The first thing to go in any emergency, be it financial or natural, usually is the arts. When people don't know where their next meal is coming from, buying a painting for that cozy corner of the den that you always wanted to turn into a reading nook doesn't feel like a priority. Still, at the precise moment that the sky (or stock market) is falling, that's when artists remind us en masse that this is the time when the arts are of supreme importance. Works can inspire us and also provide social commentary on what is going on. Luckily for the residents of Atlantic City, there are several organizations that recognize art as a powerful way of bringing people together to create and enjoy something that is thought provoking and visually stimulating - even during a pandemic. Although the employees of the Atlantic City Arts Foundation have been furloughed, that has not stopped them from trying to still fund and produce their signature murals, Adirondack chair paintings, and their beloved 48 Blocks AC arts festival. Recently the City of Atlantic City itself partnered with Stay Hungry Sports and the ACAF to renovate the William J. Porter, III Basketball Court in the Lagoon Playground of Venice Park. With the help of Covenant House Atlantic City, Sgt. Sealcoat Asphalt Maintenance, Amber Art and Design, and dozens of community volunteers, the drab two-toned court was transformed into a three-dimensional work of art just days before the second annual “Stop the Violence” Basketball Tournament thanks to the team effort noted by ACAF Program Director, Zach Katzen.
“After the success of last years Stay Hungry Sports basketball tournament, we felt they would be the perfect partners to work with on this historic project”, said Katzen.
The court painting project brought together local artists, ACAF board members, and volunteers young and old in an outdoor, "social-distancing friendly" environment. Charles Barbin, the lead artist on this project, has created several murals in Atlantic City and Philadelphia as well as internationally.When I was there reporting for this story, I saw a young boy go up to Barbin and ask if he could paint. The shirtless artist, warm and exhausted from the humidity and blazing sun, quietly stopped what he was doing and said, “Yeah. Let's find you something.” On the court I saw other volunteers just quietly painting their assigned section. The park was ignited with both color and connectedness.
I'm honored to say that I am a council-appointed Atlantic City Arts Commissioner and would like everyone to know that although we're not able to meet in person, we have continued our meetings in the Zoom environment. The ACAC is currently working on our new website. We hope to make it the hub where our citizenry can go to find out about all the art happening in our area. We are also still taking applications for artists interested in painting electrical boxes throughout the city. Visual arts are alive and well in Atlantic City, just take a trip to the Lagoon Playground and see for yourself. If you'd rather stay in as we transition out of quarantine, you can log on to the ACAC website and enjoy 48 Blocks in all its virtual glory from August 7th through the 9th to stay connected. Michelle Tomko is a comedian, poker player and Atlantic City Arts Commissioner. You can follow her here at TheThreadSJ and at @Tomkomedy across all social media.)