Michael Cagno can't imagine a community without arts, or the arts without the community.

Getting the community involved in the Atlantic City Arts and Cultural District is integral to making it successful, said Cagno, executive director of the Noyes Museum of Art at Stockton College in Galloway Township, the official museum partner for the Lance Fung arts project. The district is an area of Atlantic City where the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority hopes to attract artists as residents and business owners

"We plan to leverage that partnership to get the community involved," Cagno said. "We will be drawing from the New York market, but also want to grow partnerships in our own backyard."

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He said the city already has a core base of arts groups, including the Bay-Atlantic Symphony, the Atlantic City Ballet, Atlantic City Arts Commission and the Chicken Bone Beach Historical Foundation. Beyond that, he wants to tap into the city's schools and ethnic groups.

"The opportunities are endless to connect with them, and with tourists from outside the city" he said. "We have to do both, draw from inside and outside, and we have to be inclusive to be successful."

Cagno said the arts should also be used to generate discussion and debate about important issues in the city. He cited the current art exhibit on homelessness at the Noyes Museum and an accompanying panel discussion as an example of art enriching a public issue.

"That's what art does," he said. "It creates opportunity for dialogue."

The Atlantic City school district has started specialized arts programs, including one that will be held on Saturdays at the New York Avenue School. Atlantic City High School art teacher Ernest Cheatham said he and teacher Jennifer Pullman see the arts district as an opportunity to promote the district's talented students.

"We have so many students who have talent, but they have no background, training or outlet for their art," Cheatham said. "We want to start with students in grades five through eight so by the time they get to high school they have that background and can develop portfolios to get into college.

He said the arts district would provide a venue for students to show their art and learn from professional artists.

"Sometimes students don't take art seriously," he said. "We want to show them they can make it a career."

Henrietta Shelton, president of the Chicken Bone Beach Historical Foundation, which sponsors jazz concerts and a summer jazz camp for students in Atlantic City, said she will work to include local residents and students in district programs.

"Jazz is integral to the area," she said.

MK Thomas, chairman of the Atlantic City Arts Commission, said the commission's role is to act as a conduit to bring together community groups that want to participate in arts activities in the city.

"We are here to assist in promoting the arts in Atlantic City," he said. "We want to work collaboratively with all the different groups so that the arts can be a major player in the community.

He said the commission hopes to start a creative placemaking project that would create jobs and attract tourists. Creative placemaking brings together public, private, nonprofit, and community groups to work to design the physical and social character of an area. The projects are both artistically and economically driven.

"We'd like to do something with the open spaces in the parks," Thomas said.

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