Recent studies paint bleak picture for the arts

Two items got my attention recently that are relevant to Rahway given the mayor’s plans to make it “All About the Arts.”

The first National Arts Index released last month by Americans for the Arts indicated that while the “number of arts organizations increased rapidly over a recent 10-year span, the percentage of people attending arts events declined.” Here’s The Washington Post‘s take on the study. Among the points that jumped out to me:

“‘Audience demand has failed to keep pace’ with this boom in opportunities for arts participation, said Randy Cohen, the vice president for local arts advancement at the Americans for the Arts. ‘There is a new arts organization created every three hours.’ Straitened financial circumstances and audience drift are issues that have been festering for years, and the recent recession didn’t help.”

It’s worth the quick read and is a national look at what nj.com examined in Sunday’s story, “Recession devastates N.J. nonprofit arts scene,” that details some of the deficits faced by theaters and museums around the state:

“Ticket sales were down, donations plummeted, state funds were slashed and investments tanked, creating a state of continuous crisis for the state’s theaters, museums, orchestras and arts centers. And that pain spread out into communities like Red Bank, New Brunswick, Millburn and Newark. These downtowns rely on arts patrons to spend money in their restaurants and shops. Fewer performances and smaller audiences hurt more than just the theaters’ bottom line.”

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Here’s an abbreivated report on last month’s green building meeting between the Environmental Commission and Planning Board.

5 thoughts on “Recent studies paint bleak picture for the arts”

  1. I'm a little concerned about putting all our proverbial redevelopment eggs into one artsy basket.Even if the arts district thrives, will highbrow art-type folks wander around a downtown that may be full of boarded up businesses?I don't know what the demographics of the intended patrons of the arts district are, but I suspect they are not exactly the "blue-collar" Rahwaynians. I think the arts are a great idea, but I don't know if it should be supported at the expense of every other sort of thing downtown.How about a nice grocery store?

  2. Michelle, A little healthy skepticism never hurts. Keep in mind that you could replace "nonprofit arts scene" in that Ledger headline ("Recession devastates…") with just about any other sector: real estate, retail, and on and on. The Post story raises some good supply/demand questions when it comes to museums, arts centers, etc. It's a question UCPAC (and others) must answer while competing with other venues in the region: where does it fit; or even, does it fit? At the same time, the arts have shown to stimulate the local/regional economy in other places. A skeptic also might say that Rahway has had the arts center and train station (two things consistently cited as engines for redevelopment) for many years. Re: a grocery store, a downtown supermarket is probably unrealistic. You mean something bigger/more variety than say the market on East Cherry or some of the glorified convenience stores?

  3. We need some quality companies for food downtown a subway or papa john's a nice minimarket to get foot traffic. Not the rundown places that are starting to pop up all over downtown

  4. I don't think that "the Arts" as they are being grafted onto Rahway can serve as an engine for redevelopment. I'm not the most artsy guy, but it seems to me that we're really talking about second and third tier "arts" here — no disrespect to the artists, but what I mean by that is that these are much lesser known artists (or in the case of the UCPAC, has-beens) that aren't going to draw enough interest to be an engine of economic growth. At least not by way of this sort of "slap the arts onto the existing Rahway" plan.Where I could see second/third tier artists benefiting Rahway is by (a) living in downtown Rahway and serving as the seed population for some more destination bars/restaurants (b) as those places starts to draw in more out-of-town visitors for drinks/eats, some local art scene could add an extra incentive for people to stroll around town, maybe check out UCPAC, etc. Then you've got a virtuous cycle going where the art sorta springs up alongside people living here and entertains people already visiting for other reasons, making it more pleasant to visit and to stay longer and spend more …I don't think plopping down a bunch of art in random places all over the city, or investing in big infrastructure projects for black box theaters (that will remain closed for 90% of the time) is going to make Rahway an artistic haven or be an engine of growth. The draw is simply not enough to bring people in from out of town.How do you get artists to live downtown? Would have been nice to see some sort of apartment / art-studio space project of some sort, where low-income artists could live and have art space to create in the same building or across the street in a related complex. Some sort of subsidized studio-space for resident artists might be a concept worth exploring.The only major art-related thing that Rahway could plunk down in the middle of town and expect it to draw people would be something very unique, and something that would draw people (and their friends) to town as something other than passive participants. I always thought a small-scall indie Rahway Recording Studio or something that like would be a cool project, perhaps combined with a small scale music performance place for unknown and new/young musicians to play gigs would be cool. 90% would be crap, but their friends might come, some might be decent, it'd be cheap, and with a recording studio in town it might be a workable little thing. Rahway Records.I don't know — I don't know squat about the music business, but I have to imagine all that stuff is getting cheaper every day.The real key is getting active artists living and working downtown. Not just putting up sculpture and putting on an show at the UCPAC or some little black box theater or ampitheater every once in a while.Sorta like an "art incubator" space, like this NYC project for business incubators:http://marketplace.publicradio.org/display/web/2009/09/14/pm-ny-startup/or another example:http://www.efanyc.org/My two-cents.

  5. Anon, There's a Subway less than a 1/2-mile from downtown, on St. Georges so I doubt they'd put another one too close. Is Papa John's quality? Never had it. Specifics aside, I get your point, need more options. But I don't know that there are places – rundown or otherwise – "starting to pop up all over downtown."Matt, Thanks for the links and the thoughtful comments. You make some vital points. The city plans to have some sort of subsidized artists' housing but I think, like most everything else, it's a matter of when/if it happens. The Shami Apartments on Hamilton Street would be renovated and a three- or four-story building would be built behind the Elizabethtown Gas building, which is planned as a co-operative gallery space. (Housing also was considered at some point for the 6k square feet at the YMCA that's now planned as artists' work space, but it would only generate a few units.) I'm not sure if I've mentioned on the blog the plan behind the ETown Gas building previously, but I know you can find some info on the Shami Apartments tag. I get the idea that ultimately, the plan is for UCPAC to feature the bigger, anchor acts (at least I hope it is!) and the amphitheater would have the summer concerts, and other smaller or lesser-known events. What gives you the impression that the black box theater will go unused 90 percent of the time? Also, there is a recording studio downtown , on Coach Street.

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