Once a powerful industrial center, Camden, New Jersey, has since faced an array of challenges, including underinvestment and illegal dumping. There’s much more to the city’s story, however, and local artists like photographer and educator Erik James Montgomery are working to reclaim the narrative.
As a winner of the Public Art Challenge, the city is transforming illegal dumping sites into vibrant and striking public art spaces. Erik is one of eight artists leading a project: “When Bloomberg put out this opportunity, I knew I wanted to celebrate the city of Camden, and I wanted to do that with portraits. But I also wanted to make it interactive,” he said. “When you can see artwork that’s coming into your community, that gives value to the city and people in the neighborhood. The community was head over heels.”
He photographed 100 residents, creating 30’’ x 40’’ portraits that he placed on vacant properties. “I wanted to beautify a lot of these blighted areas. To bring light to very dark areas of the city; a lot of these abandoned buildings around the city now became a canvas. That’s why I called the project ‘Camden is Bright Not Blight.’”
The Public Art Challenge catalyzed this work across Camden. “Bloomberg Philanthropies made it possible to clean up our city from illegal dumping and from all the negative words that have come our way over the years,” he said.