Freeholder Alisa Cooper has been named the southern New Jersey representative to the New Jersey State Council of the Arts
Atlantic County Freeholder Alisa Cooper is no stranger to the arts. A music teacher in Egg Harbor Township and the owner of her own music production company, Alisa Cooper Orchestras, Cooper has been a strong advocate for bringing cultural arts to southern New Jersey and, more importantly, arts education programs to students.
Now, the second-term freeholder is in a great position to make a difference. Late last year, Cooper was sworn into a three-year term on the New Jersey State Arts Council, which disburses millions in grants to artists, theaters, museums and art programs while supporting many arts education programs.
"Obviously, the council represents the whole state and I will work to promote the arts statewide," says Cooper. "But I am also the South Jersey liaison to the council, which means promoting the arts in this area. I have always felt that South Jersey has so much to offer -- from the beaches to the casino to the Boardwalks and so much more -- that anything we can do to add to that mix and any arts we can bring to the area can only improve the area's future."
Cooper's appointment comes at a critical time as many of southern New Jersey's arts organizations are feeling the same economic pinch as the rest of the country.
"Obviously we're all aware that we're in some pretty grim economic times," says Cynthia Lambert, director of the South Jersey Cultural Arts Council, which promotes arts organizations throughout the region. "The challenge for us is to find a way, especially working together, to continue to promote the arts and continue to offer these programs. Our challenge is to do everything possible to develop those partnerships within our member organizations and to work to preserve these organizations and what they offer the community."
Still, the southern New Jersey area may be in an ironic position. With both residents and visitors alike looking for less expensive vacation options, local arts groups could be just the ticket.
"We're hoping that there may be an upside," Lambert says. "We are within a few hours drive of a huge amount of the country's population. People this summer are going to be traveling closer to home and looking for entertainment options that are affordable. Most of our organizations offer programs that aren't expensive. So it's possible we may see an influx of people. Last summer, for example, many people were prepared for a downturn and that didn't happen. We ended up having a good summer."
The arts in the area have also come a long way in recent years. The region has seen the growth of venues such as the Stockton Performing Arts Center at the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, Dante Hall in Atlantic City and the Cape May Stage and East Lynne Theater Company in Cape May, all four of which receive grants from the council.
"The Stockton PAC has been doing some wonderful things and bringing in some wonderful performances," Cooper says. "I've always been a big fan of classical music, and their classical performances through the Bay Atlantic Symphony [another grant receiver] and other groups have been wonderful. But the PAC has been very good at providing a varied mix of programs and performances and they are growing all the time."
Cooper has high praise for Dante Hall's programs as well and its community enrichment programs, but would still like to see Atlantic City aspire to truly large-scale cultural performances.
"The renovations that have been done to Dante Hall are stunning," Cooper says. "It truly is beautiful and they've been doing some wonderful things. But the truth is that within the city, it's the casinos that have the largest and most practical venues. A major orchestra or a Broadway-type production couldn't play at Dante Hall.
"But I have a lot of hope that the casino industry will start to embrace the arts," she says. "And that hope comes from a concert last September at the Borgata. They put on the Bay Atlantic Symphony's 25th anniversary show and it included acts from Cirque de la Symphonie. It was just a major success; a sold-out house and a wonderful performance. I have a lot of hope that it will lead to more nights like that."
Still, nearest and dearest to Cooper's art's aspirations is education. Cooper has already been named to the State Arts Council's arts and education committee. Cooper points out that recent studies have shown that students who participate in music and arts program often excel in academic programs.
"As I said, classical music is a passion for me," she says. "That doesn't mean I don't listen to all types of music because I do. But anything that encourages music appreciation in our schools and classical music in particular will have my support.
Atlantic City is about to get a healthy dose of classical culture courtesy of a very unlikely source.
Members of the Bay-Atlantic Symphony will present a three-day free musical extravaganza at various indoor and outdoor venues in Atlantic City Friday through Sunday, Oct. 14-16.
A large portion of the plan was devoted to creating non-gaming related facilities. Practical amenities such as a grocery store, as well as more cultural offerings such as an arts district, would serve to bring a more family oriented feel to Atlantic City.
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