A great story by Michael Washburn about Asbury Park that ran in the New York Times on June 15, 2012. . .

WHILE towns along the Jersey Shore reinvented themselves during the boom of the aughts, sprouting boutique hotels and upscale restaurants, Asbury Park retained a refreshing, rare Americana charm. Restaurants — and boutique hotels — arrived, but they have had to share the Boardwalk with nostalgic attractions like a pinball museum and a psychic. And a majestic urban ghost presides over it all: the Boardwalk ends at the magnificent shell of a 1920s-era casino and carousel house.

If Asbury Park’s history of bust and rebirth offers a lesson, it’s that hard luck inspires good times.

“There’s nothing like it in the world,” said Marilyn Schlossbach, a co-owner of the three-year-old Langosta Lounge (1000 Ocean Avenue; 732-455-3275; langostalounge.com), a beachfront restaurant featuring “vacation cuisine” like Haliimaile rigatoni: shrimp, scallops and asparagus served in a cilantro, macadamia nut pesto.

Such pride is abundant in Asbury Park, which emerged from decades of economic hardship five years ago and blossomed into a progressive community that preserved what Ms. Schlossbach calls its “peculiar quirkiness.”

The last 18 months have been particularly transformative for one formerly forlorn area. Enlivened by a group of entrepreneurs mostly in their late 20s and early 30s, Bangs Avenue has become a hip extension of Asbury Park’s robust cultural and culinary scene.

“Last year at this time there was nobody,” Paul Cali said recently as he motioned toward the bustle of Bangs Avenue. “Now it’s a neighborhood.” Mr. Cali, 30, is the co-owner of Cafe Volan (510 Bangs Avenue; 732-455-3399; cafevolan.com), a relaxed, airy cafe a stroll from the ocean. In addition to brewing coffee with rich, sophisticated textures, Cafe Volan, which opened a year ago, has become a social centerpiece for the newly invigorated street.

Blue Hawaii, a vintage clothing shop, Wood Shop Skateboards, and ReBearth Artist Boutique have all recently opened, and none of the shop owners is older than 40.

Across the street from Cafe Volan is Sweet Joey’s (523 Bangs Avenue; 732-455-3183; sweetjoeys.com), a bespoke denim shop that also offers vintage clothes. Joey Pisch, 31, opened the shop in May 2011, where he works alongside his father, Vlado, the house tailor. “My father started making jeans in the ’70s for his friends,” Mr. Pisch said of his father’s life in Communist Czechoslovakia, “because Western jeans cost a month’s wages.” Vlad jeans, as they’re called, run around $300.

Like the rest of Asbury Park, the Bangs Avenue scene is welcoming and unassuming, but the Colonel’s Kissing Booth (516 Summerfield Avenue; 732-455-3500) sets new standards of friendliness. Its small, well-executed menu features brunch standards — omelets, burgers — and its owner, Shiah Blau, 25, seems equally energized by his food and his community. “Once you get here, you feel at home,” Mr. Blau said of his restaurant and his hometown. And you can’t help but feel at home there since the staff consists of Mr. Blau, his mother, his two sisters, and his best friend.

Of course, Asbury Park is known for music and its famous former resident Bruce Springsteen. Both the historic Stone Pony and Asbury Lanes, a perfect blend of music venue and well-scuffed bowling alley, still host bands, and the town was recently overtaken by the Asbury-born Bamboozle Festival’s 90,000 fans, many of whom showed up for local heroes Bon Jovi. The Press Room (610 Bangs Avenue; 732-455-5945; thepressroomap.com), an intimate, sleek rock venue owned by the locals Alicia and Trip Brooks, just opened this year but has already secured a position in the town’s genealogy. In February, Mr. Springsteen played a surprise show there, and the photos for his “Wrecking Ball” album were shot at the club.

“It’s a town that looks to keep the people that care about it,” Ms. Schlossbach of the Langosta Lounge said.


An exhibition called “The Sum of Their Parts” is running at the Shore Institute of the Contemporary Arts, in Asbury Park, through February 24, 2012.

Art History is full of composite creatures – the Chimera, the Sphinx, the Griffins, Pan, the Minotaur, the Mermaid, Pegasus, Medusa, the Satyr, the Centaur, — the list goes on and on. The idea of these creatures from mythology and fantasy has rapidly become more plausible with advancements in genetic engineering. This show investigates how artists today interpret and address the idea of creatures that are the sum of some quite different parts.

Artists included in this show are Jean Pierre Arboleda, Kate Clark, Katie Hoffman, Angie Mason, Inna Rasumova, Jack Thompson, and Kelly Vetter.

A recent article about SICA in The New York Times: www.nytimes.com

SICA’s website: www.sica.org


Just a glimpse of the event in Atlantic Highlands, Nj…

. . . A 1982 Chevy step van and a few thousand pounds of lead, wood, iron, and love.

Kyle Durrie is bringing the Type Truck to Atlantic Highlands Tuesday October 25th.  She’ll be parked at The Painted Frame, 77 Center St., from 3:30pm – 7:30pm, and creating letterpress printed documents for visitors– hand-set, hand-printed flyers, posters, etc.  Visit:  type-truck.com

Co-sponsored by the Atlantic Highlands Arts Council + The Painted Frame Gallery.

These days, even the National Endowment for the Arts is getting into the job-creation business. Last month it started a $23.5 million effort to revitalize blighted urban neighborhoods, including money for public arts projects in St. Paul, museum renovations in Detroit and artists’ housing in Harlem.

The idea that art can be an economic engine is hardly new, and a walk through SoHo, Venice Beach or Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood shows it can work. The N.E.A.’s promotional material makes clear that its goal is to create new SoHo’s in hard-hit cities across the country. But contrary to the N.E.A.’s good intentions, it takes more than grants and tax breaks to make the arts thrive. Too often, art-driven revitalization efforts overlook the mercurial nature of art itself.

Take the now-canonical revitalizations of New York’s SoHo and Chelsea districts. By the 1960s, both areas had an abundance of abandoned light-manufacturing buildings — perfect breeding grounds, in retrospect, for artists.

But it took something else, too. Paula Cooper, who opened her first SoHo gallery in 1968, could have opened anywhere; deindustrialization had emptied large parts of the city. And when the dealers Larry Gagosian and Barbara Gladstone, as well as Ms. Cooper, opened in Chelsea in the mid-’80s and ’90s, it was not because SoHo’s rents were too high, as the conventional wisdom said.

What drove them was the need for even bigger spaces to fit the even bigger aesthetics of artists of the moment like Richard Serra and Jasper Johns. Mr. Serra is known for his freestanding steel sculptures, some 14 feet tall; Mr. Johns’s enormous canvases require high walls. “If you want to show big work, you need big open doors … and concrete floors,” Ms. Gladstone told me.

SoHo and Chelsea were full of such large, lofty spaces; the East Village, among other, similarly cheap neighborhoods, was not. SoHo and Chelsea offered another advantage. Studying historical zoning codes, my colleague Richard Green and I found that unlike heavy manufacturing, which was mostly pushed to the city’s fringes, the light-manufacturing buildings that dominated these neighborhoods were adjacent to conventional residential neighborhoods, with coffee shops, restaurants and other amenities.

By 1971, when the city rezoned SoHo buildings for artists’ work-live spaces, it was merely catching up to a phenomenon well under way. The rezoning also allowed commercial activity on the buildings’ first floors, opening the way for more galleries and restaurants, adding momentum to the neighborhood’s already robust revitalization.

But art’s physical characteristics are just one factor in shaping where it takes root; the social, political and economic context matters, too.

Take the emergence of the arts district in London’s East End in the late 1980s. In many ways, the area fit the SoHo model: cheap, flexible spaces that were close to urban amenities. But it didn’t really take off until 1988, at the height of anti-Thatcherism, when the artist Damien Hirst opened an exhibition featuring a slate of politically charged artists. Soon labeled the Young British Artists, or Y.B.A.’s, they yanked British art into the center of the contemporary art world.

The radical anti-establishment character of Y.B.A.’s art seemed to grow with the rise of Tony Blair and his New Labor in the 1990s, culminating in the 1997 exhibition “Sensation.” Such works as Mr. Hirst’s infamous stuffed shark floating in formaldehyde and Tracey Emin’s tent “Everyone I Have Ever Slept With” replaced stodgy historical pastoral landscapes as representative of British art.

An explosion of interest in their work had a transformative effect on the East End, with galleries and performance spaces paving the way for trendy apartments, restaurants and shops. None of this was planned, nor could it have been.

The evolution of these districts shows that using art as a development tool is like working with quicksilver: it’s hard to know which path it might take, and a tough proposition when dealing with taxpayers’ money and foundation grants.

Which is not to say that there’s no place for programs like the N.E.A.’s. But it does counsel circumspection. These examples demonstrate that specific cultural circumstances dictate art’s role as a change agent. Instead of a shotgun approach that assumes every post-industrial zone or blighted district can, with a few million dollars in subsidies, become the next SoHo, we should follow the lead of the metaphorical college that puts down sidewalks only after the students have hewn their own paths.

Groups like the N.E.A. should first identify where artists are doing promising work, and determine whether public resources might help catalyze an artistic community. There’s nothing wrong with looking to art as a way to raise a city’s economic development. But before we go tossing money at anyone with a paintbrush or an art space, we have to understand the complex ways artistic communities shape our cities’ fortunes.

– By Elizabeth Currid-Halkett; an assistant professor of urban planning at the University of Southern California and the author of “The Warhol Economy: How Fashion, Art and Music Drive New York City.”

(this article originally appeared in the New York Times, October 15, 2011)

Dahlia Elsayed’s solo show Possibles, Probables will have a run at Monmouth University’s Icehouse Gallery, October 24- November 23, 2011. She will give an Artist Talk on Thursday, November 3rd at 4:30pm, followed by an opening reception.

Check out more of her wonderful work at:  www.dahliaelsayed.com

Dahlia Elsayed (b. 1969) combines text and imagery to create visually narrative paintings that document internal and external geographies. Her work, influenced by conceptual art, comics, and landscape painting, is informed by autobiography and environment, to create illustrated documents of place and experience.

Her paintings, prints and artist books have been shown at galleries and art institutions throughout the United States and internationally, including exhibitions at the 12th Cairo Biennale, BravinLee Programs, Clementine Gallery and the Jersey City Museum. Her work is in the public collections of the US Department of State, Johnson & Johnson Corporation, The Jersey City Museum, Zimmerli Art Museum, Hunterdon Museum of Art, Noyes Museum of Art, Montclair Art Museum, Newark Public Library, New Jersey State Museum, and Morris Museum. A large number of her works were commissioned for the permanent collection of the Ritz Carlton Hotel in New York. Dahlia has received awards from the Edward Albee Foundation, Visual Studies Workshop, The Newark Museum, ArtsLink, The Dodge Foundation, Women’s Studio Workshop, Headlands Center for the Arts,The NJ State Council on the Arts and most recently a grant from The Joan Mitchell Foundation.
She received her MFA from Columbia University, and lives and works in New Jersey.