The New Arts and Culture of LBI

By Matt Burton

The art landscape of LBI has changed a lot in recent years. What seems to have taken place overnight was actually the result of the hard work of many individuals to raise awareness of the arts and culture of LBI.

As a young artist on LBI, I heard stories about the artists and dealers from the 1960s and 70s: Marvin Levitt, Sydney Rothman, and Jane Law to name a few. Even the great conceptual artist Robert Smithson visited LBI in 1969. These were artists, educators, and larger-than-life characters who were part of an amazing period of art on LBI.

Having spent my childhood summers in Harvey Cedars, I settled in the area after grad school in 1999 and opened the m.t.burton gallery & 19th St. Clay Studio in Surf City. Around this time a few other young artists started to emerge, including Mary Tantillo and Julie Goldstein.

Matt Burton with his wall sculpture, “Vannus” (Stoneware, slips and oxidation glazes) Photo by Glenn D. Hudson

In 2005, Tantillo helped create the first annual LBI Artists Open Studio Tour, an opportunity for guests to visit artists in their studios. This initiated a revitalization of the visual arts on LBI. In 2009, artist Kristin Myers and I started a series of potluck dinners for artists at the LBI Foundation of the Arts & Sciences (LBIF). The casual atmosphere proved popular as artists would share ideas and commiserate about challenges. Another group of artists based in Manahawkin, led by painter Samantha Palmeri, called themselves “The Intersection.” This group gathered socially and also collaborated on performance pieces and site-specific installations.

Like many other industries, it did not take long for the recession to take its toll on the arts. Moves by established organizations to attract new revenue sources to LBI favored big-city solutions and outsourced event production, overlooking local artists with amazing talent and a lot to offer. How could such an incredible resource—our artists and unique culture—go untapped?

Marvin Levitt, “Fisherman” (oils) photo by Matt Burton.

A solution presented itself in 2012, when Long Beach Township Sustainability Coordinator, Angela Andersen, partnered with the LBIF to apply for and win an Our Town planning grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. The goal was to draft a “creative placemaking” plan for LBI. Through this grant, arts and culture would be enriched within the community while supporting tourism and local commerce through an innovative local/regional planning process. I was invited to be an adviser and consultant on the creative team, along with over 40 other local business owners, directors, and artists whose job was to draft and implement the plan.

Matt Burton, “Precious Breach” (Stoneware, slips and oxidation glazes)

Photo by John Carlano

From the plan, the LBI Arts Council was formed in the fall of 2015. Today, I serve as the President of this group, which produces and organizes the LBI Artists Open Studio Tour, consists of over 60 members, and partners with several local organizations to create opportunities and raise awareness of the arts and culture of LBI. The growing number of artists and galleries here is an indication of a strong arts industry on LBI.

For more information on the LBI Arts Council or to get involved, contact lbiartcouncil@gmail.com

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