Art for the Earth: A New View–Camden

A public art project supported by Rutgers–Camden conveys environmental and community messages.

Invincible Cat, an artwork by DLK Design, is a 36-foot long black panther made from car hoods. Photos by Ken Hohing.

By Sam Starnes

A 15-foot tall robot known as Mechan 11: The Collector, recently installed beside the State Street Bridge in Camden, stands as much more than a piece of art: The garbage-collecting giant with a glowing heart has something to say about preserving the planet. The robot is one of a series of outdoor art pieces that have transformed six locations in the city that once were unauthorized dumping grounds.

The public art project, A New View– Camden, is funded by a $1 million grant from the Bloomberg Philanthropies Public Art Challenge and administered by the Rutgers–Camden Center for the Arts (RCCA) and Cooper’s Ferry Partnership. The grant was awarded in 2019 and the project had been scheduled to open in June 2020, but was delayed until Earth Day of this year due to the pandemic.

Mechan 11: The Collector

Rutgers–Camden staff and faculty played a major role in winning and administering the grant. Noreen Scott-Garrity, RCCA’s associate director of education, said the art is a form of “creative placemaking” that will establish focal points for city residents and those who visit Camden. The pieces are in high-visibility locations and will be seen by commuters on PATCO and River Line trains, as well as several main thoroughfares. “People are going to feel good about their city,” Scott-Garrity said. “That’s the most important thing to us, but commuters also are going to do a double take when their PATCO train goes by a giant panther,” she said, referencing the artwork Invincible Cat. “This is about changing the perception of the city both from within and from the outside.”

Kimberly Camp, a native of Camden who is an accomplished artist, museum administrator, and gallery owner, served as one of two curators who selected eight artists from 131 nationwide who submitted proposals. “This is about reclaiming our environment through art—it’s just that simple,” Camp said. Nancy Maguire CCAS’88, RCCA’s director for exhibitions, said the exhibit also helps to cultivate the arts in the city. “We are serving residents, and we are building something that will sustain and strengthen the artists’ community in Camden,” Maguire said.

Activities and tours will be held in connection with the art, and the Stedman Gallery at Rutgers–Camden will highlight the project by hosting a virtual exhibit about the project.

In addition to the six art installations, two additional artists were selected to participate. Tom Marchety, owner of The Factory, has created Pod Park—movable benches and tables made of reused timber under metal roofing—that are featured at each of the art installations.

Photographer Erik James Montgomery created 75 portraits of Camden residents in a project called “Camden is . . . Bright Not Blight.” Montgomery’s portraits, which celebrate Camden residents, can be seen throughout the city, often decorating boarded-up houses. Each resident’s portrait is paired with the text “Camden is . . .” and completed with one word chosen by each subject. Montgomery said the portraits allow residents to celebrate the city that they call home. “The city for so many years has been looked at as a place of poverty and crime and corruption, but now we can see people who are here with a passion and who really have a vested interest in Camden,” said Montgomery, whose numerous community education efforts include teaching in the Rutgers Future Scholars program.

Where to See the Art

These six art installations will remain in place through October.

1: Invincible Cat, Pershing Street near Whitman Avenue.

2. Bio-Informatic Digester: Waste as Fuel for Biodiversity by Terreform One at Chestnut and Orchard streets: A machine that utilizes mealworms to eat Styrofoam packaging and e-waste.

3. Turntable by SLO Architecture at Cooper’s Poynt Waterfront Park: Thousands of two-liter soda bottles cut to create a futuristic windmill around a dome made of recyclable materials as a tribute to a long-lost Camden windmill and RCA Victor.

4. Touching the Earth by Athena Steen and Josh Sarantitis at Fifth and Erie streets: A series of clay and earth installations to be built by Camden residents.

5. Mechan 11: The Collector by Tyler FuQua Creations beside the State Street Bridge over the Cooper River: A 15-foot tall robot picking up litter.

6. The Phoenix Festival by the Myth Makers at 1401 Federal Street: Two 22-foot tall bamboo sculptures of birds and an open amphitheater for gatherings and events.

For more details about the artwork and events related to the project, visit anewviewcamden.com.

Comments are closed.