lb art park 1The 19th annual Art in the Park outdoor art and artisanal crafts fair returns to West End Park and Brighton Avenue in Long Branch on Sunday, May 28. (photo credit: Christopher Anthony)

LONG BRANCH — “Eclectic” is the word, for the artist-friendly Long Branch, NJ neighborhood known as West End. Occupying a geographical “sweet spot” between the city’s celebrated beaches and the cultural crossroads of nearby Monmouth University, the community’s coffeehouses, taverns, storefronts and stages have nurtured generations of painters, poets, pundits and performers — even inspiring a certain young troubador to pen a little tune by the name of “Born to Run.”

 

With the announcement of the ambitious new West End Arts Center, the old neighborhood stands poised to take its place as a genuine arts destination in years to come — and here at the threshold of another exciting new season on the New Jersey Shore, one of the area’s true signifiers of summer gets set to welcome Memorial Day Weekend 2017 in colorful style.

For nearly 20 years, the Art in the Park event has transformed the corner of Ocean and Brighton Avenues into one of the largest such outdoor happenings in the Garden State; a free public-welcome art and artisanal crafts fair that puts the focus on the original and the unique, as opposed to commercially produced “craft sale” merchandise. When Art in the Park pitches its tents for a 19th annual edition on Sunday, May 28, the popular attraction will represent an eclectic mix of successful tradition and an ever-evolving, expansive new creative spirit.

lb art park 2PHOTO: Long Branch sculptor Fred Mayr is among the dozens of returning artists in various media taking part in the 2017 Art in the Park event in Long Branch. The 19th annual outdoor art and artisanal crafts fair comes back to West End on Sunday, May 28. (photo credit: Christopher Anthony)

Sponsored by the Long Branch Arts Council and Long Branch Historical Association, with support from the City of Long Branch, the event takes place between the hours of 10 a.m. and 5 p.m., in a sunlit seaside setting that’s just one block from the beach — and within strolling or rolling distance to an equally eclectic menu of food and beverage options — with plenty of free parking to sweeten the deal.

In the words of event coordinator Mare Akana, the real secret of Art in the Park’s success is the fact that “ the artists love it too…and that really comes across.” As multi-faceted as the event that she coordinates each year, the Tinton Falls resident is herself an eclectic artist — a gallery exhibited painter, sculptor, jewelry designer and ceramicist; a stage and voice actor; Visual Arts Coordinator and instructor for the West End Arts Center; a choreographer, and even a trained hula dancer, as befits her Honolulu origins.

For Memorial Weekend 2017, Art in the Park expands from its West End Park base of operations to take on more of a “street fair” atmosphere within the surrounding neighborhood, with Brighton Avenue closed to vehicular traffic between Ocean and Second avenues for the duration of the Sunday event.

Also new for 2017 is the debut of The VFW Jazz Band as featured providers of live entertainment. With a membership that includes high school students, teachers, business owners and members of VFW Post 2179, the 20-piece big band under the direction of Joe Miceli paints with a sonic palette of swing, pop, Latin, rock and patriotic/military styles that could only be called, of course, “eclectic.” The band, which will play multiple sets throughout the day, will be donating its fee to the programs of Post 2179, located just up Route 36 in the Port Monmouth section of Middletown Township.

Last year’s edition saw hundreds of visitors and more than 50 participating artists enjoying a day of light, color, activity, music, friendly people and all-around good vibes. For Art in the Park 2017, a contingent of first-timers will be joining dozens of returning painters, sculptors, jewelry designers and photographers — including previous category winners Bill Bunting (works on canvas), Emily Donovan (works on paper), Fred Mayr (sculpture), and Cornelius Williams (photography).

“This has become a ‘must’ event for our artists, who make the trip here from four states,” Akana explains “So if you’re shopping for something unique for your home or as a gift, you’ll be able to find things you’ll never see in any store…and talk to the people who created it, person to person.”

There’s still time for interested artists to take part in Art in the Park 2017, with entries accepted no later than Thursday, April 20. Submissions are being sought in the categories of Works on Paper, Works on Canvas, Sculpture, Mixed Media, Photography, Ceramics, and Special Materials (including wood, glass or plastic) — however, no additional submissions in the categories of jewelry and fiber/fabric art are being considered at this time.

Honors will be awarded in all categories, so whether you’re a seasoned pro or a relative rookie, this can be a great opportunity to get your work before the public, in a supportive and highly visible setting. Guest juror for this year’s event will be Hal Stacy, retired art department chair at Tom River East High School, and a gallery exhibited artist whose work has been seen at venues throughout the eastern United States and Europe.

Full details on artist registration (including entry fee, available tent/stall locations and load-in time) and additional information on Art in the Park can be obtained by contacting event coordinator Mare Akana at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

The Long Branch Arts Council is a partnership dedicated to working with the city government, civic and business organizations and the arts community to re-establish the City of Long Branch as a thriving regional center for the arts. Our aim is to accomplish this goal by attracting artists and arts organizations, by coordinating fundraising and development efforts, by establishing arts education programs, and by presenting arts-oriented events that draw upon the natural resources, accessibility, historic assets and “people power” that are unique to our beloved city.