CAMDEN, NJ — The issue of illegal dumping in Camden, said Vedra Chandler, community events manager for Cooper’s Ferry Partnership, is not small.
“It costs the city of Camden about $4 million a year to collect mattresses, TVs, furniture, trash bags,” she said, “all the things that we see piled up in vacant lots, street corners, in front of our homes, and especially damaging along highly-visible transportation corridors in the city.”
Those who take PATCO or the Riverline are probably familiar with the spots that people target, she said. Some of the waste comes from residents, but a large part of the problem points to outsiders who use Camden as a dumping ground.
“People drive in with trucks in the middle of the night, they find a space that’s dark and vacant to dump their trash, and the next thing you know, you wake up the next morning to a pile of mattresses or the contents of someone’s apartment,” said Chandler, who cited the findings of a years-long task force on illegal dumping with the city Department of Public Works.
But pinpointing the parties at fault isn't relevant to visitors to the city, who only see the eyesore. Some studies, Chandler said, show about 65,000 people commuting through Camden daily.
These visuals that leave a negative impression are what officials hope to tackle as part of the forthcoming public art initiative, “A New View.”
In coordination with Cooper's Ferry and the Rutgers–Camden Center for the Arts, the city of Camden was able to make an idea to transform areas of neglect into dynamic, multi-use creative spaces a reality through a $1 million Bloomberg Philanthropies grant, one of only six awards assigned out of 250 applicant cities.
Site installations are planned for early 2020, and will remain in place through the end of the funding in October 2020.
Chandler and artist Judith Tannenbaum, a leader of the curatorial team, stopped by a Parkside community meeting Wednesday night to discuss details of the project, including the six sites of the temporary art installations, as well as to seek out residents to join a community ambassador program. These individuals would help spread the word about the project and artist submissions.
“Hopefully this (project) will help change the perspective and encourage you or entice you off the train, out of your car, and into the city to check out this art and maybe check out something else while you’re here,” Chandler said during the meeting at the Camden County Historical Society. “(It’s about) getting people to change their perspectives about the city and get involved.”
The two project heads are making the rounds to different neighborhoods across the city to engage residents, especially those in North Camden, Gateway, Whitman Park, and East Camden where the works will be crafted and displayed.
Chandler said a couple of the sites are “right in the heart” of neighborhoods surrounded by homes, “where residents have said very openly that they’ll wake up in the morning and see trash that isn’t there before.” The residents, then, are just as essential to helping the initiative flourish.
“The project will be, again, one that changes perspectives hopefully for the outside world, but also changes our perspective as residents of Camden as a dumping ground, of Camden as a place where people can and are allowed to leave their stuff,” she said. “And hopefully encourage and inspire people to keep their neighborhoods cleaner, greener, and safer.”
The project group put out a request for proposals in July to recruit interested artists, which returned 130 submissions, Tannenbaum said. This total was whittled down to 20 artists.
Final presentations will be held on Nov. 1 and 2 with the artists, some of whom are local and others drawn in from areas such as Mexico, giving them a public forum to share project ideas before the curatorial team makes the cut down to six. Residents will have a chance to share who they feel would best represent the city at that time.
Tannebaum said the team is excited about the current pool of artists because many work “found materials” into something new.
“We’re definitely looking to have input from (residents),” Tannenbaum, an instructor at Philadelphia’s Moore College of Art & Design, told the Parkside crowd Wednesday. “A lot of what we were really looking for in the proposals is artists who really want to work with the people who are here.”
Part of the artist evaluations will be how the ideas incorporate human design. Some of the ideas are more developed than others at this point, she said.
“These are contemporary projects, but hopefully some of them will have a lasting input,” she said.