December 11, 2013

Artists Are Soon to Be Sought For AvalonBay Public Art Project

When developer AvalonBay offered a revised plan for its rental community on the Witherspoon Street site formerly occupied by Princeton’s hospital, a donation of $70,000 toward the inclusion of public art was part of the deal. That plan was approved by the Planning Board last July, and now the wheels are in motion to search for artists and secure further funding for the project.

Princeton Council on Monday approved a resolution for the public art project, which is being administered by the Arts Council of Princeton. “We’re putting together a committee of arts professionals and neighborhood representatives,” Jeff Nathanson, executive director of the Arts Council, told the Council. “We’re hopeful that there will be a strong community representation.”

Speaking about the project the following morning, Mr. Nathanson said there has been an initial committee meeting but more members will be added. “I’ve had meetings with the mayor and with Jon Vogel of AvalonBay,” he said. “We specifically are looking for this project to hopefully not be political and to benefit the community.”

The project will include a signature artwork to be in the front entrance of the complex’s main building, and another work to go in the public park that will front Witherspoon Street. “We’re still working on what the overall budget will be,” Mr. Nathanson said. “We’ve brought a public art consultant on board, and we will use an RFP [request for proposal] process to solicit from artists. We’re not exactly sure of the total scope, because it’s so early in the process.”

Mr. Nathanson said the committee will seek funding from the National Endowment for the Arts’ “Our Town” program, which awards grants from $25,000 to $200,000 “for creative placemaking projects that contribute toward the livability of communities and help transform them into lively, beautiful, and sustainable places with the arts at their core,” according to the NEA website.

“We think this is a really great opportunity to make this location something that people will love and want to spend time at,” Mr. Nathanson said. “Because especially in the park, there is a chance to add something of value to the neighborhood. We haven’t seen that many opportunities in Princeton to add something aesthetically to the community.”

The committee will look at other public art projects on a national international basis. “We’re going to do a lot of research,” Mr. Nathanson said. “The representative we’ve been working with at AvalonBay is very open to creative suggestions and solutions for this project. It’s going to be an interesting and creative and fun process to look at what kinds of sculptural projects exist in other parks and in front of buildings elsewhere, and that will help us inform our process. We know there has been some controversy around this development, and we don’t want to get involved in that. But we want to lead the effort to make something really great.”