Barnegat is not exactly Greenwich Village. But that doesn’t mean that art is dead in southern Ocean County.
When people think of centers for culture and arts, Southern Ocean County may not be the first locale that comes to mind.
According to the U.S. Census 2006-2010 data for Ocean Acres (a residential area that encompasses parts of Barnegat and parts of Manahawkin), the number of high school graduates living here is high — 91.4 percent — compared to 87.3 percent statewide.
But when it comes to college, 21.9 percent of the population ages 25 or higher got their Bachelor’s degree, which is slightly below the state average of 34.6 percent.
Some people living in other parts of the state consider the Pines and the southern Jersey Shore “the boonies,” where artists of all kinds are like exotic species, rarely seen.
As an artist, myself — more precisely, a creative writer — I disagree.
In the 10 years of living in the area I found plenty of outlets for the arts, from visual arts, to writing, to music around here. And I found plenty of company.
Writers who don’t necessarily belong to any groups, quietly crafting their stories, authors published with the Big Six publishing houses, poets who share their creations at open mike nights, photographers displaying their work on the walls of a local restaurant — they’re all here, some of them hiding, some in plain view.
Some of the area’s culture goes back decades. Artist Boris Blai founded the Long Beach Island Foundation of the Arts in 1948. Surflight Theatre held its first production in 1950, in a shaky tent in Beach Haven. Many artists and poets have been working on their craft at the shore since forever, attracted by the quiet beauty and wilderness of off-season LBI.
As the area grows and its population changes, the culture and creativity seem to spread.
New writers’ groups are getting started in the various branches of the Ocean County library. New art classes for kids and teens have sprung up in Manahawkin and up and down the island.
“There are artists everywhere,” said painter Samantha Palmeri of Manahawkin, who is also the owner and director of an arts school and gallery. “Just because we live in a small town doesn’t mean that there isn’t an art community.”
"South Jersey is huge for writers,” said poet and business owner Sandy Gingras of Long Beach Township. “We’ve got Stockton College here with all the different workshops, and and Stephen Dunn (2001 Pulitzer-Prize winning poet), there are workshops all over the place. It’s really alive for writing.”
“I think what inspires the arts around here is the environment that we live in,” said Lydia Owens, a marketing and events coordinator at the Long Beach Island Foundation in Loveladies. “It’s the beach, and everything that is focused around the summer, and it’s pretty obvious in people’s work. As for artist opportunities, well, there are many of them here at the Foundation.”
“I don’t know if I would call it a scene, but we definitely have outlets for the arts in our community, and our library is one of them,” said Grace Petrowski of the Barnegat Branch of the Ocean County Library. “I know there are very artistic people in our area, and the library is happy to be one of the spots where they can display their work. I know there are people out there who are extremely talented.”
For some artists, though, this area's offerings are meager compared to all the possibilities that go along with a "real" arts scene.
"In all honesty this area has very little to offer as a musician or writer," said one teenage musician, poet and writer. "I think this stems from the fact that most people are so resistant to change."
The young artist, who requested to remain anonymous, described the music and writing scene he experienced among his peers in the area as "music in the pop-punk genre" and "stuff that is considered emo," which "lacks any degree of intellectual sophistication and plays on the heartstrings of kids who are jaded by break-ups and that sort of thing."
The older people, he contended, "play music that is reggae-influenced and write stuff that either complains about the economy or celebrates the natural beauty of this area in a manner similar to Robert Frost. I fall into neither of these categories."
Still, whether you create art, or consume it, take a closer look around you. It's possible you too will find that your options are quite limited. But just maybe you will discover art, artists or outlets you can relate to right around the corner.
Below is a sampling of some cultural offerings around the area:
LONG BEACH ISLAND FOUNDATION:
120 Long Beach Blvd, Loveladies, (609) 494-1241
This arts and sciences center offers classes for children, teens and adults in all sorts of arts from pottery and painting to writing and printmaking. Go to http://www.lbifoundation.org/index.asp for the schedule of classes and events.
Also, the foundation hosts two exhibitions – one in the summer and one in the fall.
“If you’re a member (of the Foundation), or have taken a class here, you can participate in this one exhibition at the end of this summer, like a one last hurrah,” Owens of the LBIF said. “It’s a really good opportunity for people, even if they aren’t very artistic or don’t have very much experience.”
As for the fall show, the opportunities multiply, Owens said. “Every piece gets accepted into that show, (whether the artist is a member or not),” she said. “It’s more for the locals, when in September and October everyone else has gone home. It does really well, people sell a lot of their works.”
YOUR LOCAL LIBRARY: http://theoceancountylibrary.org/
The Barnegat Branch, 112 Burr Street, Barnegat, (609) 698-3331
The Ocean County Library constantly sponsors a variety of cultural events, from author signings to exhibitions and more. Also, each branch often hosts creative writing groups.
in Barnegat, the ever-evolving group with writers both published and unpublished has been meeting for about ten years now.
“They meet the second and the fourth Wednesday of every month at 7 p.m.,” Petrowski of the Barnegat branch, said. “They welcome published and unpublished authors, they have both in their group. They write fiction and non-fiction, but I believe it’s mostly fiction. Their group has gotten big and small, as people move on. It’s like a living thing, it expands and contracts.”
lLike the library's other branches, the Barnegat branch also hosts wall art featuring area artists, a display that changes on a monthly basis and showcases anything from collages to paintings to photographs.
THE STOCKTON COLLEGE ART GALLERY
The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, 101 Vera King Farris Drive, Galloway, (609) 652-1776
The gallery just opened in the beginning of this year. For more information, visit their website: http://intraweb.stockton.edu/eyos/page.cfm?siteID=230&pageID=1
THE ART HOUSE
182 North Main Street, Manahawkin, (609) 978-4278
The small art gallery, arts school and gift shop will start hosting open-mike nights every Friday evening, beginning on May 4, 6:30 to 9 p.m. The event, which is free ($4 suggested donation), and open to the public will include opportunities for musicians, writers and artists to perform, read and network. For more information, visit www.ArtHouseGallery.net.
PINE SHORES ART ASSOCIATION
94 Stafford Ave., Manahawkin, (609) 597-3557
An arts organization that sponsors exhibits, classes for children and adults, workshops and all sort of events in support of the visual arts community. Visit their website for more information.
120 West Main Street, Tuckerton, (609) 296-8868
This museum, another local destination in its own right, often exhibits works by local artists and hosts events which include poetry readings, music and more.
For more information, visit http://www.tuckertonseaport.org/
201 Engleside Avenue, Beach Haven, (609) 492-9477
Surflight Theatre started the season on April 18, and offers stage productions for audiences of various ages throughout the year.
Visit http://www.surflight.org/Mainstage_Schedule.htm for more information.
OCEAN PROFESSIONAL THEATRE COMPANY
Ocean Professional Theatre Company: will start its first real season at the Barnegat High School, 180 Bengal Boulevard, in May. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit http://www.oceantheatre.org/ for more information.
I realize there may be many more venues, groups and activities related to arts and writing in the community. Feel free to mention them in the comments!