On a weekday evening, it’s not hard to get a prime seat for one of Paul Jost’s jazz concerts just off the Boardwalk in Atlantic City.
Jost plays his shows on the 7-acre site that used to be home to the demolished Sands Casino Hotel. So far, not many people seem to know they can go listen to free, live music from a four-piece band led by a singer whose Atlantic City history traces back to the legendary Club Harlem.
“I love it. I come here every week,” said Josea Richardson, of Galloway Township, a fan of Jost, and of jazz in general, who was one of about 20 people in the crowd for the Jost Project’s concert last week. “But I don’t think they get it out to the people that this is here. I don’t think people know about this.”
Jost is scheduled to play every Wednesday — and other artists are set to play every evening — of the summer at Artlantic: Wonder, the art park born on the old Sands site last year. The Sands was knocked down to make room for a Pinnacle Entertainment casino project that never materialized, and that left a huge vacant lot in the heart of the city, between Pacific Avenue and the Boardwalk and right next to Park Place.
The Atlantic City Alliance, the casino-funded marketing association, and the state Casino Reinvestment Deveopment Authority cooperated to replace that vacant lot with Artlantic: Wonder, which features works by six artists displayed in a landscaped area dominated by two manmade hills.
People passing by on the Boardwalk can catch glimpses of the art park if they happen to be looking away from the ocean when they walk by the Indiana Avenue or Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard street ends. But so far, there are no signs on the Boardwalk telling people they could take a short side trip to see a sort of sculpture grounds in Atlantic City — although the alliance’s Jeff Guaracino said Friday that the agency has started putting up a sign promoting the evening performances in the park.
“We just started (in June), and it’s hard in any new programming to build an audience, but we’re committed to it,” Guaracino said.
He said another Artlantic park is drawing bigger-than-expected crowds with two exercise sessions every morning of the summer. The Etude Atlantis site, on the Boardwalk at California Avenue, is getting as many as 40 people for a free boot-camp class and Zumba sessions offered every day at 9 and 10 a.m.
Boot-camp leader Dina Buttino had a smaller group than that Sunday morning, but her class also drew some Boardwalk spectators to watch all the huffing and puffing and stretching happening in the smaller art park.
“We’re encouraged by what we’re seeing early on, but monitoring it to see what’s a hit and what’s not,” Guaracino said. “We have a variety of programs that we’re trying ... looking at ways to activate” the parks.
The sponsors recently made two major improvements to their first art installations. First, they put up signs identifying the artists and explaining some of their visions for the works. And second, the alliance and the CRDA added more entrances to the sprawling Wonder park, which used to just have two ways in and out, and fences everywhere else.
“People actually cross the park now,” Guaracino said. “But we have to keep the fencing up for public safety. ... Once the sun goes down, the park closes.”
Lance Fung, the curator of the Artlantic project, is proud of the two new artists at the Wonder site: Jed Morfit, a professor at The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, and Robert Lach, of West Orange, Essex County.
Fung was one of a crew of people from his Fung Collaboratives — plus Lach — who were pulling weeds out of the clamshell walkways at the Wonder site last week, during Jost’s concert. Fung said part of that park is waiting to be reseeded after its grass was killed last year by Hurricane Sandy’s flooding.
Jost, of Vineland, said he hopes to see a bigger crowd in that big park Aug. 10, at a release party for his new CD, “Can’t Find My Way Home.”
And although they were in an even smaller crowd Sunday than the concert audience, Edward Keegan and his daugthers, Meaghan and Miranda, 4 and 6, of South Amboy, Middlsex County, said they enjoyed their visit to Artlantic: Wonder.
“I saw the trail and the signs,” said Edward, an elevator installer — who was scheduled to work on the canceled Pinnacle project. “And then my daughters went up the mountain and found the pirate ship,” the kid-magnet of an art project by Ilya and Emilia Kabakov.
“I like it,” the dad added. “I love stuff like this for the kids.”
The alliance and the CRDA are trying to appeal to all kinds of audiences with their art parks.
“Remember, last year at this time, they were vacant eyesores,” Guaracino said.
Contact Martin DeAngelis: