis were two of the key people there as well as Mel Stoltz was the concept behind it. But they were there almost 20 years ago when this, when the city was quiet and it was remarkable. I mean, I remember looking around saying, we gotta really savor this mm-hmm <affirmative> cause the music was great. The place was incredible. I bowled there as a little kid, people are upset that it didn’t last forever, but Jen Hampton and Tina Kereckis are now major arts leaders in the city.

Dan Jacobson (20:16):

And they’re here because of Asbury lanes and they developed their I’d say their, their passion for art. Cause I watched them both really was enhanced by Asbury lanes and Asbury lanes was part of this, you know, of this continuum of change. You just wanna make sure that it’s still arts and creative oriented. You wanna make sure that people still value it. So the perfect example of change over a continuum is that it’s a great one. I mean Jens at parlor gallery she’s she was instrumental in wooden walls. The mural on the boardwalk. People love that she’s on the, on the public arts council, Tina runs the Danny Clinch transparent gallery, which has now become an important music venue. She does a lot of things with fashion and, and, and furnishings. These two are like major arts leaders here that are doing things. And ironically, both with the different redevelopers.

Dan Jacobson (21:00):

I mean, it’s kind of, kind of funny. That’s another weird, weird, beautiful thing. So the answer is Nancy. I, what I do is I just kind of look on where things are kind of evolving in this continuum and try to promote ’em and it’s almost like, it’s almost like you can’t predict it. It’s almost like you have to be like, I kind of all this stuff. I did a lot of it. I just knew it when I saw it type of thing. Like what I would jump on for a story, what I would promote. Just kind of know when you see it,

Michael Sodano (21:25):

Do you think our city stakeholders get it?

Dan Jacobson (21:29):

There’s two critical phases where all the stakeholders have to buy in. Let’s call it the initial launch phase, like in this city from like 2000 to 2010, let’s say where they buy into it. So they don’t ruin buildings too often where they, where they, they buy in like Pat Fasano came in and redid the downtown business district. And he always said, I wanna do it simple. I wanna give cheap rents and sure enough, he’s got some great, interesting tenants still there, cuz he’s still here. Thank God. And he hasn’t sold it or in the downtown in particular, the next problem comes in the next generation of commercial landlords come when people sell out and it’s popular and they sell at a higher price, these people borrow the money to buy it. Usually they have to charge higher rents. The next one who come in are gonna pay the top dollar for it. We have to make that work. Cause we know how business works. They gotta pay the bank. They gotta make a profit, they gotta get the rent. They’re gonna be a different story. Yeah. And that’s gonna be a problem. So that’s the next challenge.

Michael Sodano (22:20):

What do you see as your future?

Dan Jacobson (22:22):

I just go week to week at this point, I really do. I’ll keep doing it as long as I like it. I’ll keep doing it as long as the advertising can support it. So I guess the two things, the two things can stop. It is one day the advertising base may not be there. Or one day I may lose interest. There could be some other strange things. Like I may have trouble finding a place to get it printed. I mean, the printers are like, you know, kind of, kind of like slowly closing, you know, I’d love to have, have a good printer.

Michael Sodano (22:50):

Do you believe that art’s rule in Asbury park?

Dan Jacobson (22:53):

Well, I don’t think art’s rule yet in Asbury park of the Tri-City region. I never thought that the arts can totally take it over. What I like to say is I like to say, you know, my vision is the transformation of, of a region. It’s a suburban region. Like no other, a suburban region, like no other, you know, that’s remarkable for what’s here. And I mean, Nashville, Austin. I mean, they’re like the price they’re soaring. People are, are mad. They’re getting tossed out. It’s getting more commodified. Happens all over the country. We’re not immune from it, our little suburban region, but I apply a lot of economic thought to things. I apply a lot of political thought to things and the economics I know is always so important. So to me it was gonna be the struggle of making arts rule in, in your guy’s terminology versus the economic forces in our region. And they’re always gonna be a, it’s always gonna be a contest. You know,

Michael Sodano (23:45):

Dan Jacobson. Thank you very much, we really appreciate it. I know it took a while to get you here, but we appreciate it.

Nancy Sabino (23:52):

<Laugh> and that’s how arts rule for this time. The ArtsRule podcast is produced directed in, edited by Mike Sodano and Nancy Sabino for ArtsRule.com. If you believe arts rule in your city or town, nominate it on our website and we’ll consider taking a look. If you like our podcast, please follow us on Instagram and sign up for our newsletter@artsrule.com until next time. Remember when all else fails ArtsRule. Thanks for listening.