By Madeline Orton
It’s a big day for the arts in Atlantic City as the Arts Garage, a retail space featuring work by local artists, opens at the foundation of the city’s Wave Parking Garage — just in time for holiday shopping.
“Today, we are cutting the ribbon on the vision of making the arts a reality here in Atlantic City,” Assemblyman Chris Brown tells the crowd.
The Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, which is funded through a portion of casino revenue, created the $30 million parking garage and the $1.6 million retail space.
John Palmieri, executive director of the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, explains, “Our role here at CRDA, as a state authority, is to diversify the economy…things that are meant to create opportunities for new tourism and more convention activity, and this is one more reason for people to visit.”
The location includes 16,000 square feet of retail space for artists, a satellite exhibit of the African-American Heritage Museum of Southern New Jersey and space for demonstrations and events.
“When you think of an arts district, it’s really creating a nucleus of different art organizations connected on one street,” says Michael Cagno, executive director of the Noyes/Stockton Arts Garage and the Noyes Museum of Art. “We have these great cultural dots that are forming in Atlantic City, and now we’re starting to connect them.”
“In Atlantic City, the [pedestrian] traffic is going to be outstanding,” says Ralph Hunter, founder and president of the African-American Heritage Museum of Southern New Jersey. “There’re more than 30 million people who visit Atlantic City on a yearly basis, and just by using those sheer numbers, if we get a quarter of 1 percent of those people to come over to the Arts Garage, it’s going to be fantastic for art and history.”
While the Garage’s ribbon cutting is met with a packed house of supporters, previous projects like ArtLantic: Wonder, a public art installation mounted last year, have been met with controversy. Critics questioned the return on investment and whether Atlantic City could ever be seen as a destination for art. Still, those involved are hopeful about the future of the arts in one of the state’s top tourist attractions.
“Of course gaming is very central to the city,” Palmieri says. “But we all very quickly understood as we did our master plan about two and a half years ago, that the arts would create some energy behind visitation. Certainly enough studies have been done to suggest you can achieve a multiplier in terms of spending.”
“You have to have a vision,” Assemblyman Brown says. “Yes, it’s going to take a little while, but our children, and our children’s children will be able to enjoy this one more facet of Atlantic City as we reinvent ourself.”
While only time will tell if the arts district is successful, the arts community sees it as a win that the gambling town has bet on them.