What happens when you get five business leaders in a room filled with hungry learners who want to know the secrets to making their downtowns come alive? This was the scene at the recent New Jersey League of Municipalities Conference where ArtPride and the Housing & Community Development Network of New Jersey collaborated to showcase success stories in progress in Hackensack, Atlantic City, Trenton, New Brunswick, and Paterson.

Presiding Mayor Andre Sayegh of Paterson moderated the lively discussion and took time to share how the local arts scene is helping to rebrand the city in partnership with NJ Transit and the Paterson Great Falls National Historic Park, along with Paterson’s grassroots arts commission and the Passaic County Cultural & Heritage Council.

Maureen Vanacore, a consultant with the Northern New Jersey Community Foundation’s Arts Bergen project, and Patrice Foresman of the Main Street Business Alliance in Hackensack offered insight into how creative placemaking has taken hold in the county seat with the help of the National Consortium for Creative Placemaking. NCCP supplies basic tools and guidance to map cultural assets, develop a creative team, and create a placemaking plan and timeline. Maureen and Patrice shared the success of the Main Gateway Mural Project and how it acts as a beacon of the city, and Main Street Alliance’s endorsement of arts and culture as a powerful tool to transform, connect, and serve communities.

Maureen’s suggestion for how to get started using the arts successfully to transform your downtown is to listen: “Listen to the community, to artists, to new imaginings that can reframe our neighborhoods in ways that make them more interesting gathering places for people to engage.”

Tom Gilmore of the Trenton Downtown Association shared the success of the Levitt AMP free concert series and made the announcement that the series will continue in Trenton in 2019. Tom talked about the difficulty of recovering from the violent incident this summer at Artwork’s Art All Night and how the Levitt AMP concert series helped rebuild an audience that could feel both comfortable and safe at a free outdoor public gathering at night in Trenton.

Evan Sanchez of Authentic City Partners in Atlantic City shared the energy and excitement of plans to re-envision the Orange Loop in A.C., which incorporates Tennessee Avenue near the Boardwalk and the Steel Pier. Evan serves as the Chair of the dynamic Atlantic City Arts Foundation, whichtransforms – with the help of visual and performing artists – abandoned sites in the Orange Loop through a program called “Arteriors.” Arteriors locations now set the scene for parties that gather the greater Atlantic City community and celebrate the work of local artists. Through the work of Authentic City Partners, other assets have also been added, including a new coffee shop (Hayday), a yoga studio, a chocolate bar (Made Atlantic City Chocolate), and a brand new beer hall. Each location has utilized the work of local artists to enhance the flavor of these welcoming meeting spaces. Evan’s advice for how to get started using the arts successfully in downtowns is: “Reach out to local artists AND community/neighborhood organizations to organize a public art event to get the ball rolling at the ground level. Start small and let it build.”

Dan Swern of CoLAB Arts in New Brunswick talked about how important it is to assure that artists are being properly remunerated for their work and how CoLAB embeds artists in a community projects that meet a variety of cross-sector needs (environmental, social justice, municipal, health, etc.). In this way, the arts are holistically integrated into settings that are transformational. Dan shared work with the Esperanza neighborhood in New Brunswick through the Esperanza Mercado project, which strives to provide creative access and food equity, and the Watershed Sculpture Project, which collaborates with the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership to commission new public art works to be created from refuse collected in local stream clean-ups.

The standing-room-only audience for the session had many questions for the panelists, which served to provide a lively discussion and many post-session meetups with municipal leaders from all corners of New Jersey. For more information about the panel and to see the PowerPoint slides that accompanied the session, please click here. Contact ArtPride staff to learn more about first steps to transform your downtown and ignite a renaissance by incorporating arts and culture.