The City of Camden is about to spend $1 million to transform illegal dumping sites into public art spaces.
On Thursday, officials announced that Camden was one of four cities, out of 200 that applied, to receive grants from the Bloomberg Philanthropies Public Art Challenge. Cities with at least 30,000 residents were invited to submit proposals for projects that address civic issues and demonstrate an ability to generate public-private collaborations, celebrate creativity and urban identity, and strengthen local economies.
Seven eyesores near walking and bicycle paths, the PATCO High-Speed Line, and the NJ Transit River Line will be reborn as art attractions, city leaders said.
“Perception is sometimes reality,” said Kris Kolluri, president of Cooper’s Ferry Partnership, a nonprofit that supports the preservation and growth of Camden and is partnering with the city and the Rutgers-Camden Center for the Arts.
“No longer will they be seeing trashed tires. Now they will be seeing pieces of art,” Kolluri said.
The artists have not been selected. Works could include fountains, sculptures, murals, or mosaics, officials said.
At Thursday’s news conference, officials described the trash city workers constantly clean as vacant lots are filled with tires, televisions, and piles of rubbish time and time again.
Three sites, at Cooper’s Poynt Waterfront Park, on Erie Street, and on Federal Street are along the Camden Greenway, a network of pedestrian and bicycle paths. Another is along the River Line at the East State Street Bridge. The three other sites border PATCO at Pershing Street, Chestnut Street, and the Walter Rand Transportation Center in the heart of Camden.
“Anyone taking a PATCO train through the city can see the destruction and decay caused by criminal dumping in Camden,” said Camden County Freeholder Jeffrey Nash, liaison to the Camden County Department of Public Works. “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 to congregate outside their home and workplace.”
The grant is part of “A New View,” funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies, founded by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
“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,” Michael Bloomberg said in a statement.
Near the Pershing location, Kevin Johnson, 69, was on his way to visit his grandmother. He said he was glad to hear about help for the area. He worked at the used-tire business at Pershing and Chestnut that is now a vacant lot surrounded by several homes and lots littered with garbage.
But Johnson said he worries that drug dealers and people in addiction will turn a park into another location to sell and buy drugs and shoot up.
“I hope I’m wrong,” he said.
At the announcement, officials said the city alone cannot police the locations, some of which are in remote areas. Neighbors must be vigilant about keeping the newly refurbished areas clean and reporting problems, officials said. The locations will be cleaned and prepared this year, and the art installations will come next year.
Vedra Chandler of Coopers Ferry said artists will submit proposals and there will be community input. She hopes to see proposals that include recyclable items.
Mayor Francisco Moran said, “Illegal dumping is unsightly, unlawful, and costs the city over $4 million annually. 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.”