July 20, 2022

A New Form of Public Art to Be Displayed by Arts Council

ART AND COMMUNITY: Collages like this one, by the late photographer Romus Broadway, will soon fly from banners on streets near the Arts Council of Princeton.

By Anne Levin

The Arts Council of Princeton (ACP) has been sponsoring a lot of public art in recent months, mostly in the form of murals. Thanks to a resolution passed by Princeton Council last week, the ACP is planning to add 20 4-by-2-foot banners to the mix, on poles along Paul Robeson Place, John Street, Birch Avenue, and Witherspoon Street.

These vinyl banners are digital depictions of collages made by photographer and historian Romus Broadway, a beloved figure in the Witherspoon-Jackson community who died two years ago. Broadway was known for the collages he made of numerous events in Princeton, particularly involving people in the Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood. They come from a collection acquired from his family by Princeton University, which gave the ACP 20 of the collages in digital format that were used to create the banners.

“We’ve been displaying his collages here in our gallery every summer for the past eight years or so,” said Adam Welch, ACP executive director, “generally during the annual Joint Effort Safe Streets Program. Me being relatively new to the neighborhood and trying to get involved [Welch joined the ACP in September 2020], this was something that really interested me.”

Last month, the ACP held a “Naming Party” to help identify friends, family, and neighbors pictured in Broadway’s collages. The event was co-sponsored by the Joint Effort Safe Streets Program, the Witherspoon-Jackson Historical and Cultural Society, and the Witherspoon-Jackson Neighborhood Association. “We invited the neighbors in,” said Welch. “We saw this real sense of pride and honor, and we wanted to be able to uplift everyone, not just the people who came to the event. We wanted a public art piece that highlighted the art, but also brought the community together.”

Welch stressed that the collages are not just snapshots glued to paper. Broadway manipulated, cut out, and arranged them, with an eye to the history of the neighborhood. “We view them not only as works of art, but also as a kind of documentation of the ongoing history and conversation with the residents of the neighborhood,” he said. “There are all kinds of playful connections one might make in these collages. You’ll see Malcolm X, James Brown, and others in newspaper clippings, along with images of local residents.”

Having art displayed on banners “is a highly visible way to do it, and a way that will lead people on a path. We have been encouraging outdoor exploration,” said Welch. “We want to lead people outside, have them walk around, view and think about art, and come together as a community. People can look up at these great collages and see the old pictures and funny, dated clothes; the old rituals like the Tom Thumb weddings; identify people they recognize; and reminisce.”

Welch, ACP Artistic Director Maria Evans, and others reached out to Shirley Satterfield, John Bailey, Lance Liverman, Leighton Newlin, “and other dignitaries in the community, including the Broadway family,” said Welch, in creating the banners. “There was this wonderful back-and-forth,” he said. “You could see how deeply meaningful these collages were to the community. They are the record of a neighborhood that has drastically changed over the decades, and year by year. So there is sense of nostalgia, but also a sense of memory and bringing people together in the present.”

The project still requires final approval from Verizon and PSE&G, which own the poles. Once permission is obtained, the banners will be up for six months, “unless there is a mad rush to keep them up,” Welch said.

He is especially pleased that the ACP worked with other local organizations to make this happen. “It’s great to be able to do something together that is both artistic and a point of community pride,” he said. “We hope to create more partnerships, so we have all of these organizations helping one another to make it possible. That’s what it’s about.”