CAMDEN, NJ— Riders of the PATCO Speedline will soon get be treated to an art show when they travel through Camden.

Camden has been named a Bloomberg Philanthropies 2018 Public Art Challenge winner, earning the city $1 million to turn sites along major transit corridors that have long been used for illegal dumping into public art spaces. The city was one of five selected out of 200 applications across the country.

City and county officials announced the award of the grant and the focus of the project, called “A New View,” on Thursday.

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By 2020, seven popular illegal dumping sites located along the Delaware River Port Authority’s PATCO Speedline, NJ Transit’s River Line Light Rail and the Camden Greenway circuit trails will be cleaned up and turned into public art exhibitions and public spaces.

The project will be led by a partnership between Cooper’s Ferry Partnership and Rutgers-Camden Center for the Arts. The collaboration will engage independent curators, the Camden Collaborative Initiative environmental organization, the Camden City Cultural and Heritage Commission, local businesses and residents.

“When you’re talking about working on a public policy initiative as important as illegal dumping, and trying to interphase that with public art to not only build a positive experience for the community, but to change the perceptions that people have about Camden, is one of the most meaningful things we can do,” said Kris Kolluri, CEO of the community and economic development nonprofit Cooper’s Ferry Partnership.

Officials hope the transformation will reduce illegal dumping in the city, change outsider’s perception of Camden and provide more opportunities for the city’s arts and culture to be on full display.

“When you see illegal dumping on an isolated road in the suburbs or in a rural area, its seen as an isolated incident. Here, in the city of Camden it helps to perpetuate every negative stereotype that you’ve heard about the city,” said Cooper’s Ferry Vice President Meiksha Mitchell. “This really is about creating a new view, getting people to think differently about Camden and providing opportunity for arts and culture.”

The works art expected to be featured could be anything from a sculpture to a light projection display, Mitchell said. Once cleaner, the spaces will also feature programming and events for the surrounding community and visitors — something officials hope will help keep the spaces clean and maintained.

“By activating those sites alone, you create those eyes on the street create that opportunity where people no longer feel that this is a site that can be dumped on,” Mitchell said. “Once we get rid of that trash, it really does help send the message that Camden is not the place to get dumped on. And by then replacing that trash with beautiful works of art you really help to change the narrative about what the city of camden is and stands for.”

The spaces will also be monitored by video cameras and the Camden County Metro Police Department.

The Rutgers—Camden Center for the Arts will be overseeing the curation of the artists and art featured in the space.

“That means visioning, what does the artwork look like, how does it get made, how does it get installed,” said university spokesperson Michael Sepanic.

The university intends to work with a number of arts curators to reach out to local, regional and national artists, along with speaking with residents in the surrounding communities to find out what would best represent their community.

“Each neighborhood probably has a different vision of what their space will look like,” Sepanic said.

According to Mayor Frank Moran, illegal dumping costs the city $4 million per year.

“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,” the mayor said in a statement.

In addition to using art to help get rid of illegal dumping the city uses Camden Reports, an online application that allows city residents to report illegal dumping in their neighborhoods. The website is run by the Camden Collaborative Initiative, a partnership between governmental, non-profit, private, and community-based agencies in Camden.

“The revitalization of the city is not only about creating jobs, it's not only about improving the education or only about public safety, but there is a quality of life in the communities that is an integral part of the revitalization,” said Camden County Freeholder Jeffrey Nash, liaison to the Camden County Department of Public Works.

Nash added that Michael Bloomberg, founder of Bloomberg Philanthropies and Bloomberg LP, and Mayor of New York City [2001-2013] visited the South Jersey region in the fall.

In a statement, Bloomberg said, “Public art has the power to bring people together to strengthen their communities. Camden is harnessing that power 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. I’m glad to congratulate Camden on being a winner of our Public Art Challenge.”

The seven spaces that will be turned into public art spaces  have been identified as:

  • Pershing Street between Whitman Avenue and Chestnut Street
  • The intersection of Chestnut Street and Orchard Street
  • The Walter Rand Transportation Center
  • Cooper’s Poynt Waterfront Park
  • 401 Erie St.
  • 1401 Federal St.
  • East State Street Bridge

The other cities awarded the Public Arts Challenge grant were Anchorage, Alaska for “SEED Lab,” Coral Springs in partnership with Parkland, Florida for “Inspiring Community Healing After Gun Violence: The Power of Art,” Jackson, Mississippi for “Fertile Ground,” and Tulsa, Oklahoma for “The Greenwood Art Project.”

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