The Cranford Arts Plan is a market study that's being conducted in three steps by Leo Vasquez, a professor at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University, and Patience O'Connor, of O'Connor and Company. The study was commissioned by the Cranford Downtown Management Corporation (DMC) and the Jersey Central Art Studios (JCAS).
O'Connor presented the findings of the first phase of the study. After researching successful artist-in-residence programs in Virginia, Vermont, Kentucky, Florida, Washington, DC and Long Branch, NJ, the researchers concluded that successful programs share six key elements.
These elements include arts leadership; community support; diversity in artistic mediums; support in the form of facility funding, grant application assistance and site acquisition; economic stimulation and a strong marketing program.
O'Connor also said that the study analyzed the significant art offerings in communities close to Cranford and explained that the town must develop its own identity as an arts destination and its own anchors. An anchor is a destination that draws people directly, rather than benefits from general foot traffic.
Following the presentation, the audience gathered in small groups to discuss their vision of a Cranford arts center. Led by Vazquez, who furiously scribbled answers on papers lining the wall, and graduate students from Rutgers, many of the participants repeatedly hit the same themes.
Group after group said that they would like to see a center with a strong educational component. Elements on the educational theme included art and art appreciation classes, mentoring programs, apprenticeships, open studio tours where working artists can be observed, and links with Cranford High School and Union County College. Also mentioned were collaborative efforts with other art groups, visiting artist series, lectures, festivals and a monthly arts calendar.
Other themes concerning location and physical space were elicited. Some participants said they wanted to see existing space in the downtown used, and others said there should be a tie-in with the Riverfront Development Project. Also mentioned were accessible gallery and exhibit space as well as affordable studio and living space. One group said that plan should not be about just one building, but about “arts everywhere.”
Many of the groups agreed that a great variety of artwork-including paintings, pottery, ceramics, glass works and welding- should be part of an art center. Still others saw the arts center as inclusive of the performing arts, such as dance and theatre. Several groups said that the center should attract a diversity of ages and types of people.
The artists and arts supporters also spoke about ensuring the high quality of the work exhibited, created or sold in an arts center, yet they also expressed concern about supporting and encouraging emerging artists. One group was worried about competition from the Rahway Arts District, which is just 6 miles away, yet another saw it as an opportunity for collaborative marketing.
Issues of censorship and government control were also touched upon. One group mentioned that they would like to avoid political and governmental support and control, while another mentioned the need to have rotating board members and more art lovers on the JCAS committee.
Several groups said that they wanted to keep the artwork positive and enlightening, and others reacted strongly to that statement with, “We're concerned that we're limiting and censoring art before we even begin.” Two other groups echoed that feeling when they said, “We need to guard against filtering what we see as art,” and “Let's not avoid what's volatile.”
Deputy Mayor Bob Puhak opened the meeting. He said that there is a commitment to developing an arts center and that the next step is to identify funding sources. Paul La Corte, DMC chairman said, “It's amazing what an arts center can do for a downtown. With your help and input, we can go so far.”
Republican Senator Thomas Kean Jr. and Republican Assemblyman Jon Bramnick attended the opening of meeting. Senator Kean commented, “This is going to be an incredible destination for all of New Jersey. We as a state have a responsibility to fund the arts. What do people remember throughout history about other people? Their art.”
Assemblyman Bramnick mentioned that he is a lawyer and that before he married an artist, “I saw nothing.” He related that he has learned about the importance of art through her.
Kathleen Miller Prunty, DMC Director, spoke about the elements of a successful downtown and the impact an arts center can have. “It's the diversity of uses that makes a downtown work. This project has the potential to give residents and visitors another exciting opportunity to come to downtown Cranford. I see it as a wonderful opportunity to attract artists and arts related businesses, ” she said.
Deb Leber, JCAS President, was impressed with the large turnout for the meeting. “I was surprised at the level of enthusiasm from the public,” she said. “A lot of their feedback was we thought it would be, so we're in sync with the public. It was important for people to have an impact on the plan.”
Written by Roz Giuditta
All photos taken by Mike Vinditti
People arriving for meeting
discussion of what they would like to see in the plan
Presenting each tables ideas
Senator Kean, Assemblyman Bramnick, Mayor Michael Plick,Deputy Mayor Robert Puhak, Planner Patience O'Connor
Leo Vazquez recording their ideas