How can we create greater cultural understanding and collaboration?
How can we use public space in non-traditional ways that benefit the entire community?
How do we keep the cultural history of Asbury Park “alive” in the redevelopment of Asbury Park?
How can we create Asbury Park as THE destination place of NJ?
These were some of the questions that Jen Souder and others wrestled with during the Creative Asbury Park Call to Collaboration in January 2017. A number of ideas resulted from these conversations and one of the projects to emerge is already seeing progress.
We asked Asbury Park resident Jen Souder, who is passionate about sharing Asbury Park’s cultural heritage and is trained in landscape architecture and planning, to share what’s been happening.
CNJ: How did this project come about?
JS: At the Creative Asbury Park Call to Collaboration in January 2017, a session about cultural heritage on the first day turned into a full-day track about cultural heritage and tourism on the second day of the convening. Intense conversations and a deep passion for the topic led to a community-driven collaborative effort to move forward a new initiative: the Asbury Park African American Music Heritage Project.
CNJ: For those who don’t know much about Asbury Park, what is its musical legacy?
JS: Not only were the sounds of music icons such as Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington and Count Basie heard in venues throughout Asbury Park, New Jersey but also the culture of jazz, R&B, and gospel played out informally on front porches and in backyards around town. Asbury Park’s famous spots such as the Orchid Lounge may be gone but the sounds and stories that flowed from these venues linger in the community’s collective memory and need documentation as we are losing many from the generation who experienced this music in person. This heritage is a source of joy for the community and reflects common threads shared with African American communities across the state and the nation. This rich heritage has been celebrated through exhibits (e.g. Asbury Park’s Springwood Avenue Harmony: Celebrating The West Side’s Unique Musical Legacy), programs (e.g. Jazz Legends of Asbury Park, Asbury Angels), movies (e.g. Just Before Dawn), and publications (e.g. Asbury Park: Where Music Lives). In 2011, the Smithsonian’s New Harmonies program demonstrated the value of telling history through music with a traveling exhibit that debuted in Asbury Park, hosted by the Asbury Park Public Library.
CNJ: How are those of you involved in this project moving your idea forward?
JS: Today, the Asbury Park Public Library, City of Asbury Park, neighborhood historians, Asbury Park Historical Society, Bruce Springsteen Archives, the Proper Foundation and others, are working together to build these resources and develop an historic research report, oral histories and a presentation that documents and shares Asbury Park’s African American music heritage (1920-1970). The project will serve as a resource for the City’s cultural initiatives (heritage trail and programs, interpretive elements, visual and performance art) and showcase this important NJ history, making it accessible to all who live in and visit Asbury Park.
CNJ: What are you hoping to accomplish?
JS: Travel + Leisure named Asbury Park one of the best places to travel in 2016. Most people have heard something about Asbury Park – the opening of an award-winning hotel, the Music in Film festival, a new Haitian business or Mexican restaurant or the LGBTQ Pride Celebration. Although tourism is “booming,” the community suffers from a long history of racial divide and negative perceptions persist. There are many positive things to point to in Asbury Park but the community still reflects the profound impacts of systematic racism. Springwood Avenue was once the heart of Asbury Park’s African American community, lined with music venues and many African American owned businesses. The project team submitted a grant proposal this week to the NJ Historical Commission with the following outcomes:
We aim to:
- Create an accessible resource that reflects Asbury Park’s African American music heritage for the City and others to use as a basis for interpretive heritage projects;
- Address a lack of representation in traditional historic resources and give voice to the stories of the African American community that are often marginalized;
- Provide opportunity for community members, including youth historians, to contribute, cultivate skills, and gain awareness about career paths in history and related fields;
- Engage all who live and visit Asbury Park in the active exploration, enjoyment, interpretation, understanding, and preservation of Asbury Park African American music heritage, an important part of New Jersey history.
CNJ: If others are interested in getting involved, what should they do?
JS: For more information, please contact me, Jennifer Souder @ email@example.com
Jennifer Souder participated in the Creative Asbury Park Call to Collaboration on January 11 & 12, 2017.
Jennifer Souder, ASLA, LEEP AP BD+C is an Asbury Park resident committed to community justice, equity and sustainability. Trained in landscape architecture, she works toward sharing cultural narratives, collective heritage and stories of place. She spent many years at the Queens Botanical Garden leading the master planning process with an emphasis on sustainability and cultural expression. The Garden’s Visitor Center was the first new public facility in NYC to earn LEED® Platinum certification.
Header Image: The Green Book helped promote black-owned businesses and included many establishments in the Springwood Ave. corridor in Asbury Park. Covers of the Green Book, NYPL Digital Collections.