On a warm almost cloudless September morning, I had the immense privilege of touring “A New View”, a series of 6 public art projects spread out across the city of Camden that officially opened and became available to the community April 22nd or Earth Day. After receiving a $1 million dollar grant from the Bloomberg Philanthropies, Cooper’s Ferry Partnership and the Rutgers-Camden Center for the Arts were tasked with reviewing 130 project entries from artists across the country. Only 8 artists were chosen but many local residents volunteered their time and skills like student apprentices and art professionals like Camden based photographer Erik James Montgomery and artist Tom Marchetty. 

The results? 6 unique, thought provoking and bigger than life structures made of repurposed materials in relation to the theme of illegal dumping – a crisis that has cost the city roughly $4 million dollars a year. “A New View” is an outdoor art exhibition that raises awareness on environmental contamination and its continued impact on the wellbeing of Camden residents and the ecosystem at large. Overall, the projects use art as a tool to encourage environmental consciousness and stewardship through the lens of sustainability and redefine former negative misconception of a blighted city into a city abundant in resiliency and persistence.    

A group of art administrators and I were lucky to have the amazing Noreen Scott Garrity, Associate Director/Education Rutgers-Camden Center for the Arts and talented watercolor painter, as our tour guide. Scroll down to view some photos along with accompanying descriptions of the sites. Although I have to say that if you get a chance, I highly encourage you to experience “A New View” in person with family and friends as soon as possible since the exhibit will be open up until the end of October! 


Turntable

Our first stop is the Turntablelocated at Cooper’s Poynt Waterfront Park – a space that was previously occupied by the Riverfront State Prison but because of the community’s continued stance for its removal, the space is now an idyllic and family friendly area with a playground and a bike path, situated next to the Delaware River and the Benjamin Franklin Bridge. At first glance, it appeared to be made up of formidable glass but to my surprise I learned that the upper half portion of the structure above the orange foundation is actually comprised of recyclable plastic specifically 8,004 2-liter soda bottles, perfectly lined up and down and side by side in a dome shaped fashion. Designed by SLO ArchitectureTurntables is representative of the Camden based and treasured music recording and vinyl company called RCA Victor.


Touching the Earth

Touching the Earth resides on Erie Street in a Northern Camden neighborhood. An assortment of clay-built structures, flower bouquets, and a colorful mural, gather in celebration of the simplest of beauties – natureAthena Steen comes from a family of talented Native American sculptures specializing in adobe art. She founded the Canelo Project in 1989 as a way to connect the modern world back to the outdoors. The knowledge and expertise led to the creation of cozy benches for sitting and a handful of intricate smooth and curved sculptures constructed from straw bales, clay, and water – basic elements derived from the Earth. Bordering these transformed elements of the ground are gorgeous sunflowers and butterfly bushes in planters designed by Josh Sarantitis that naturally attract friendly pollinators like Monarchs and bumblebees. Perhaps most surprising is the brick oven with 100% functionality. Here’s a video of how to use the oven and instructions on how to cook pizza:

Across the brick oven is a mural of an enlarged insect with a lot of personality surrounded by colorful floral designs, made possible by artist apprentice and Camden local Priscilla Rios. Special thanks to the owner of the house where the mural resides who agreed to host Priscilla’s artwork!


Mechan 11: The Collector

Who would have thought a 15 foot tall rusty looking robot, weighing in at a staggering 2 tons, and picking up a bunch of trash would capture my heart? Our third site is Mechan 11, a robot made by Tyler FuQua Creations, Portland Oregon artists specializing in repurposing junkyard materials to create giant robots. The group’s responsible for many other robot structures all across the U.S, but Mechan 11 is their first standing robot. I wonder… Are these robots trying to take over the world? 

On the chest of each robot including Mechan 11 is a heart chamber. What’s so unique about this heart chamber is that it was designed by a very talented 11th grade student from a high school in Camden. It was during the unveiling of Mechan 11 where she found out that Tyler FuQua chose her 2D drawing as the blueprint for the 3D rendition made purely of recyclable materials. 
 

Find the inspirational Mechan 11 near the State Street Bridge collecting unwanted objects with a metal rod and disposing the junk into his rope back bag rope that holds authentic Camden trash. It’s certainly a site to see!


The Phoenix Festival

Next on our tour is the The Phoenix Festival” by The Myth Makers, where two massive 22 foot tall bamboo-based bird sculptures seem to protect the community gathering space below. These tremendously admirable phoenix sculptures are the spirit avatars of Camden community leaders, Rodney Sadler, a community activist who passed away in 2019 and Nisla CruzPerez, a government representative from Camden. As you enter through the front part of the phoenix’s body and continue towards the tail, the bamboo structure descends in heightforming a path leading to an open theater that contains an array of colorful benches. Etched on each bench is an uplifting poem portraying Camden in a positive manner. These poems were written by young folks from the Mighty Writers, a Camden non-profit organization. Thomas H Dudley School students also partook in this project by painting the banners attached at the tip of the bamboo poles, adding a splash of color into the sky that reminds me of a circus tent. The youth’s involvement is even more special after knowing that the Dudley school mascot is the phoenix – a mythical creature associated with a firebird who is able to rise up from its own ashes. Coincidently this metaphor is quite literal since this space was once a municipal incinerator until its demolishment in 2017As of now, the “The Phoenix Festival reigns and serves as reminder of successful community revitalization efforts taking away unwanted areas and constructing something fun and family friendly that the entire community can enjoy.


Invincible Cat

Robots and Phoenixes and BLACK PANTHERS! Oh my! Introducing our 5th stop – The Invincible Cat. cannot imagine the surprise and maybe slight fear of NJ Transit train commuters and car passengers passing by Camden’s Whitman Park neighborhood and taking a glance at this intimidating 15,000 pound black cat whose exterior is made up of 56 car hoodsequip with piercing bright yellow eyes and deadly canines as it lays low to the ground in pounce preparation. The Invincible Cat is in close proximity to Camden High School whose school mascot is coincidentally a black panther, a small detail the DKLDesign company were unaware of until after its construction in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Because of its large size, the “The Invincible Cat” had to be transported by a flatbed truck to its permanent location in Camden. Fun fact – it is said that a small group of black cats like to gather around the sculpture from time to time.


Bio-Informatics Digestor

Our last site of the tour is the “Bio-Informatic Digestoran installation catering to STEAM – Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math. It’s a complete piece that is better understood when picked apart and contemplated acomponents of a system that overall highlight the importance of biodiversity. The symbols located on the most upper portion of the sculpture are abbreviations of manmade materials commonly found in landfills. To the right of each abbreviation is an accompanying section of brown –grayish structures composed of a fungus called mycelium that makes up mushrooms. The mycelium varies in lengths to represent the time it takes for that material to breakdown in the natural environment. Right below the “informatics” is a 4-sided glass chamber that in the beginning of the project held mealworms, insects with a unique ability to digest Styrofoam packaging and in the process convert it into compost that helps to fertilize our crops and improve soil healthUsing mealworms truly speaks to the potential of untapped resources that can help reduce the overabundance issue in our landfills. The remaining portion of the project is a staircase of white trash cans arranged in rows and columns. The cans that are open side up are enclosed by handcrafted 3D lids.