“The Pier Lights Our Carnival Life Forever”: Rebuilding the Arts After Sandy

October 7, 2013

I dont know about you, but when I think of “Sandy” and “New Jersey” my mind wanders to the lyrics of a familiar anthem, “Oh, Sandy, the aurora is rising behind us. The pier lights our carnival life forever.” This favorite song by a native son evokes “dusty arcades” and the tilt-a-whirl, and is so much preferred to the iconic images that are now burned into our collective memories since the superstorm of the same name swept through New Jersey nearly a year ago.

To me, Sandy irrevocably linked Springsteen’s music to the flavor of the Jersey shore, and now the arts, in a more diverse manner, continuing to play a distinct role in reclamation and recovery efforts in neighborhoods along the coast and all over the state.

It’s easy to overlook this relationship while families are still struggling to rebuild homes and businesses since last October, so this blog post will attempt to review some of the new and remarkable partnerships forged between the arts and other sectors post-Sandy.

Just 3 days ago Monmouth Arts honored philanthropic efforts that allowed this community arts organization to fund a program called “ArtHelps.” In partnership with the Ocean County Cultural & Heritage Commission and Meridian Health’s Art Therapy Program, ArtHelps is expanding to work with local artists and arts groups rebuilding spirits as communities rebuild homes. Twenty ArtHelps community projects were funded by the New Jersey Recovery Fund, hosted by the Community Foundation of New Jersey and the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation. At the celebration on October 4 honoring the heads of those philanthropic organizations, attendees heard a haunting original song performed by two talented students who participated in The Sandy Project of the Middletown Arts Center. There was hardly a dry eye in the house–testimony to the power of the arts to capture not only a moment in time, but the deeply felt emotions associated with that distinct moment.

ArtPride responded to the post-storm situation by surveying the field and learning that damage to non profit arts groups was not limited to that of water and wind, but included significant financial losses due to business interruption resulting from loss of power. ArtPride staff was engaged in weekly post-storm conference calls with members of the National Coalition for Arts Preparedness and Emergency Response, and was relieved to find support from CERF+, (Craft Emergency Relief Fund), Susan Schear from ArtIsIn, LLC, and other agencies that assisted arts groups and artists post 9/11,Katrina and Rita. Through a collaboration with the NJ Theatre Alliance, South Jersey Cultural Alliance, county cultural & heritage agencies and the NJ State Council,on the Arts, a representative from South Arts “Arts Ready” Project offered two workshops in Morris and Ocean counties to present cultural groups with tools to better prepare against future disasters. We are presently looking for ways to make Arts Ready’s first-ever web-based business continuity planning resource available to New Jersey cultural groups so that preparedness can be part of any non-profit arts groups strategic plan.

Pam Breaux, Secretary of Louisianas Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism, graciously accepted ArtPrides invitation to speak at New Jerseys 2013 Tourism Conference in March and offered firsthand accounts of how the arts helped Louisiana rebound after Hurricanes Rita and Katrina. She also noted that Louisiana was in a similar position to New Jersey as host of the Super Bowl following a major storm, and described how cultural tourism boosted Louisianas economy in the face of unique challenges presented by this major opportunity.

ArtPride found another generous heart at New Jersey based art supply manufacturer Utrecht Art that supplied $2,000 in gift cards to help artists and art teachers replenish lost paint, paper, brushes, easels and other supplies lost to the storm. Visual Art students at St. Rose High School in Belmar, where a third of the entire campus was damaged by flooding, sent hearts of thanks in response to donations, and resourceful teachers like Suzanne Tiedemann of Brunswick Acres School in South Brunswick raised over $25,000 through Shells for NJ Shores. This art project reached students, scouts, and community groups as far away as Texas, Maine and Michigan, by creating artful shells for sale with donations benefiting St. Rose High School, the NJ Recovery Fund and the American Red Cross relief efforts. Suzanne received our gratitude at the NJ 2013 Governor’s Awards in Arts Education this May with ArtPride’s Arts Advocate Award.

The entrance to St. Rose High School's Art Room after the storm

The recovery job is far from complete, but the arts in New Jersey continue to forge a significant restoration footprint. A great example is the mosaic mural that was washed away in Keyport is now being rebuilt by the Arts Society of Keyport to withstand future disasters. And at this years NJ League of Municipalities conference on November 19, ArtPride will host a panel discussion Rebuilding Even Stronger by Investing in the Arts, to provide insight on how the arts may continue to be an integral part of municipal restoration. Over a very long year, we found big hearts and helping hands from friends in all forms and corners of our nation, including artists, community arts, philanthropic and municipal leaders.

Images courtesy of ArtPride

Ann Marie Miller is the Executive Director of ArtPride, the premier arts advocacy organization in New Jersey, and a regular contributor to the Dodge blog.