Inside his new gallery space at the Arts Garage, Cohen is showing more love for Atlantic City with pieces such as Place Your Bets, which features a jack-in-the-box-like gambling joker created of leather.
So, in the shadow of shops such as Coach, Juicy Couture, and Nike is now a fine-arts gallery and retail space that includes Cohen's studio and 17 other artist spaces. The 16,000-square-foot facility opened Monday and also includes the African American Heritage Museum of Southern New Jersey, which moved from Buena Vista Township.
Through a partnership between Stockton and the state Casino Reinvestment Development Authority (CRDA), the $1.6 million Arts Garage has been installed in the southwest corner of the year-old Wave Garage at Mississippi and Fairmount Avenues. The $30 million parking garage was completed in 2012 by the CRDA as part of a master plan for revitalizing Atlantic City via nongaming development and is adjacent to the Walk, a large outlet complex.
"This space is about something to do in Atlantic City that isn't gaming, isn't eating, and isn't shopping," said Stockton president Herman Saatkamp during the ribbon-cutting, which drew more than 300 people, including artists, local and county dignitaries, and college officials.
Saatkamp said the new gallery was a cornerstone in the CRDA's and the college's quest to create an arts and cultural district. Officials say the site is key to the resort's economic renewal. The entities previously joined to redevelop the old Carnegie Library on Atlantic Avenue into an education and arts center for the college and refurbish an old theater into Dante Hall. Both efforts have been "providing lively cultural events for residents and visitors alike," Saatkamp said.
Stockton, which runs the Noyes Museum in Galloway, has leased the space from the CRDA and will operate the Arts Garage's museum store and 1,200-square-foot satellite gallery. The site will be open Wednesdays through Sundays.
Individual shops will be manned during the five-day week by each of the artists or their staffs and focus on different media, including watercolor and oil paintings, pastels, photography, illustrations, basketry, and found-object art.
The African American Heritage Museum will be the Arts Garage's largest tenant, with a 2,000-square-foot facility that includes artifacts, art, books, manuscripts, music, and films depicting African Americans in a local historical context, said Ralph Hunter, founder of the museum.
Moving the museum from Buena Vista to a busy place like the Walk will allow more people to experience it, he said.
"This isn't just a museum of African American history, it's a museum of American history," Hunter said. "And more people will be able to learn about that history and culture."
That's what excites artist and illustrator Steve Kuzma about his new studio space in the Arts Garage.
"Finding this space is something that all just seemed to fall into place after a very difficult time," said Kuzma, 53, a victim of Hurricane Sandy whose Ventnor home was damaged, as was gallery space he rented in Ocean City, where he lost nearly his entire collection of paintings to the flood that followed the storm.
Though Sandy dealt Kuzma a devastating blow, in the year since, his work has received monetary awards that have helped him get on his feet again, including an A. Gottlieb Award, a Jackson Pollock-Lee Krasner Foundation grant, and a New York Foundation for the Arts grant. He has created works for ABC and CBS, and furnished artwork and designs for five Atlanticare Buildings in New Jersey.
In his new gallery space, Kuzma will feature abstract embellished giclée prints and originals, using watercolor, oils, and pastels to create dynamic landscapes that often depict beach scenes and water views.
"I was so downtrodden by the treatment I received as an evacuee after Sandy hit. But help came to me from all the right places in terms of arts grants and the opportunity to be in this space. It really revalidated what I do," said Kuzma, who has been a professional artist for more than 30 years.