CAMDEN, NJ—A proposed project to convert vacant lots in Camden into public art spaces has been selected as a national finalist to receive up to $1 million in funding.

Bloomberg Philanthropies announced Wednesday morning the finalists of the 2018 Bloomberg Philanthropies Public Art Challenge, a program that “aims to foster creative collaboration, address civic issues, and support local economies through public art.”

Camden, along with 13 other cities from across the nation, have been invited to submit a full proposal.

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The proposed project is a collaborative effort between the City of Camden, Cooper’s Ferry Partnership  and Rutgers-Camden Center for the Arts to turn vacant lots along the northern side of PATCO transit line — often used for illegal dumping —  into community gathering sites centered around public art.

CFP President and CEO Kris Kolluri said that depending on if the project is funded and the amount that is awarded, five to seven lots of different shapes and sizes could be transformed from blighted, empty lots into community gathering spaces.

“We’re thinking much more broadly than just installing the art,” said Kolluri.

Historically, Kolluri said, people from outside the city have used vacant lots in Camden to illegally dump their unwanted trash. This project would highlight the “negative effects and harmful nature” of illegal dumping by converting them into “beautiful and community-centric places that can be a source of pride for the community.”

“Art by itself is an important aspect in the community,” said Kolluri. “But art, combined with other amenities where it becomes a central point of gathering for the residents, is an even better answer.”

The project also hopes to put Camden’s artistic community and cultural identity on full display for the thousands of commuters who ride the PATCO train daily through Camden.

“The people that live in the city have, for the entirety of their existence here, embraced art and culture. This is a unique opportunity for us to be able to demonstrate and display that for people who are not aware,” said Kolluri.

“Today is an exciting day for Camden and our artistic community,” said Mayor Frank Moran in a statement. “We have a real opportunity to invest in major public art, which would elevate awareness of critical issues facing our city while enhancing our cultural scene at the same time.”

The City and CFP have long been working to address illegal dumping through other partnerships, including the Camden Collaborative Initiative [CCI] and Connect the Lots. Through CCI, they created an online tool for reporting illegal dumping at CamdenReports.com, and they have also added cameras at priority sites.

“As we’re now seeing, public art can be a leadership tool and open unexpected avenues of collaboration,” said Phoebe Haddon, Chancellor of Rutgers University-Camden.

Bloomberg Philanthropies will select at least three winners from among the 14 finalists in the fall to execute their projects over a maximum of 24 months. The grant is intended to provide catalytic funds as part of a strong, committed consortium of supporters.

As such, the Bloomberg Philanthropies grants will cover project-related expenditures including development, execution, and marketing, but will not fund 100 percent of the total project costs.

The Public Art Challenge is a part of Mike Bloomberg’s American Cities Initiative, an effort to help U.S. cities generate innovation and advance policy.

More information about the Public Art Challenge can be found on http://publicartchallenge.bloomberg.org.