Long Beach is getting artsy

New arts council aims to enhance city’s cultural environment


The City Council is looking to enhance the cultural environment of Long Beach by forming a new Council for the Arts that will promote the arts throughout the community.

The City Council announced last fall that it would form the organization, a group that City Manager Jack Schnirman said had been inactive for decades. It will be tasked with advising and making recommendations to the City Council for new art programs, cultural activities and other initiatives. It will also promote the programs of the city’s 22-arts related organizations and encourage collaboration among the groups.

City officials are reviewing applicants for open spots on the nine-member council, and hope to announce the appointments soon. The group’s first meeting is tentatively set for April.

“Forming this new arts council will help strengthen Long Beach as a cultural arts player in the film, arts and live entertainment industry,” Ingrid Dodd, co-founder of the Long Beach International Film Festival, said. “We have loads of talent here, let’s give people someplace to reach for the stars right here in our own backyard.”

The council will be responsible for increasing artistic awareness in the city through multiple facets including public displays, galleries and beautification efforts.

“The arts council is something we see becoming quite significant as the city continues to foster its growing arts community,” Councilwoman Eileen Goggin said in a statement.

Sustainable Long Island partnered with the city to host a public engagement meeting in December to gather community input and discuss ideas for the group.

“A good board, especially for the arts, needs to have skilled people — People that are leaders, people that have a background in legal issues and finance,” said Patricia Bourne, the city’s director of economic development.

At the December meeting, participants were asked what types of activities they’d like to see the arts council focus on and how they would measure the success of those initiatives.

Elizabeth Connolly, vice president of West End Arts, said nearly 100 residents turned out to the meeting to inquire about the council and see what types of programs it might offer.

“It was really fun to see a lot of people there,” said Connolly, an art teacher at the Brooklyn Excelsior Charter School and Theresa Academy of Performing Arts in Lido Beach. “All the actors sat together. Visual artists sat together, there were even teachers there. It was really wonderful to see because when you’re an artist and you work in your studio alone, maybe you don’t realize how many others there are in the community.”

Sustainable Long Island Executive Director Amy Engel discussed the public input gathered in December at the Feb. 3 city council meeting.

“The goal of the arts council is to become a self-sustaining destination council for the arts for the entire community,” Engel said. “The three main themes that came out of [the artist engagement session] are community space, public art and collaborations.”

The public engagement also determined that the ideal candidates for the council would not just possess an arts background but also have experience in public relations, advertising, fundraising, grant writing and leadership.

Popular suggestions, Engel said, included establishing a permanent venue for the arts, fundraisers, hosting a sand sculpture festival or series of “First Fridays” — a regularly occurring event the first Friday of every month, such as a different gallery opening every week.

Dodd said she’d like to see the creation of a movie theater that would also function as a performing arts center, which she said would help the economic development of the city throughout the year.

Connolly echoed those sentiments, saying that not all students like to play sports and a center for the arts would benefit the community and give teens a place to go hang out with their friends and work productively on art.

Michelle Kelly, owner of Earth Arts of Long Beach, also attended the December meeting. Earth Arts has partnered with the city in the past to host fundraising events for the community.

“I think it was fabulous,” she said. “There were so many different parts of the arts and sections of the community represented — business owners, artists, educators, the civics, politicians. I think that you have to involve all aspects of the community in something like this.”

Many other groups are on board as well, including Artists-in-Partnership, Inc. Two of their board members and four other artists from their organization participated in what Executive Director Johanna Mathieson-Ellmer described as “masterfully conducted” meeting.

“Artists-in-Partnership is delighted that the City of Long Beach administration and the City Council, in their efforts to move forward an agenda for the creation of a Council for the Arts, have included the community of local artists and cultural arts organizations in the conversations, visioning and planning stages for this initiative,” Mathieson-Ellmer said.