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.
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
“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
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.