By Michael J. Darcy, CAE
Executive Director, New Jersey State League of Municipalities
The arts have brought of herd of painted oxen to the fields of Hopewell Valley, a mural to the wall of a city garden in New Brunswick, and Monet to Toms River — actually, a very realistic sculpture of the artist.
Throughout the Garden State, artists and the arts community have been welcomed by municipalities for their skills, the lessons they can share, and the beauty they bring to the streets, parks, and buildings around them. But opportunities abound for further connections between artists and local governments.
The League of Municipalities’ publication, NJ Municipalities magazine, has featured some very successful interactions between artists and communities over the years. These partnerships enhance daily life for residents while helping nurture creativity and beauty all around. We find that there are three primary ways for artists to connect with municipalities: enhancing public spaces, developing temporary and permanent exhibits, and providing education and arts planning for the community.
Everything Is Beautiful
Local officials understand that the arts are one of the keys to quality of daily life. Some have made great strides in welcoming artist—one municipality even allowed a herd of painted oxen to dot its fields and sidewalks.
The Hopewell Valley Stampede last year brought the beauty of 69 painted and embellished fiberglass bovines to town. After they were displayed for several months, the artwork was auctioned off to raise funds for the Hopewell Valley Arts Council.
Hopewell Valley’s public officials, businesses, and residents joined together to fundraise for the arts. As a bonus, the community enjoyed the work of a wide variety of artists exhibited all over town. Building a connection with local officials to generate buzz about the arts helped make this cattle drive a success.
Something to Think About
While it’s simple to fall back on the natural allure of sea and sand to please the residents and attract tourists, one Jersey Shore community ensured that there was a place for the arts, too.
A Creative Placemaking Plan for Long Beach Township was developed this year through the cooperation of local officials, residents, business leaders, and artists with the goal of improving the local economy and quality of life. The team educated themselves about the local arts scene and learned about what the community has, what they want, and what they can be in the future by completing a Creative Assets Inventory.
One of the end results was the creation of the LBI Arts Council, a group whose mission is building the economy through the arts by supporting the development of local artists and galleries and encouraging residents and visitors to enjoy–and maybe even purchase–their creations.
From a community garden in New Brunswick to the outside wall of a café in Toms River, public art can improve the aesthetics of a town and bring its people together. While healthy living through nutrition was the primary aim of a community garden in the Hub City, a bright and vibrant graffiti-style garden mural creates a fun welcome to kids trying to determine if they might have a green thumb.
In Toms River, a local artist connected with residents in the creation of two murals depicting the town’s life and history. The artist provided guidance, but the community all pitched in with the concept and painting with more than 400 people picking up brushes to paint portions of the murals.
The town also provided a unique exhibit of sculpture in the downtown with the temporary presentation of 20 life-size bronze statues created by Seward Johnson. This is the second exhibit of public art, and represents the town’s ongoing effort to welcome artists as cultural treasures and potential economic boosters.
Combining artists’ creative efforts and municipal officials’ welcoming policies paints a rosy picture for the future of the arts in New Jersey.
Michael J. Darcy, CAE, is the Executive Director of the New Jersey State League of Municipalities. The League’s 101st Conference will be held Nov. 15-17 at the Atlantic City Convention Center. For more information, visit njlm.org.