How Have We Weathered Sandy?
“And so we continue to rebuild …”
Those words were spoken by President and CEO John Schreiber in opening remarks for Arts Take Action: Sandy One Year Later, a multimedia program presented by NJPAC and The Star-Ledger on the first anniversary of the superstorm’s landfall. The phrase was a refrain that repeated itself thematically throughout the evening of music, visual art, photography, dance, filmmaking and theater.
A free community forum, Arts Take Action held a mirror to the devastation endured by those affected by Sandy and examined the role of the arts as healer. A diverse audience representing arts and civic organizations, the media and storm relief funders, such as the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, gathered in Prudential Hall to share ways that helped people process their grief and loss.
Host and moderator Brian Donohue, a Star-Ledger reporter, estimated that more than 40,000 New Jersey residents are still displaced. He recalled that when he described the Sandy event to a Union Beach woman whose home was destroyed, she retorted, “Can artists build a house?” It was then that he began thinking of music that gets the dispirited out of bed each morning, novelists who make sense of tragedy and children who turn their fears into artwork.
A screening of Splinters & Sand, an award-winning, half-hour documentary produced by Donohue, Bumper DeJesus and videographers of The Star-Ledger, moved Jersey Shore restaurateur and musician Tim McLoone to tears. His first establishment, McLoone’s Rum Runner in Sea Bright, was lost to a 5-foot swell; he’s been turning down offers from real estate speculators ever since. “We’re going to rebuild this restaurant because we’re supposed to,” he said.
“I’ve been involved from Day One,” Kevin Whitmer, Executive Editor of The Star-Ledger, said of Splinters & Sand, which addresses the restoration of the Shore’s unique culture. “It still gets me.”
The New Jersey Recovery Fund, which is hosted by the Community Foundation of New Jersey with a lead gift from the Dodge Foundation, commissioned new performance works seen at the event. The Atlantic City Ballet presented an excerpt from choreographer Kristaps Kikulis’ In the Eye of the Storm, featuring soloist Sumire Ito (pictured at right) as a beach dweller who finds resilience in the embrace of her community. The piece was inspired by a series of workshops that encouraged Sandy survivors to channel their experiences through movement.
Young Audiences of New Jersey & Eastern Pennsylvania staged The Language of Music with percussionists Josh Robinson, Alex Shaw and Jeremy Dyen, who incorporated Sandy-related wordplay and Brazilian-flavored, call-and-response stylings into their compositions. Playwrights Theatre of New Jersey in Madison stepped up with a segment from Rubble in the Sand, which asked area teenagers stricken by Sandy to convey their personal experiences through poetry and music.
Donohue moderated a panel discussion with McLoone, who is also founder of the charity-driven Holiday Express rock’n’roll bands; Gabor Barabas, Executive Producer of New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch; visual artist Roddy Wildeman, and Mary Eileen Fouratt, Executive Director of Monmouth Arts and President of the ArtPride NJ Board of Trustees. Born and raised on the Jersey Shore, Wildeman creates “Composite Memory Artwork” of boardwalk debris – repurposed into fine art – and donates some of the work back to support relief efforts. The colorful wooden starbursts were displayed in NJPAC’s lobby.
Both Barabas’ theater and a residence for out-of-town actors were severely damaged in the storm. New Jersey Rep responded to the anniversary this fall by staging the reading of a trilogy about Hurricane Katrina (Rising Water, Shotgun and Mold) by New Orleans playwright John Biguenet.
The Arts Society of Keyport was on hand in the lobby to tell visitors about the Butterfly Project of Keyport, a funded plan to restore the town’s beloved public artwork: hand-decorated, fiberglass butterfly sculptures that were affixed to lampposts but literally flew during the storm. (One landed across the bay in Cliffwood Beach and was found six months later.)
A photo gallery curated by The Star-Ledger displayed haunting images of Sandy’s path, including Tony Kurdzuk’s Jetstar at Sunrise, capturing the skeletal remains of the Seaside Heights roller coaster in the ocean, and Andy Mills’ aerial Port After the Storm, depicting a dock and lawn covered with crumpled boats, beached like giant fish.
“Sometimes the last thing you think of is the arts, but artists are part of the community,” said Fouratt, whose Monmouth Arts was approached by social service agencies to help Sandy victims process the calamity.
“The arts can touch you in ways that are unexpected, but can help with coping.”
Oct. 31, 2013