New Jersey’s Skylands region (also known as the Highlands) is a region that encompasses multiple state and national parks, lakes, working farms, and wineries.
Arts and culture activities, historical attractions and family resorts pepper the rich landscape. And this region also provides clean drinking water to over 5.4 million people in our state — that’s more than half of New Jersey’s residents!
The Skylands region is important and our recent Creative Skylands: Call to Collaboration underscored the urgency felt by residents, business owners, nonprofit and community leaders and elected officials to design creative strategies to strengthen the connectivity of the region, promote their outstanding natural assets, and drive sustainable economic activity.
The Call to Collaboration, held on June 1 and 2, 2015, and hosted by The Growing Stage — the Children’s Theatre of New Jersey in Netcong, was the culmination of an engagement process that champions creativity and creative-thinking, advances dialogues on critical issues, and weaves networks of individuals who are willing to embrace a culture of creativity and step outside of their established business models. This leap can yield innovation, unexpected fruitful partnerships and collaborative practices with a goal of creating communities that are culturally, economically and sustainably prosperous.
Stephen Fredericks, Co-Chair of Creative Skylands and Executive Director of The Growing Stage said, “The Creative New Jersey Skylands Convening provided our region with a unique opportunity to scale down the wide breadth of the area we cover to a meaningful dialogue of what we have, and what we can share. Focusing on Sussex County as well as parts of Morris and Warren allowed us to pinpoint our similarities as well as our differences; our challenges as well as our accomplishments; and most importantly, the connections that we have that will enable all sectors of our region to thrive. This convening allowed us to reach beyond the preconceptions that we entered with and leave with a renewed energy of potential.”
Our work in Skylands marked a number of “firsts” for us at Creative NJ:
- This was the first Call to Collaboration that encompassed such a large geographic area — a tri-county region; we invited and welcomed a diverse group of individuals from throughout Sussex County (from Highpoint to Stanhope), along with northern Warren County and northwestern Morris County.
- The Creative Skylands Host Team marked the first time that one of our creative teams included two high-school students
- The Skylands Call to Collaboration convening had the largest percentage of individuals under 35 years of age than any other community convening held in New Jersey to date (this milestone is all the more important for Skylands because of the sharp drop in the millennial population throughout the region.)
Despite unseasonably cold weather and deluges of rain, Creative Skylands participants took the opportunity to take action and plan next steps. The vibrant conversations and diverse perspectives at the Call to Collaboration included a contingent of business students from Centenary College, high school students from Mount Olive High School, as well as business owners, representatives from chambers of commerce, the environmental sector, agriculture, arts and culture, education, philanthropy, local government, economic development offices and the media.
The participants were an exceptional group of community thought-leaders; these are the people at the forefront of the region’s economic, social, civic and educational sectors — find out more about who participated and read through the notes of the breakout sessions here.
Set against the beautiful backdrop of The Growing Stage’s magnificent murals, nearly fifty dynamic discussions took place over the two-day convening and topics included:
- Agri-business & agri-tourism,
- Attracting and involving younger residents,
- Regional identity and branding,
- Creating vibrant downtowns and encouraging creative placemaking,
- Increasing school pride,
- Connecting seniors, the disabled community and low income residents and workers to services they need, and
- Encouraging investment and an entrepreneurial climate.
Based on our experiences of working in other communities, we know that in the coming weeks and months we will see existing ideas gaining traction while new ideas will spark and take root. We know that unlikely partnerships will flourish and we’ll see an expansion of cross-sector and multi-generational collaboration. It was our great pleasure to work in the Skylands region and we look forward to celebrating their creative ideas taking hold!
Creative Skylands Host Team members included:
Mark Avondoglio, Perona Farms; Stephen L. Fredericks (Co-Chair), The Growing Stage-The Children’s Theatre of New Jersey; Suzanne Ishee (Co-Chair), Center for Creative Placemaking; Jared Janish, Mount Olive High School; Andrea Kirchuk, Mount Olive Area Chamber of Commerce; Courtenay Mercer, Regional Plan Association; Brian Mok, Mount Olive High School; Kristin Muller, Peters Valley School of Craft; Nancy Paffendorf, Centenary College; Jason Sarnoski, Warren County Freeholder; Jim Sheldon, Hackettstown Business Improvement District; Greg Stewart, Mount Olive Area Chamber of Commerce; Laura Szwak, NJ Conservation Foundation.
Elizabeth A. Murphy is the part-time Director of Creative New Jersey. She also regularly consults with other nonprofit and philanthropic organizations. Kacy O’Brien is Creative New Jersey’s Program Manager and is currently a member of Lead New Jersey’s Class of 2015. Creative New Jersey is dedicated to fostering creativity, innovation, and sustainability by empowering cross-sector partnerships in commerce, education, philanthropy, government, and culture in order to ensure dynamic communities and a thriving economy. Creative New Jersey’s leaders and partners are regular contributors to the Dodge blog.