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In Nov. 2021 after ten years of our evolving mission and impact, we changed our name to Gathering Ground. You may still find reference to our old name Creative New Jersey in posts created prior to Nov. 2021.

How Do You Build a Truly Creative Community?

Originally posted on the Geraldine R. Dodge Blog.


I want to live in a community with neighborhood art galleries, interesting music options, different kinds of food, places to perform, theaters and a culture that values the arts and the environment.

It’s not surprising, but the places we want to live in are the ones that have embraced and fostered creativity and sustainability. When asked about the qualities that people want in a region, they are experiential; we want a mix of influences and real experiences.

And municipal leadership is taking note, because the towns that are delivering real and diverse living experiences are prospering. The presence of a vital arts community can improve the economy by revitalizing it. To be successful, towns must be open to diversity and must actively work to cultivate a creative culture while investing in the things that people really want and use.

There is an increasing body of knowledge that firmly establishes the link between the arts, creativity and positive outcomes for communities.

Research suggests that both the image and the social fabric of a town can be improved with well thought-out investments in arts and culture.


Sustainable Jersey Arts and Creative Culture Actions

But, great places for the arts don’t happen by accident. They are built and maintained by many people, who through their leadership, work to make the place what it is. That’s why Sustainable Jersey’s Arts and Creative Culture Task Force, has developed three steps or “actions” that will help communities be more creative. Each link below provides you with all of the information you will need to get started, including how to do the action, costs, resources and benefits of each action.

  • Establish a Creative Team: The first step is to form a Creative Team that will be the catalyst for development in your community by linking arts and culture directly to sustainability.
  • Do a Creative Assets Inventory: Knowing what your community’s creative assets are (compiling a Creative Assets Inventory – CAI), will help your community to explore its strengths and discover what makes it distinct.
  • Do a Creative Placemaking Plan: A Creative Placemaking Plan includes a set of strategies to make a place more sustainable through – and for – arts and culture in ways that enhance the positive, distinct qualities of the place and make the most of existing resources. The plan will draw the connections among cultural, community and economic development.

“People like to be recognized for their hard work. That’s why Sustainable Jersey is successful in getting municipalities to do more to protect their environments, enhance economic opportunity and improve quality of life in their communities,” said Leonardo Vazquez, who is the chair of the Task Force, the founding director of Arts Build Communities and the executive director of the National Consortium for Creative Placemaking. “Riding that wave, Sustainable Jersey’s Arts and Creativity Taskforce created three actions that together can help a municipality get 20 percent of the points it needs for certification.  This, in turn, will help creative placemaking become integrated into a community’s planning and policies.”

City of Bordentown’s Creative Team

Vicki Gaudier is a member of the City of Bordentown’s Green Team in New Jersey.  Bordentown is Sustainable Jersey silver-certified and has embraced the new Sustainable Jersey Arts and Creative Culture Actions. Bordentown established its creative team, with Vicki as its Chair, and is now developing a Creative Assets Inventory.

She said, “It’s amazing how many arts and cultural groups Bordentown actually has and we are only one square-mile large.”  She’s excited about the collaboration between the Green Team and the creative community. The Creative Team will partner with Bordentown City commissions, organizations and civic groups to insure inclusion of the arts in annual and special events. The collaboration first began when the annual green fair and a town art show was scheduled for the same day.  The organizers met and found ways to join the two events; ever since then the groups have worked together on many initiatives and feel that it is a natural fit.

From the artist that makes sculptures from recycled materials and created a lamp out of 1,000 collected salt and pepper shakers to the local guitarist who organizes music events that benefit the local food bank, to the many fine artists in residence, the City is culturally rich.  Vicki sees a link between the growing cultural resources and the wave of young adults that are returning to live and raise their families in Bordentown. The City is experiencing a revival.  I think the benefits of the collaboration are evident in the beautiful poster for the fifth annual Bordentown City Green Fair that is on June 14.

MoCo Arts Corridor

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A great regional example of the benefits of the creative community is the MoCo Arts Corridor which is both a physical and cooperative initiative designed to promote the many art, cultural, and historic assets in Monmouth County, New Jersey. Their mission is to make the Central Jersey Shore a cultural destination of choice. The MoCo (Monmouth County) Partnership includes government agencies, civic groups, artists, businesses, educational institutions, tourism and transportation organizations that are leveraging the economic power the arts create for the good of the entire community.

The group participated in Arts Build Communities’ coaching and is now under the umbrella of the Monmouth County Arts Council, developing strategies to capitalize on the numerous arts assets in the region and the local transportation system to raise the profile of the arts in the region and to increase tourism, an important part of the local economy. Learn more and get the latest updates by liking the MoCo Corridor Facebook page.

Asbury Park Cultural Plan

The Asbury Park Cultural Plan has some elements that are required in the Sustainable Jersey Creative Placemaking Plan. The Plan, created before the Sustainable Jersey action was available, was a direct result and born out of the Cultural Arts Plan for Monmouth County. In Asbury Park, the Plan developed out of a partnership between the Arts Coalition of Asbury Park (ArtsCAP), Black Box, Asbury Park Urban Enterprise Zone Program, and the Monmouth County Arts Council. From this process, ArtsCAP emerged as a local arts council and is responsible for facilitating the development and advancement of the plan.

Mark Your Calendar: Creative Communities Events

Creative New Jersey is a statewide initiative that champions creativity, innovation and sustainability through community engagement and cross-sector collaboration.

Representatives of the organization are on the Sustainable Jersey Arts and Culture Task Force. The organization has worked in Orange, Rahway, Morristown, Trenton, and Monmouth County in New Jersey.

Creative New Jersey is hosting an important Creative Communities event on Tuesday, June 10 from 1 to 4:30 pm at the Foundation for Educational Administration in Monroe Township (click the link for more information and to register).

It’s a perfect opportunity to connect with and learn from others that are leading the efforts in Creative Monmouth/Creative MoCo Arts Corridor, Creative Morristown, Creative Rahway, Creative Orange, Creative Trenton, Creative Highlands and Creative Elizabeth. Attendees will learn about towns that are launching this work in their own communities, and discuss trends, challenges and solutions.

In addition, theCreative Placemaking Leadership Summit is on June 19 in Newark. The event offers you an opportunity to learn from successful practitioners, as well as share your own insights.  It will be held from 9 am to 4 p.m. at North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority, One Newark Center.  The event is free, but seats are limited (Click the link above for more information and to register).

Sustainable Jersey’s Arts and Creative Culture Task Force

Sustainable Jersey is fortunate to have the vision and expertise of the volunteer Task Force.  The Task Force is chaired by The National Consortium for Creative Placemaking’s Executive Director, Leonardo Vazquez, and includes representatives from public sector and arts organizations, including:  Karen Pinzolo of ArtPride New Jersey; Suzanne Ishee of Center for Creative Placemaking;  Elizabeth Murphy of Creative New Jersey; Wendy Liscow of Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation; Kadie Dempsey of Morris Arts; Kristen Wegner of New Jersey Arts Education Partnership and Larry McCullough, formerly of Woodbridge Township. This group worked with Sustainable Jersey staff on the actions, along with Morris Bellamy, a former board member of Arts Build Communities.  In addition, there is a new subcommittee of the Arts and Creative Culture Task Force that is working on developing actions for Sustainable Jersey for Schools, a program schedule to launch in October 2014.

What kind of community would you like to live in? Tell us in the comments below.

Connect with Sustainable Jersey on its Website and Facebook page.

Donna Drewes is one of the principals that founded and now co-directs Sustainable Jersey. She is a professional planner with nearly 30 years of experience in sustainable development and natural resource management planning.

Images courtesy of Sustainable Jersey.


“The convening in Orange of 80+ people last March under the banner of the Orange Call to Collaboration allowed us the opportunity to expand our arts-as-the-engine-of-urban-revitalization movement from 15 blocks to the whole city of 33,000 people. The Orange Call to Collaboration is becoming an umbrella for public and private initiatives to innovatively confront our urban challenges and to celebrate our culture and diversity.”

– Patrick Morrissy, Former Executive Director, HANDS, Inc. (Orange)