How Arts Can Transform a Region
From day one, Kim Ayres has been at the center of Millville’s art renaissance. As the city’s planning director, she led the creation of its Glasstown Arts District in 1999, then solicited Cumberland County College (CCCNJ) to locate its arts school, Clay College, on its main thoroughfare. In an area hungry for opportunity, Glasstown and Clay College both proved successful. But by 2015, the district had plateaued and the school had outgrown its space.
Now at CCCNJ, Kim joined an array of cross-sector partners in proposing a bold solution: the Cumberland County College Arts and Innovation Center. The plan quadrupled Clay College’s space, with more classrooms and computer labs to expand courses, professional studios and gallery space for making and displaying art and a new community space. It would also relocate the school to the heart of Glasstown.
“We are a distressed region, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have extraordinary projects.”
– Kim Ayres, Cumberland County College
The biggest barrier to the vision was project financing. The college covered some costs of land and development, but a big gap remained. Through THRIVE South Jersey, NJCC provided Millville Urban Redevelopment Corporation, the lead developer, $6.9 million in New Markets Tax Credits to fill the gap. The local partners took it from there.
The new center was buzzing in January. Students were already using their new space to grow as young artists and entrepreneurs. Just by creating art, they were the foundation for an economy, an identity and an infusion of opportunity for an entire region – one in which all three have long been suppressed. “Art can drive our economy,” Kim says. “We have brought excitement back to our downtown.”