July 13, 2016

Princeton Future Plans for Public Art In Alley Between Nassau Street Stores

First, in 2004, there was Writers Block, an empty lot on Palmer Square transformed into a garden honoring the contributions of notable Princeton University professors. Two years later, there was Quark Park, a sculpture garden on Paul Robeson Place that referred to the research of Princeton scientists.

If fundraising goes according to plan, the third collaboration of architect Kevin Wilkes and landscape artist Peter Soderman will be in place by Labor Day. Design at Dohm Alley, or DaDa, aims to transform the alley between Starbucks and the Landau store on Nassau Street into a kind of multi-media art gallery with rotating programs and exhibits on display through spring, summer, and fall.

“You’ll never see anything like this,” said Mr. Wilkes, who is president of the organization Princeton Future. “It’s going to be an extension of the sidewalk, a public space that will engage pedestrians in ways they are not normally engaged on a commercial street. The focus is on art and culture, and will be specifically about things Princeton, and based around digital media — audio and video instead of, for example, paintings and the printed word.”

Also involved in designing the project are Princeton artist Peter Abrams, architect Richard Chenoweth, and Rob Gorton, who does sound installation for the Metropolitan Opera. Some $30,000 has been raised toward the $100,000 goal. On Thursday, July 14, a fundraiser is being held at Mediterra, sponsored by owners Raoul and Carlo Momo. “I saw the model. I knew Kevin Wilkes, Peter Soderman, and Peter Abrams were involved,” said Raoul Momo. “These are guys who really make things happen when they dream up a project. So we said, how can we help?”

The idea “has been in our brains for quite a while, but hasn’t gotten outside into reality until this year,” Mr. Wilkes said. “The real catalyst, candidly, was that I convinced the council of Princeton Future to undertake it as a project to implement. In addition to our normal events trying to create discussions about issues, I thought it would be in our interest to put into practice some of the civic improvements we talk about.”

The term the organizers are using to describe the project is “sensorium.” “It’s an obscure word,” Mr. Wilkes admitted. “What it refers to is a space to engage all of the senses — a little bit of garden, a traveling art gallery, a place to be delighted. It will be entirely pedestrian. You won’t sit down. You will walk through. Programming will change throughout the hours of the day, weeks, and month.”

Mr. Wilkes likens the alleyway to a radio station with different programs created throughout the day, week, and month. “It will have the ability to exist in the future,” he said. “We’re hoping when we take it down at Thanksgiving that we’ll be able to reassemble it next year and have it be ongoing through spring, summer and fall.”

Stanley Dohm, owner of the alley, has given the group permission to use the space until Thanksgiving. “This is a privately owned space, but Mr. Dohm has let people traverse it for years,” Mr. Wilkes said. “Robert and Henry Landau and the other store tenants immediately adjacent are also supportive, which is a big help.”

The Princeton Public Library and the University will assist in creating original programming. The “sensorium” will also include videos and podcasts featuring interviews and oral histories, with short films. “We have in our minds a larger project that will someday turn the midblock section of the property into a park and garden instead of a parking lot,” Mr. Wilkes said. “We see this as a first step in convincing the town and the citizens that we can make downtown more attractive and appealing to walk through than it presently is.”