Saturday, February 01, 2020

Volunteering in Belmar

For well over a decade, I have been part of an organization that was originally known as the Belmar Arts Council. I joined in 2006, when they had just gotten off the ground.  I wasn't one of the founders, who I later learned had met for years in an effort to create such an organization, but did join in time to participate in their 2nd Annual Juried Art show. All in borrowed spaces of course.  There was a plan in place back then to redevelop Belmar's downtown, and a large commercial building decided it was a good time to move things elsewhere, and our organization was given the opportunity to hold a large exhibition in the space before the tear-down.  (the previous year's exhibition had been held at the old Taylor Pavilion, a large public space on the beach, which they could use for just one day)  During the exhibition run, we also had access to other rooms in this building on Main Street- I took a one night workshop there.  The BAC had fixed the place up for the occasion, and then the owners felt that the place could be rented out, so when the show ended, the organization was homeless again.  The earliest meetings I attended were in a loft at a coffee house on Main Street in Belmar, but eventually that ended, as the owner sold the building and there was a plan to gut it and build something else.  For a while they were meeting in the main room at the Taylor Pavilion, a large echo-ey room where people were always wandering in off the boardwalk, wondering what was going on.   Not very well insulated, so it was chilly in winter, but it was a large space we could use.

Meanwhile, redevelopment marched on.  A major contractor had an idea for rebuilding the facades of all of Main Street, and an entire block in the lesser used part of town would be knocked down, replacing the old municipal building with a new one and a large parking garage.  Then there was a problem- the redeveloper had decided that the key to their plan was to take down a large commercial building in the middle of town.  What they planned for the space I have no idea.  Problem was that the judge declined to condemn it, declaring it a functioning business, and if they wanted it, they'd have to buy the property.  The redeveloper couldn't get out of town fast enough, and the town wide plan was abandoned.  Things would have to be just done piecemeal, and they were, such as our old coffee house location, and a record store nearby became a restaurant and condos.

After one of the many interruptions to our meeting by wandering people, someone asked if we could use the old Connolly Boatworks. It occupied part of that now unneeded block, once a boat repairs and sales shop, but now an abandoned property owned by the town.  Used as the headquarters for the effort to build a new route 35 bridge, but that was over.  Really just a concrete shell with a leaky roof. but it had power and water, and artists have a history of working with less, so we got permission to squat and fix it up, and we've been there ever since.  We fixed the roof, and eventually replaced it.  Added inside walls to cover up the 2x4's and insulation, a new floor, and painted murals on the two large sides.  A small addition by the original owners was replaced to give us a better stage for performances.  A mixture of professional contractors and member help resulted in a much larger addition on one side, to become a gallery space (had a show there last fall) and storage room.  And with a regular space of our own, instead of just one show per year, they started doing many, so now the galleries are in constant use.  Since the town still technically owns the property, they retain the rights to do things there, and during Hurricane Sandy we had to shut down for a few months while the place was used as a headquarters for aid distribution (floods did a number on the town), but eventually they emptied their stuff out, we fixed up the damaged drywall, and opened again.  The town fixed up the road (more potholes than pavement at one point) and paved some parking lots around it, which make the place harder to use in summer when beachgoers and party boat fishers take those spaces every day, but still we are the envy of a lot of arts organizations .  Most arts groups have temporary borrowed spaces in larger buildings, but we have year round exhibition space, control the hours, etc.

A few weeks ago I received an invitation to come to a Volunteer Appreciation Day, a lunch and celebration of the many volunteers that keep the place going, and I am one.  When we painted the first mural, I was one of the principle artists (ability to draw and paint things, knowledge of how to mix colors, and willingness to climb the scaffold no doubt helped), and I documented my part on this very blog, and a past president found it a very useful way to monitor progress on the job, leading to a request to start a similar one for them.  A lot of members claim an interest in being part of it, but few have ever been willing to help, so it's pretty much my baby and I've been doing it for more than 12 years. Because it's not actually part of the official website, whenever that gets hacked, and taken down, and redone (3 or 4 times now), my blog just continues.   When the town closed our building to us and we couldn't access the computer, my blog was still there.  Most of the founders are long gone, but my blog goes on.  The blog has covered almost every activity of the past 12 years, really the only complete record of our existence, in words and images.  So I figure I'm entitled to some free lunch.  I assumed they would also use the opportunity to ask for money and more help, but I got nothing else to give, so they won't be getting anything.

So that happened this afternoon.  About 25 people in attendance, including two former woodcut students (cause I also teach that when they want it) Food included two pitchers of mimosas, a large platter of fried foods from a local place, and a large plate of mini-cupcakes from another local place. The fried food include chicken fingers, mozzarella sticks, fried ravioli (big in the midwest), fried zucchini sticks, all in thick crunchy fried breading.  So I had a good lunch. My kind of refreshments.

We were all asked to introduce ourselves, so I could mention the blog, my art, my classes, my t-shirt, etc. Just a few things, less than a minute. Learned that the Art on the Edge exhibition may be coming back later this year.  Always brought in an interesting crowd.  Don't know if I have anything suitable right now, so I'll have to think about it.  The town may be holding an event in our building soon- such is life in our situation.  Also learned that there is another plan to redevelop our block.  That there is an interest in doing something more commercial with our property is quite plausible (that part of town is a lot more popular now than it was when we moved in), but I'll believe it's going to happen when it does.

This seems a good a time as any to put out there that I have been asked to do the woodcut class again.  I saw it listed on the website and figured I should go ahead and schedule it.  The class will be on Wednesday evenings, 6:30 to 9 pm, April 8, 15, 29, and May 6.   If people sign up- the last two times this place scheduled it, we got a total of one person to sign up- not enough to run it.


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