ATLANTIC CITY — One of the largest municipal conferences in the nation returned to the city Tuesday.
Coming with it were rows of products, services and local officials — more than 16,000 of them are anticipated — all convening in the Atlantic City Convention Center for the 102nd annual New Jersey State League of Municipalities conference.
The purpose of the conference is to help share ideas and foster ways for local officials to better their towns.
And at one table, featuring a live demonstration, a simple idea: transforming communities through art.
“We want people to see the big difference that arts are making in the cities,” said Kelley Prevard, 27, an artist who lives in Atlantic City.
Prevard was painting a mural called “Growth,” representing connections and showing patterns and cultures coming together. She wanted to draw attention as people passed by that art is generally a large part of what makes a city attractive, she said.
The effort aimed to help municipalities identify how to bring an art movement to their own towns, said Ann Marie Miller, the director of advocacy and public policy with ArtPride New Jersey Foundation.
“When people say, ‘How do I do this in my town?’ we give them some guidance,” she said.
Prevard was one of the nearly 1,000 representatives from exhibits that lined the convention center floor during the first day of the conference. The three-day annual conference brings municipal leaders from around the state to gather ideas, like an art movement, that could help improve their hometowns.
Near Prevard and the mural were hundreds other products that might contribute to a community in a different way: tractors, emergency vehicles, pipes, snow plows and playground equipment were just a handful of what was on display.
Officials can browse services and products that can help move municipalities forward, and they can attend information sessions to bring back ideas.
The first day of this year’s conference brought hundreds of officials — many of whom traveled from more than 100 miles away — flooding the aisles in the convention center.
“Educationally, I think it’s a great opportunity to be able to meet other fellow elected officials and learn,” said Art Pazan, a councilman from the borough of Glen Rock in Bergen County.
Pazan said he has attended the conference for 12 years. The conference falls at a good time as local officials begin to prepare for the next year’s budget, he said, maybe to gather new ideas to bring back for their own municipality.
Day One of the conference also featured several information sessions that people could attend to learn something new or find guidance on how to improve issues in a community. Some of the Tuesday sessions focused on budget and policy changes, finding partnerships to help transform an empty neighborhood and how to understand the changes to the bail reform system.
Wednesday will bring a mayors’ box lunch discussion on state and local policy. On Thursday, Governor-elect Phil Murphy will appear at the League Luncheon for all delegates to attend.
Harry Moore, a retired mayor of Oldmans Township, Salem County, had his hands full of “freebies” after visiting the tables Tuesday. He said the league offered a booth for almost everything.
“Sometimes you pick up new ideas,” he said. “I take back information that would be useful for public works or others in the township.”