When the talented sculptor Boris Blai founded the Long Beach Island Foundation for the Arts and Sciences in 1948, he was looking to build an ecosystem that would nurture creativity and inspire residents and visitors alike. 70 years later, LBIF is much more than just a hub for thousands of art classes, exhibitions, and workshops—it’s a devoted community.
This is never more evident than in the new Executive Director the organization has chosen to lead them into the next 70—Daniella Kerner was a volunteer with the foundation for 25 years before being asked to take the helm. An artist in her own right, her career has strong parallels to that of their founder—she recently retired after teaching for 40 years at the Tyler School of Art at Temple University, where Blai was the founding dean.
“Art is what has always led the way at the foundation,” says Kerner, who is also co-chair of the LBIF Arts Committee. “But the science arm is Blai’s academic legacy – he was a teacher, and he really valued education.”
The blending of the two disciplines is one of the many things that has made LBIF so unique to the region, Kerner explains. This summer, the foundation will convene representatives from 13 of the top landscape architecture and design firms in the nation to showcase projects dealing with coastal sustainability. “(The show) will hopefully drive public awareness on efforts to preserve the coastline,” Kerner says. “This is crucial for the Jersey Shore, and the foundation wants to be actively involved in projects that will allow us to be more ecologically sustainable.”
Ensuring diversity in their programming is also a top priority heading into the foundation’s next chapter. “One of my goals is to offer a variety of studio experiences – as many as possible –because there are so many different mediums today,” Kerner explains. “Having content that appeals to all ages and interests is critical to remaining relevant and cutting edge.”
That is especially true given that for many visitors, their experience with the foundation is multi-generational. “I met a couple the other day who put their kids through (the LBIF) summer camp, and now those children are grown, and their grandchildren are attending classes,” Kerner says. “The foundation really brings families together, and we often don’t even know the extent of the impact we’re having on generations of lives.”
Of course, the reality of being an arts-focused nonprofit also provides its own set of challenges for the upcoming years. “It really requires a team effort to not only grow, but even just to sustain (as an organization financially),” Kerner says. “But we don’t just need dollars and cents, we also need participants – we need volunteers, we want to draw upon the talent pool that we have here in the community.”
Thankfully, the foundation’s reputation is also garnering acclaim and attention across the country. Their latest national competition, “Works on Paper,” attracted 71 artists from 48 states, and is juried by Kim Conaty, Curator of Drawings and Prints at The Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City.
“We’re proud to showcase regional, and national, and international artists all in one place,” Kerner says. “We’re attracting artists and curators who are really interested in what we’re putting on.”
That their outreach is so widespread is news to some, but as the foundation reaches an inflection point in its history, Kerner is not surprised: “Long Beach Island really wouldn’t be the same without the foundation.”