It Can’t Fix Everything, But ArtHelps

July 22, 2013

Art may seem like the last thing anyone needed after the devastation of a storm like Sandy, but we immediately saw artists harnessing the power of the arts to rebuild the spirits of their communities at the same time these towns along the coast and bayshore were cleaning up and working to rebuild homes and businesses.

Two River Theater and Count Basie Theatre became recharging stations for people and electronics; Middletown Arts Center gave respite to out-of-school students (and their parents) with creative activities while schools were closed; displaced musicians held benefit concerts for people worse off then themselves; Colorest, a local arts supply store opened their beautiful new studio space to any artist who needed it; visual and performing art teachers kept the art going even while their students were displaced from flooded homes and schools; and the Asbury Park Musical Heritage Foundation decided this was the time to take on an exhibition/performance space to give people another reason to visit Asbury Park.

Randolph High School students and their painted barricade in Belmar.

Belmar Arts Council suspended their programs and jumped in to help their town when their space was taken over for a relief staging area.  Belmar then asked their Arts Council to paint the concrete barriers along Ocean Avenue to brighten up a depressing sight.

At Monmouth Arts we assessed how the arts community was affected and compiled information on resources for artists and arts groups.  We were able to connect those in need to resources, sometimes within minutes, thanks to social media.  Soon towns like Asbury Park contacted us to ask for help in getting the word out that although the beachfront was damaged the downtown was still open for business.  We created a 25 Days of Arts e-blast before the holidays to encourage people to “Get Out, Get Art,” which was therapeutic for the community and critical to local restaurants and businesses.

Artwork by Kyra Martyn, St. Rose High School in Belmar

This effort became ArtHelps and with funding from the NJ Recovery Fund has expanded into a partnership between Monmouth Arts, Ocean County Cultural & Heritage Commission and Meridian Health’s Art Therapy Program to bring the healing power of the arts to communities in Monmouth and Ocean County affected by Hurricane Sandy.  Twenty community art projects developed by local arts groups based on their town’s specific needs have been taking place from Keyport to Tuckerton, with more on the way.  Art supplies have been donated by Liquitex.

The Art Society of Keyport’s Butterfly Project

In Keyport, the Art Society of Keyport lost two community arts projects as the storm surge hit their waterfront park, the Butterfly Project and the Isaiah Zagar Mosaic Mural.  Though the mural was destroyed, during the cleanup the painted fiberglass butterflies were one by one found and returned to the town sparking a feeling of hope.  ASK is now restoring spirits and the rebirth of their downtown by replacing the mural and launching a new Butterfly Project.  A fiberglass butterfly is travelling to other arts groups in affected communities along the Jersey Shore to add their artwork and eventually return to Keyport.

This year in particular, the power of the arts has helped school communities to recover and begin to heal from the effects of Hurricane Sandy.  At the Monmouth Teen Arts Festival, ArtHelps stations gave students the opportunity to express how the storm affected them through a Mosaic Art Installation, Mini-Book creation, Instagram and video.

The Union Beach “Princess House,” an iconic symbol
of Hurricane Sandy’s destruction created by
Matawan Aberdeen Regional High School seniors
Montana Bertoli and Karliegh Komski.
Photo by Rhianna Kern.

The town of Keansburg was especially hard hit by Hurricane Sandy.  Nearly 50% of their residents were displaced by the storm, and many lost their homes completely. Students were scattered around the town and county and traveled long hours by bus to school.  Yet the Keansburg High School teachers gathered their theater students to rehearse and present the school musical “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” in spite of great difficulties.

The Keansburg High School cast of “The 25th Annual Putnum County Spelling Bee.”

Being part of the production gave the students affected by the storm “a sense of belonging and something positive to focus on”, said Theater Director Paul Buresh.  Through ArtHelps, students were invited to attend Monmouth University’s summer production of “The 25th Annual Putnam Spelling Bee,” a first for most.  After the show they met the actors who played “their parts.”

These same students will be part of an ArtHelps painting session this summer in their town, creating a sculptural mosaic art installation for display in their school.

Atlantic Highlands Arts Council’s FilmOneFest, which brings hundreds of people to their downtown for an all-day festival, created a special category of short films, “Spirit of the Shore,” focusing on the storm’s aftermath and the rebuilding efforts.

In Long Branch the New Jersey Repertory Company is planning a playwrighting project with local teens and the Long Branch Arts Council is developing a poetry project for the city.  In Ocean County, Tuckerton Seaport will launch a student-centered Folk Arts project with artist Mary May, using basket making as an expressive outlet, allowing for teamwork, creative collaboration and collective healing for children on the one year anniversary of the storm.  Meridian Health’s Art Therapy Program will provide both art therapy programs and support for community arts projects.

At Monmouth Arts we know that ArtHelps.  The arts can help with both the emotional and economic impact.  As our region rebuilds over the coming months and years, the creative community has an important role in rebuilding the spirit of those who are working to restore their homes and businesses, creating art events that bring people back, helping people process their loss, creating hope for the future and envisioning a stronger and sustainable Monmouth County.

All photos provided by Monmouth Arts.

Mary Eileen Fouratt is the Executive Director of Monmouth Arts.  Monmouth Arts enriches the community by inspiring and fostering the arts.  For more information go to or