ArtsBergen group brings message to forum in Paramus

By Stephanie Noda Northern Valley Suburbanite

PARAMUS - A newly formed regional arts council is hoping to spread the word on how integration of arts in redevelopment can make for successful downtowns.

Five local officials with ties to the arts discussed the importance of integrating arts and culture into town redevelopment during a "Revitalizing Local Economy & Enhancing Community through the Arts" event on March 4 at Bergen Community College in Paramus.

The talk was the first public event for ArtsBergen, a regional arts council organized by non-profit Northern New Jersey Community Foundation (NNJCF), said Michael Shannon, president of the NNJCF. Shannon said the group will eventually become its own individual entity.

One of the concepts that ArtsBergen wants to promote creative placemaking, or including the arts when planning town development. Shannon said the conversation need to focus on creating communities through the arts, a common human language that connects everyone.

"Creative placemaking is about raising the cultural bar and helping municipalities survive," said Shannon. "There's a marriage there that we're hoping to promote."

Jim Hickey, director of the MoCo (Monmouth County) Arts Corridor Partnership, in a similar vein to ArtsBergen, discussed how Monmouth County has used the economic power of the arts for the good of the community by creating jobs and improving infrastructure, neighborhoods and quality of life.

"We're all doing the same thing; we're trying to build this creative placemaking nirvana in New Jersey," said Hickey. "Arts go hand and hand with tourism; people tend to stay longer and spend more."

Bringing the arts to a downtown is good for local merchants, as people attending an arts function will spend at least $25 on ancillary costs, such as hotels, shopping, gas or souvenirs, said Hickey. In 2010, Hickey said Americans spent more than $74 billion enjoying art.

In Hackensack, creative placemaking is being discussed as part of the revitalization of its downtown, said Hackensack Mayor John Labrosse, another speaker at the event. He spoke about six redevelopment projects that will come to the city in the future, including a mixed use development on Main Street that he said will bring thousands of people to the city.

To bring arts to the city's new residents, the council bought a former Masonic Lodge and converted the property into the Hackensack Cultural Arts Center, which opened last year.

"We want the arts here when they come here," said Labrosse. "We want something for them to do."

Englewood Mayor Frank Huttle, one of the founders of Bergen Performing Arts Cen-ter (bergenPAC), stressed the importance of public and pri-vate partnerships when establishing new art initiatives. BergenPAC, which Huttle said was one of the city's economic engines, was a result these types of sponsorships.

"We all believe in Englewood, that our city would have been in trouble if we didn't have the anchor of a performing arts center," said Huttle. "That ushered us through an economic disaster in our city."

The arts don't only benefit the local economy, but also influences everyone's lives, including young children, said Assemblywoman Valerie Vanieri Huttle, D-37. Arts programs in public housing often increase neighborhood pride, decrease vandalism and act as save havens, said Vanieri Huttle.

Studies from the U.S. Department of Justice have also shown that arts can help youth-at-risk by increasing pro-social behaviors, said Vanieri Huttle.

"Students that participate in the arts in school and after school demonstrate improved academic performance and lower drop out rates," said Vanieri Huttle.

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