Camden wins Bloomberg Philanthropies Public Art grant

By Phaedra Trethan, Cherry Hill Courier Post, January 24, 2019

(Camden, NJ) The City of Camden will receive a $1 million grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies to clean up blighted areas around its transit corridors — and to turn those spaces into showcases for public art.

Camden, which learned last summer it was among the finalists to win the grant, set itself apart because of the engagement of city, county and transit agencies, and because of the collaborative relationships between government and the city's arts and nonprofit sectors, said Kate Levin.

Levin, who oversees art programs for Bloomberg Philanthropies, said in a phone interview that the nonprofit weighed cities' applications based on a variety of criteria, including their collaboration with the arts community, "the potential to help create really interesting and engaging artwork, and their relationships with artists."

"Public art tends to build bridges and strengthen civic infrastructure," she noted. "It requires a certain level of engagement, and so when we looked at the applicants, we looked for projects that would benefit from this sort of approach."

Camden's proposed project, "A New View," will turn spaces like the former Reliable Tire factory site — now an empty, trash- and graffiti-blighted block in the city's Gateway section —  into public art spaces. Items illegally dumped there would be removed, and the space would be transformed into multipurpose spaces hosting art installations and community forums, according to a proposal submitted last year by the city, Cooper's Ferry Partnership and Rutgers–Camden Center for the Arts.

The lot is adjacent to the PATCO Hi-Speedline, which ferries thousands of riders daily through Camden — riders whose perceptions of the city are shaped by what they see as they ride past.

"We are going to work to not only create art installations, but craft and construct places where our community can thrive and what we hope to be the very definition of a third place for residents outside their home and workplace," said Jeffrey Nash, Camden County freeholder and vice chair of the Delaware River Port Authority, which oversees PATCO.

"This project will not only enhance the city, but it will create cultural destinations along the most highly traveled routes in Camden ... This will be a win-win for the city by not only clearing fallow land, but making it the center of our community."

Cooper's Ferry CEO Kris Kolluri told the Courier-Post the Bloomberg Philanthropies money was "one of the most meaningful grants from one of the most important foundations that Camden has ever received."

The artwork will "significantly and positively change the visual experience for Camden residents and the 40,000 riders who take PATCO through the city every day," he added.

The work will stretch along the corridor, "incorporating art into the neighborhood so residents can enjoy it and visitors get a visual narrative of Camden that is worthy of its beauty."

Seven sites have been chosen for art installations whose form, medium and scale have yet to be determined, Cooper's Ferry representatives said Thursday: 

• Pershing Street between Whitman Avenue and Chestnut Street;

• Chestnut Street and Orchard Street;

• the Walter Rand Transportation Center;

• Cooper's Poynt Waterfront Park;

• 401 Erie Street;

• 1401 Federal Street; and 

 • the East State Street bridge.

Site cleanup and preparation would begin in the spring, said Meishka Mitchell of Cooper's Ferry. Interim programming would also begin, and requests for proposals would go to local and national artists and arts organizations; installations, she said, would likely begin in 2020.

"This winning project provides a unique way to bring together residents and artists to address this issue with creativity and create a brighter future for Camden," said Camden Mayor Frank Moran.

"Illegal dumping is a scourge in many cities, and sadly it's not unique to Camden," said Levin. "It's a huge factor in the quality of life." 

Camden's proposal, she added, suggested key sites, including the Reliable Tire site on Chestnut Street, "which highlight the visibility of (the planned artworks) and impacts people's perception of the city."

Cooper's Ferry, Rutgers–Camden Center for the Arts, the Camden Collaborative Initiative and the Camden City Cultural and Heritage Commission will take the lead on the project. 

"Camden is harnessing (the power of art) by transforming dumping sites into works of art along the city's public transit routes, which will symbolize — and further spur — the city's ongoing resurgence," Michael Bloomberg, the former New York City mayor, media mogul and philanthropist, said in a statement.

Four other cities won Bloomberg Philanthropies' Public Art grants: Anchorage, Alaska; Coral Springs/Parkland, Florida; Jackson, Mississippi; and Tulsa, Oklahoma. The grants were open to cities with populations greater than 30,000 people; more than 200 cities applied.

Phaedra Trethan: @CP_Phaedra; 856-486-2417;