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- Fine and Performing Arts;
- Politics, Law and Public Policy
Rutgers Initiative Helps Keep Artistic Talent in New Jersey Communities
Show him a community where the arts flourish, Rutgers academic Leonardo Vazquez says, and he’ll show you a community where children tend to do better in school, businesses flock to open their doors, and hometown pride runs high.
Now an organization Vazquez co-founded is helping New Jersey municipalities connect the dots when it comes to attracting and keeping artistic talent within their borders.
Arts Builds Communities, an initiative housed at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, arms civic leaders with team-building skills and practical research – essential tools, Vazquez believes, to opening channels of communications necessary for creativity to bloom.
“The traditional way of thinking is, let’s build a performing arts or a cultural district and the artists will come,” says ABC Director Vazquez. “But we’ve found in most communities – places like Woodbridge and Belmar, for example – that it’s really first about building connections among people and creating a climate where the arts can prosper.”
Arts historically have been a way for people to connect to one another, he notes, citing the influence of rock and roll in bridging racial gaps between Caucasian and African American teens. “It might not have been the intention of rock music to achieve integration, but it did bring together people from various backgrounds,” Vazquez says.
Since its founding at the Bloustein School in 2008, the organization has become part of Rutgers’ Office of Academic and Public Partnership in Arts and Humanities.
In the past year, the initiative has worked with Perth Amboy, Atlantic Highlands, New Brunswick, and coastal Monmouth County through a six-month community-coaching program that helps elected officials and economic development planners tap into resources in a variety of ways.
The organization was named a co-sponsored project of the New Jersey State Council on the Arts in 2010; funding also comes from the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation. In addition to holding annual conferences and blogging at NJ-ArtiFacts, the organization offers a 10-month professional certificate program for planners, architects, and public affairs professionals.
ABC is teaming up with the New Brunswick Cultural Center to spearhead Arts New Brunswick, designed to bring together artists, businesspeople, organization leaders, public officials, and other stakeholders to craft a blueprint to enhance the arts and its impact on the quality of city life.
In Perth Amboy, Vazquez’s staffers are helping to fashion a master plan for the arts; in Monmouth County, they’re contributing to a marketing initiative designed to put the Jersey Shore on the map as an arts destination.
Thirteen other communities, from Bergen County to Burlington County, have reached out to ABC since word of these services began spreading.
Typically, team representatives include at least one elected official and one working artist. Together with their ABC counterparts, they tackle issues ranging from the micro – Do we need a municipal permit to erect a mural? -- to the macro – What are the barriers to having more arts at our residents’ disposal?
“We coach the community, we don’t tell them what to do,” Vazquez stresses. “Basically, we ask them to think about things in different ways to make their choices.”
That creative line of thinking has won Vazquez national recognition: Next month he will receive the 2012 National Planning Achievement Award for Advancing Diversity and Social Change. Presented by the American Planning Association and named in honor of Paul Davidoff, a famed planning theorist, the award recognizes Vazquez’s 15-year planning career.
The Argentine-born Staten Island native was instrumental in founding the Planning Association’s Latinos and Planning Division, which focuses on urban planning challenges facing Latino communities in the United States. He also co-founded the Planners for Ethnic and Cultural Diversity Committee for the association’s New York Metro Chapter, which later served as a model for other states.
Vazquez began teaching at the Bloustien School in 2004 after working as a newspaper reporter for five years and then serving as a planner in both the private and the nonprofit sectors. He also worked as a nonprofit management consultant, as well as a manager of online learning at The New School in New York.
“All of my work has been about creating more options for people,” Vazquez said.
Media Contact: Fredda Sacharow
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