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Art is helping revitalize towns

Don’t look now but art is helping to revitalize communities across New Jersey – and it’s happening in the suburbs as well as the cities.

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This might sound like a new, innovative program, but that’s not the case.

“New Jersey has been doing this for the last quarter of a century before it even had a fancy-pants name like Creative Placemaking,” said the executive director of the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, Nick Paleologos.

He said if you go around the state and visit different downtown communities you can see how artists and arts organizations are affecting their surroundings.

“They make it a more interesting place to live, to have businesses, they attract visitors who then buy things from restaurants,” he said. “Ten or 15 years ago they called it Dead Bank, and now if you go downtown in Red Bank it’s anything but.”

He stressed this begins with cultivating an artistic community of some kind, – for example a theater company, a museum or a colony of artists within a community.

“By virtue of the work they do they are creating an environment around which a lot of other economic development just happens organically,” he said.

Paleologos said New Jersey now has an Arts Inclusion program that stipulates when any state facility, whether it be a train station, a dormitory or any other building – is constructed or renovated – 1 percent of the funds for construction or renovation must be devoted to some kind of public art.

He said you see evidence of this all over the place.

“For instance at the Hamilton train station it’s an amazing sight. All of those sculptures that kind of lead you to the Grounds for Sculpture – probably one of the most magical and romantic places you’ll find on the planet,” Paleologos said.

The bottom line, he said is “the impact of the arts on downtown areas is significant, all you have to do is ask any business owner.”

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