Reasons Why the Arts Matter and Provide Solutions for Strengthening Regions

Karen Pinzolo, executive director of the South Jersey Cultural Alliance

Karen Pinzolo, executive director of the South Jersey Cultural Alliance, firmly believes that the arts matter. She has written extensively about this subject in ArtWorks for the N.J. State Council on the Arts and helped create the Art Matters section of the ArtPride NJ website.

“The arts matter to individuals. The arts educate, heal, motivate, inspire and bring joy to individuals. The arts matter to communities. The arts support youth, workforce, economic and community development, education, tourism, and health and wellness. The arts matter to the region. Being under-resourced compared to the rest of the state, the arts help to level the playing field. Strong communities = strong region!” she says.

“The arts provide great value for a small investment, so the arts can be part of the solution for strengthening the region.”

Culture as a Tool for Economic, Community and Personal Revitalization

Here are some ways that the arts have fueled Karen Pinzolo‘s life and her thoughts about culture’s vital role in a region’s prosperity:

Could you explain “creative placemaking” and why you think these programs are important?  I worked in a pizzeria through high school, which enabled me to go to Paris for a summer when I was 17. I loved Paris and thought the difference between where I grew up in northern New Jersey and Paris was that arts and culture were valued as a human right. Arts and culture were accessible to all.

I saw Rudolf Nureyev dancing “Swan Lake” in the courtyard of the Louvre, heard Miles Davis in a small café and heard Toccata and Fugue in D minor on the Notre Dame Cathedral organ. I went into many low-cost museums. Arts and culture were everywhere – in the parks, cafes, churches and the street.

I came home and was angry because I lived 20 minutes outside NYC, and I was never exposed to the joys of the arts. My mission in life became creating access to the arts. I am 60ish, and I still have the same mission! My master’s is from the urban planning school at NYU in Cultural Planning and Nonprofit Management, a concentration I created.

About 30 years later, I created the Arts Build Communities Program at the Bloustein School of Planning at Rutgers, and now I’m a founding board member of the National Consortium for Creative Placemaking. I believe there are many tools to revitalize a community, but among the best is culture. Cultural programs are small investments with the greatest returns.

Culture is not only for improving communities but for creating civilized, well-educated and healthy individuals.  The arts can improve education, tourism, economic and community development, and health and wellness. What other small investment can do all that?

How, specifically, have arts and business partnerships made a difference in South Jersey? One program that has had an impact is PNC’s Arts Alive Program. The program focuses on building audiences and has given broader access to the arts. The grants covered a wide range of disciplines, audiences and participatory experiences, serving more than 2 million people!

In their second decade, Arts Alive Connect will open their grant giving to smaller and more diverse groups. This effort will make philanthropy in the region more equitable as well as support programming that draws more diverse audiences.

OceanFirst Foundation, which has had a recent expansion into the southern region, understands the connections between local arts and cultural organizations are the key to growth and development of our people and economy.  They have invested more than $2 million in the arts throughout the southern N.J. region. The OceanFirst Foundation supported our ArtsTank Program.

What do you think are some valuable takeaways for participants attending the “Artist as Entrepreneur” series? The “Artist as Entrepreneur” series helps artists learn the business skills necessary to sustaining their art practices. The program was funded as workforce development under Thrive South, an initiative of New Jersey Community Capital.  The full course teaches skills for developing the following:

  • A personalized plan of action based on self-identified goals for art careers
  • A road map for funding work and revenue generation including improving fund-raising materials and working with partners to build a base of individual contributors
  • New perspectives on how to approach presenting and writing about their work for fund-raising purposes
  • An increased understanding of their personal and professional financial options
  • A framework for deciding which opportunities to say yes or no to and how to do so
  • A new understanding of the value of their time and how it relates to the pricing of their work

Is ArtsTank inspired by Shark Tank, and what do you hope to achieve through this opportunity? Yes, it was inspired by ArtsTank.  I love to watch Shark Tank because I am always impressed that the sharks know exactly which indicators of success to ask the participants. I thought it would be a great learning format not only for the five contestants but for an audience as well. ArtsTank will showcase best practices in creative placemaking for planners, local officials, developers and economic and community development professionals, which we hope to have in the audience.

Our promotional partners include the N.J. State League of Municipalities, Sustainable Jersey, Downtown NJ, Main Street NJ and the NJ Chapter – American Planning Association.  These partners will help us reach out to their memberships, so they will be exposed to the possibilities the arts can offer.

With this program, SJCA hopes to highlight best practices and become a learning community for South Jersey municipalities about arts-based solutions to local challenges.  SJCA also wants to encourage participation in Sustainable Jersey’s Municipal actions toward a more sustainable future. This competition focuses on the action: Utilizing Your Creative Assets, which municipalities can get up to 10-30 points toward your sustainability score. Creative placemaking is recognized by Sustainable Jersey as a step toward sustainability.  SJCA believes that culture has a lot to contribute to the sustainability of the region.

What is your current reading on the arts in South Jersey, and how can others support growth in this sector? Despite the lack of philanthropy, corporate headquarters and without a culture of individual giving in South Jersey, there is cultural vitality.  South Jersey’s diverse demographics make it a wonderful mix of cultures. The demographics and geography are diverse.  From rural to city and from below poverty to affluence, South Jersey has it all.

Some critics say South Jersey culture is dying as we have lost some important nonprofits in the last decade. But just looking at the nonprofits is only one indicator of vitality.  If you look at a map of arts vibrancy, you can see that South Jersey is mostly 80% or higher than other counties across the country.  This is because the eco-system is changing.  With more diverse populations, we are finding a lot of cultural activity outside the nonprofit structure.

The arts are happening on the streets and in churches, community centers, universities, coffee shops and elsewhere.  To encourage support for the entire eco-system of arts and culture, we are looking to the municipality, which benefits greatly from cultural activity.  SJCA thinks that our ArtsTank program will encourage more local investment in arts and culture.

How can individuals help to support the arts? Here are specific ways:

  •  Participate in the arts – buy tickets, take courses and attend events!
  •  Donate money or time – be a docent, usher or board member. There are hundreds of roles for volunteers!
  •  Run for office, or get involved in local government. Cultural advocates are important to have in high places. Research shows the more involved in the arts you are, the higher your civic engagement.
  •  Sign up for action alerts from ArtPride NJ, so you will be in the know about legislation to support the arts and history. ArtPride NJ makes it very easy to contact your local legislators.

What are some special aspects of SJCA and other upcoming programs or events? One of the special aspects of SJCA is that we are a co-sponsored program of the N.J. State Council on the Arts. The Arts Council recognizes that the southern region needs additional support. It is difficult geographically to take advantage of support systems in central and northern New Jersey.  The Arts Council works very closely with us to make sure we have the knowledge and resources we need to support the community.

Another important aspect is the role of the board. Our bylaws ask for the majority of board members to represent our membership. Our board is active, involved and is the best for seeing trends as well as evaluating on a new program or idea.  Board members understand the needs of our community as well as the importance of having a unified voice for the region and the state.

We also collect data just for the southern region. This year, we had the statewide arts education census data number crunched to see how the southern region fared in relation to the rest of the state.

SJCA is the only convener of all the arts, history and cultural groups in the region. It’s important for the community to rally together to celebrate South Jersey culture and its champions, advocate in one voice and be a learning community that shares best practices.

Watch SJCA for upcoming professional development courses and other special events.


About artsbiz365 105 Articles
Andrea Karen Hammer, a Philadelphia-based freelance writer, is the founder, CEO and owner of Artsphoria Inclusive & Collaborative Publishing, Media Group & Shop ( She leads the operation and innovation at Artsphoria: Arts, Business & Technology Center (, Artsphoria Event Advertising & Reporting (; Artsphoria International Magazine (, Artsphoria Movie Reviews & Film Forum (; Artsphoria: Food for the Soul (; Artsphoria's Animation & Imagination World ( and Artsphoria Shop (

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