Revitalizing MIllville's Arts District

I read an article in the Press of Atlantic City this morning, ‘Firm proposes ways for downtown Millville merchants to boost business’ It made me angry.

Evidently the Millville Development Corp is hiring a Merchantville consulting firm, JGSC, to help it find a way to revitalize the sagging arts district and its related businesses. JGSC”s president, Joe Getz, says they are proposing a four point plan which, according to the Press article, ‘calls for joint customer mailing lists, more uniform business hours, doubling the number of events and holding special giveaways or raffles to lure more downtown foot traffic. He also stated,”Your situation (Millville’s) is very unusual and it’s not like what we see with other communities because you are heavily focused on the arts. People don’t necessarily need a new piece of art or an art experience.” Seriously, how much are they paying this guy?

I’m from Millville. Many of my relatives, including my sister, still live there. Everyone of them knows you can’t have a successful arts district that is closed on Sunday and after 5 pm on weeknights. But that’s not the real problem. First, you have to drive through Millville to get to the arts district. Nothing, from any direction, screams ‘great art ahead’. No sculptures, paintings or signs. In fact, as most people know, it’s the opposite. Secondly, the marketing of the arts to anyone outside a 20 mile radius of Millville is, to put it politely, pathetic. OK, that wasn’t polite, but very true. Poorly designed brochures, really bad photos, and don’t ask about the video quality of the TV commercials. Have you seen the commercial for Lancaster Pa’s arts district? Amazing and effective. And try finding a central website that actually tells you what is happening in each of the galleries. Or try finding one that will appeal to anyone from outside the area who is seriously looking for an art experience. Effective internet marketing is essential. Even in a good economic climate the arts can be a tough sell.

I want the arts district to succeed. One of the reasons I started my first magazine, ArtBeat, was so I could feature downtown Millville’s ‘Renaissance’ in the premiere issue. I’ve met many excellent artists there and I can’t tell you how many Third Fridays I’ve experienced and, for the most part, thoroughly enjoyed. I had my first real exhibit at the Riverfront Renaissance Center for the Arts.

I’m not a business consultant. I”m not going to make suggestions like closing High Street to traffic for Third Fridays or somehow controlling unsupervised teenagers who want to ruin the art experience for others. Or bringing in innovative video and installation artists to add some much needed new life to the Millville art scene. Or perhaps contacting some commercial artists with real world experience in promoting the arts professionally and creatively. What’s the point of raffles, giveaways and more events if no one is paying attention? No, I’ll leave that to the experts.

I don’t live in Millville anymore but I do care what happens there, especially in the arts district. I have a right to be angry but to their credit, the Millville Development Corp is still exploring options to revitalize downtown Millville before it’s too late.

Joe is right, people don’t necessarily need an art experience but imagine how boring life would be without any.