ATLANTIC CITY — It was an unusual sight Wednesday afternoon on Tennessee Avenue that aroused curiosity in the neighborhood.
Some residents watched from their windows while others stopped to ask what was going on as Heather Deegan Hires, 46, of Somers Point, painted a mural on the side of a building.
“We need more culture. We need art,” Deegan Hires said, waving at some of the passers-by. “There’s so much more to Atlantic City.”
Deegan Hires’ mural will be one of 90 art projects featured during Saturday’s “48 Blocks” celebration in the city.
Named for the 48 blocks that make up Atlantic City, the joint project between the Atlantic City Arts Foundation and Stockton University will bring art installations to each of the six wards to engage and inspire residents through arts and culture.
Joyce Hagen, executive director of the Atlantic City Arts Foundation, created the event with Lisa Honaker, Stockton’s dean of the School of Arts and Humanities.
“I am really in awe,” Hagen said. “There’s such a variety of what’s going on, and that all came from the community.”
Hagen, who had worked with the foundation on several art projects throughout the city, approached Honaker last year about a citywide project. Honaker already had the name in mind, she said.
“Somebody had told me once that Atlantic City was 48 blocks long, and I immediately said, ‘that’s a good name for something,’” Honaker said while painting the lights outside the Atlantic City Free Public Library, one of the featured projects.
Establishing a foothold for the arts here has been a challenge over the years. The Casino Reinvestment Development Authority and Atlantic City Alliance have spent millions of dollars on art projects that were either removed or largely ignored, including the park called Wonder that was later turned into a parking lot.
Jennifer Couthen, 66, who lives in the city’s Westside section and works at Sovereign Avenue School, walked by a mural Wednesday on Sovereign Avenue. She said she has lived in the city for most of her life and seen piecemeal art efforts, but the project is something new.
“You knew who the artists were and where they did their art,” she said. “But not a coordinated effort all across the city. That is a really great thing.”
With the goal to help foster pride in the city and to give people a chance to express themselves, Hagen said she hoped the celebration could bring people together.
“I feel like people are so hungry for these kind of things in the city,” Hagen said. “People don’t have the opportunity to do this.”
The event also is giving people the opportunity to share their memories of the city’s past for preservation. Stockton’s South Jersey Culture and History Center will have three-hour time slots in each ward throughout the day Saturday to collect and archive old Atlantic City photos and memorabilia.
They will welcome oral histories and will record people’s stories. The collection will go in the archive at the city library to help document what people miss about the city and what they remember about it, Honaker said.
Luz Sanchez, 24, of Atlantic City, and Marcus Hughes, 28, who grew up in Egg Harbor Township, were busy painting a different mural on Sovereign Avenue in the 5th Ward.
The two were working on a graffiti mural with the words “Mind Power” that faces Sovereign Avenue School. They chose the location to be able to inspire children who walk by.
“This is a good start. It’s a really good thing for A.C.,” Sanchez said.
Sanchez, an artist, said art did not have a large presence in the city while she was growing up.
“Having a project where they’re getting local artists to do art in Atlantic City is pretty cool,” said Hughes, who lives in Jersey City while attending medical school.
The 48 Blocks event will take place from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday. A closing party will be held at the Noyes Arts Garage from 6 to 8 p.m. Some of the artwork on display is permanent.
The art installations, which can be found in the interactive map, include any kind of talent or art form such as murals, yarn bombing, garden tours, ballet, music, puppet shows and even a poetry jitney that will be riding around the city and stopping for different performances.
Deegan Hires said she wanted to paint a mural that symbolized imagination and positive thoughts. It shows a woman with bright colors emerging from her head and body.
One man who passed by Deegan Hires’ mural offered to help take her painting supplies back to her truck when she was done.
“That’s what it’s all about,” she said. “It’s about community.”