Thursday, May 28, 2015

True Believers (The AC Times, May 20, 2015)

True Believers  (The AC Times, May 20, 2015)
By Harriet Diamond
I believe that creativity will be the currency of the 21st Century.
Gerald Gordon, President and CEO, Fairfax County Economic Development Authority

Because the arts are integrally entwined in our city’s viability, we are all stakeholders in the future of the arts in Atlantic City. Below are two of the many entrepreneurs who contribute to building an arts community.
Ursula Ryan celebrates 35 years in business in Atlantic City this year as the city works to recapture the excitement of those early years as an entertainment capital.  The owner of the Weist-Barron-Ryan agency, on Atlantic Avenue since 1984, she provides training and opportunity for aspiring actors.   Ursula continues not only  to train actors, but also casino executives, front line staff, politicians, and local TV and radio personalities.  “We’re all actors on a stage called life,” she explains. 
Ursula arrived in the US from Europe in 1960 and went to New York City as a singer.  She studied commercial acting, and the legendary Weist-Barron agency booked her jobs in TV commercials.  She then became a talent agent and was asked to join the group.  When the company decided to sell franchises, Ursula’s talent as an entrepreneur surfaced; she and four others bought the Philadelphia franchise. 
Sal Dupree, a voice coach based in Ventnor, urged Ursula to move her business to South Jersey.  She ultimately settled in Atlantic City.  She worked with Atlantic City icon, (Judge) Jerry Consalvo, a SAG actor and the force behind the Columbus Day Parade, who had a theatre in Ventnor.  Ursula also collaborated with Bill McCullough’s modeling agency.  “We trained Miss America, Suzette Charles, in soap opera acting. We worked with cast members from Annie and had several Miss New Jersey's as clients. 

“Many continue to come to us for speech and presentation improvement.  Acting is a great skill for anything we do in life.  It is so gratifying to see and hear from those who, after our training, got their lives in order and went on to higher education and/or acting careers.“

Local, related projects are important to Ursula.  She recently provided actors for the Atlantic City Ballet’s production of the Nutcracker and for a Casino Reinvestment Development (CRDA) brochure. Weist-Barron-Ryan offers pre-teen workshops along with assisting adult actors.  One current endeavor near to Ursula’s heart is creating a movie with five developmentally disabled actors, some with Downs Syndrome and others with varying degrees of autism.  The project is yielding positive changes in the actors’ interpersonal reactions, self-confidence, self-discipline, and the ability to overcome an impediment such as stuttering.

Ursula continues to develop talent to maintain Atlantic City’s corner of this market.  Each client who goes on to greater opportunities does so with the imprimatur of having studied in our city by the sea.  “We have a great talent pool, in South Jersey.  We can once again attract the film industry. Weist-Barron-Ryan provided 500 cast members for The Warrior, but most of that film was shot in Pittsburgh; just as Boardwalk Empire was filmed in New York.”

“Welcoming filmmakers can put Atlantic City on the map. We have everything to create a first class film location:  Growth for acting as an industry and proximity to NY and Philadelphia make Atlantic City a convenient hub for filming.  By offering tax credits, NJ can compete in this market.”

Steve Kuzma first shared his art in South Jersey when AtlantiCare hired him in 2005 to provide a body of work for its Life Center in Egg Harbor Township.  His reflective paintings and prints, depicting landscapes and seascapes, remain a part that wellness environment.  Steve continues to integrate his calming artwork with healthcare programs throughout the state.  His signature work is both refreshing and relaxing to viewers.  Recalling Atlantic City’s origin as a healing destination, bringing visitors to the salt water and fresh air, Steve reminds us,  “Atlantic City was initially a restorative, healing place.”  He continues to nourish that concept through his art.
Boardwalk art shows, in which Steve has participated, have been a perfect vehicle for marrying art to the environment.  “I love to paint on the boardwalk,” he says.  Steve’s union of art and the environment is demonstrated by his 20’ panorama at Garden Pier, where he currently has a one-person show featuring local themes.  His projects and commissioned work are often murals. In line with his art-is-healing theme, Steve is now working on several health-related projects throughout the state.
Steve expressed gratitude to the Atlantic City arts initiative.  “When my studio in Ocean City was destroyed by hurricane Sandy, Michael Cagno approached me about joining the Arts Garage community.”  The concept is an important one.  Artists need fellowship.  The events at the Garage have been terrific – for the artists and the visitors. Having a place to show their work is so critical to artists.” 
Emphasizing how the arts bring a new demographic to the city, he cites his customers from around the world. Attracting visitors who appreciate the arts strengthens not only the art institutions and the businesses of the individual artists, but the entire community.  Every visitor has to eat somewhere, possibly enjoy some entertainment and the boardwalk, shop a bit, and maybe even gamble.
“Although many good people are working hard to support the arts in Atlantic City, we need to assist artists with living and working space and affordable parking.  Surviving in this economy isn’t easy; it is still a struggle for many. I look forward to a strong initiative that builds on the swelling excitement for the arts in our area.”
DO AC ARTS:  Enjoy the many art, music, dance, film, and other cultural offerings that are embedded in Atlantic City’s history and that are a significant component of the city’s renewal and diversification.

 “True Believers” appears monthly in The AC Times.  Are you a “True Believer”?  Email Harriet Diamond at  Harriet is a retired business owner and management consultant, now living in Atlantic City.  She is the author of eight business and communication books and numerous published articles.  

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