Updated: Jun 25, 2019

The ArtsTank contestants were at the spacious Noyes Arts Garage in Atlantic City, an hour away from their competition. Only one of five teams would take home a $5,000 prize for their creative placemaking project.

You’d expect the contestants – for whom that prize could make a big difference – to be wary of each other. But no, they were talking, smiling and laughing – setting the stage for future partnerships.

As the name suggests, South Jersey Cultural Alliance’s ArtsTank, held May 29, was inspired by the hit show Shark Tank.

The ‘sharks’ in this case were representatives of several South Jersey organizations that do or support creative placemaking, who took on the roles of Artist/Cultural Leader, Pro

fessional Planner, Funder, and Businessman/Local Official – Michael Cagno of Noyes Art Museum in Hammonton; Meishka Mitchell of Cooper’s Ferry Partnership in Camden; and Jeremy Grunin of the Jay and Linda Grunin Foundation, Toms River; and Vincent M. D’Allesandro, President, Southern Region of OceanFirst Bank, both of Toms River.

The contestants were from five communities in the region: the Parkside neighborhood of Camden, Runnemede, Ventnor, Washington Township and Woodbury. They were vying for the $5,000 prize -- a grant from the OceanFirst Foundation – to support creative projects such as painted murals, mosaics, performances, events, and other activities that could help address social and economic issues through the arts.

To get here, each community team had to apply in writing, and answer challenging questions about how their work could make things better in and for their communities. The five finalists were chosen from 31 municipalities that sent in letters of Intent. Each finalist would have only 10 minutes to make their case to the sharks. Then they had to face 10 minutes of difficult questions from the sharks.

It was the first Arts Tank, and no one knew what to expect. But this being creative placemaking, the mood among the contestants and about 55 audience members was joyful and confident.

And the presentations were fun and sometimes touching. The Runnemede team made a painting in less than two minutes. Then they lit a fire on it to, as they said, "ignite the revitalization" in their town. One of the Washington Township presenters rapped to the tune of “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.” We heard the story of a young Camden resident who was transformed by the projects from her city’s team. Three years ago, she was too nervous to speak into a microphone. Now, she just finished recording an album.

"I thought it was a great opportunity to see what other visionaries are doing to make a difference in their community," said Chris Hampton, a leader of the Camden team who shared that story with the audience. "Not only did we get a chance to compete, we were able to network with other communities. We established new relationships that we are connecting with well after the event."

"It was an honor to be amongst so many creative placemaking greats," said Tara Moughan of the FAF Coalition, a leader of the Woodbury team. "The day was filled with learning, collaboration and networking... and a little competitive fun."

I had the honor of being the emcee for the event, and to do a presentation on getting money for creative placemaking. I talked about different ways to get money – including donations, grants, program revenue. But I saved what I thought to be the most important advice until the end. I said that everyone in the room – in fact, everybody in South Jersey – would be better off doing more collaborating than competing.

Yes, money, time and energy are limited. And the time you spend putting your palm out for a handshake is less time to put it out for a money. But you can share more money and other rewards by truly collaborating.

The audience members seemed to take it to heart. After my speech, they moved out of their chairs, or turned around in them to introduce themselves and take the first steps towards working together.

Ok, back to the event.

Washington Township won. Their project was actually a series of activities designed to build a stronger sense of community in a suburb that was developed with no designated town center. But nobody actually lost. D’Allesandro felt all the projects were worthy of support and announced that all the finalists will receive $1,000 grants from OceanFirst Foundation. The National Consortium for Creative Placemaking gave each team one complimentary ticket to an upcoming workshop in Philadelphia.

And if they follow up and work together, they will probably get much more than that.

"I really enjoyed the ArtsTank event," said attendee Mary Salvante, of the Rowan University Art Gallery and Creative Glassboro. "It was fun and the presenters did a great job. It was a great opportunity for local arts organizers to learn about what their neighbors are up to and a chance to share ideas and potentially find new collaborators."

ArtsTank is one of many ways that NCCP partners with organizations to help grow and sustain the field of creative placemaking. If you think we can help you, please contact us.

By Leonardo Vazquez AICP/PP

Executive Director

The National Consortium for Creative Placemaking

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