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The new art appreciation Developers find arts’ presence can help in many ways

Eyal Shuster, owner, The Shuster Group, outside The Art House luxury apartment building in Jersey City's Powerhouse Arts District.-(PHOTOS BY HAL BROWN)

For Eyal Shuster’s 2-year-old, boutique apartment building in downtown Jersey City, “The Art House” is more than just a fancy name.

The sixth floor, for instance, is adorned with a row of color-splashed “encaustic” or hot-wax paintings by local artist Kathy Cantwell. Priced at $800 each, the pieces are available for purchase by tenants or visitors who attend one of the building’s open houses and viewing events.

And it’s just one of the collections that are displayed in each of the building’s 12 floors — creating a vibe that helps the luxury building stand out in a crowded field.

“We see that people are staying because of the service and the lifestyle, which is good to help us against the competition,” said Shuster, owner of The Shuster Group. “But we can also see that the art helps to create the community and people appreciate it.”

That connection is felt in communities around New Jersey — and recognized by developers, planners and local officials who see the benefits of incorporating the arts into their efforts. For some, it’s a way to give a new identity to a project or a place that is already established.

For others, it can be one of the catalysts in the rebirth of an area.

“Arts is not the only thing, but it’s one of the more visible things that helps spark revitalization,” said Leonardo Vazquez, executive director of the National Consortium for Creative Placemaking. “And sometimes it’s not even revitalization, because a place might be doing OK in terms of meeting the needs of its residents, but it’s sparking a change, getting people to think about a place in a new way.”

Vazquez, whose group is based in Union, said that approach comes in all shapes and sizes, from commissioning a street mural to building a performing arts center. And it’s being taken in all corners of the state, from Jersey City and Red Bank to Frenchtown and Cape May.

Business leaders and local officials in Hackensack are hoping find that formula. As the city builds a pipeline of multifamily development, stakeholders are pushing efforts to create a new art scene in the downtown, anchored by plans for a new performing arts center.

“Anything associated with the arts, we’ve always been told from the beginning, is a key component to redeveloping any downtown,” said Jerry Lombardo, chairman of the nonprofit Upper Main Alliance in Hackensack. “The beautiful thing about the arts is that … it’s magnetic. Whether it’s art shows or theater, it draws people and it draws people from all walks of life.”

It’s an ingredient alongside housing, education and open space, he said, and development has already been linked to local artwork. Last year, the organization commissioned murals for the boards of a construction fence on Main Street, where a fire destroyed a popular restaurant.

The centerpiece of the city’s plans, a roughly 200-seat, community-sized theater, will be housed in a soon-to-be-renovated former Masonic Temple on State Street. To help the plans move forward, the Upper Main Alliance has raised some $400,000 from businesses and private donors to add to the $1.5 million that was bonded for by the city.

“(We) have been after this thing for a while, and we’ve been aiding and abetting anything we can to promote and plant the seed of arts,” Lombardo said. “Hackensack is a big city of 45,000, and we know there are a lot of talented people living in and around the area and we wanted to try to put that together.”

A CREATIVE SOLUTION
In Jersey City, away from the downtown, the arts community is anchoring development in the still up-and-coming Journal Square neighborhood. Mana Contemporary, a 2 million-square-foot cultural center on Newark Avenue, has led to developments such as 25 Senate Place.
The 265-unit upscale property is about a block away from the complex and includes a host of amenities, including a landscaped terrace and seating area. But to obscure two large industrial air vents that are in the middle of the deck, the developer commissioned Conrad Allen, a New Jersey-based sculpture artist, to come up with a solution. 
The result was two nature-inspired sculptures, including a lotus made of metal, below.

Vazquez, whose organization was hired to help Hackensack craft its strategy, said he puts it alongside places such as Glassboro and Perth Amboy, where the arts scene is “not as visible as it could be, but give it a few years and you’ll see more of it.”

“If I were a developer or if I were an investor who’s interested in a community that really values art, that’s where I’d be looking at right now,” he said.

Elsewhere in the state, towns that are already seen as destinations are hoping to strengthen that approach. Montclair is in the midst of an effort to create a new arts district within its popular downtown, while, since last year, developers in Morristown have been required to contribute 1 percent of their capital costs, up to $100,000, toward public art projects.Vazquez, who is also a senior associate with the Nishuane Group in Montclair, said support from a local government can go a long way for arts community.

“It’s like any kind of business,” Vazquez said. “What do businesses need? They need access to markets, they need visibility, so when communities can create permanent spaces where there could be some marketplace for art, that does help the artist.”

He also noted the potential consequences of when an economic development effort involving the arts is successful. If a place becomes more attractive, he said, property values will rise and new business will follow, creating the possibility that artists who came when rents were cheaper may no longer be able to afford to be there.

But Vazquez said “there are ways to protect the arts community,” pointing to places such as Jersey City and Paterson that have created affordable housing spaces for artists.

He sees that as a smart policy, as are other moves to foster the arts, because “at the community level, good economic development is good community development and vice versa.”

“You can build a new office building, you can attract a major pharmaceutical company, but if you’re not thinking about the whole package of the experience that people have — not just as consumers, but also as residents, as visitors even within their own communities — then, essentially, you’re only doing half of the job,” Vazquez said. “And in a sense, you’re leaving money on the table because good community development tends to beget good economic development and vice versa.”

GIVING BACK
At The Art House, The Shuster Group is aiming to have an impact well beyond the dozen or so artists who have their work displayed throughout the building.
It’s why 30 percent of the proceeds from any sales of the artwork goes to a community-based nonprofit known as The Art Project. The organization focuses on funding free visual art classes for underserved youths in the city, providing a way for the developer to engage the community.
“For us, it’s great, it’s rewarding and it’s obviously benefiting the building,” said Eyal Shuster, owner of The Shuster Group. “It’s a great local community activity, and we love it.”

Vazquez, who is also a senior associate with the Nishuane Group in Montclair, said support from a local government can go a long way for arts community.

“It’s like any kind of business,” Vazquez said. “What do businesses need? They need access to markets, they need visibility, so when communities can create permanent spaces where there could be some marketplace for art, that does help the artist.”

He also noted the potential consequences of when an economic development effort involving the arts is successful. If a place becomes more attractive, he said, property values will rise and new business will follow, creating the possibility that artists who came when rents were cheaper may no longer be able to afford to be there.

But Vazquez said “there are ways to protect the arts community,” pointing to places such as Jersey City and Paterson that have created affordable housing spaces for artists.

He sees that as a smart policy, as are other moves to foster the arts, because “at the community level, good economic development is good community development and vice versa.”

“You can build a new office building, you can attract a major pharmaceutical company, but if you’re not thinking about the whole package of the experience that people have — not just as consumers, but also as residents, as visitors even within their own communities — then, essentially, you’re only doing half of the job,” Vazquez said. “And in a sense, you’re leaving money on the table because good community development tends to beget good economic development and vice versa.”

Joshua Burd

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