A new form of public art presented by the Canada Council

ART AND COMMUNITY: Collages like this, by the late photographer Romus Broadway, will soon be flying banners in the streets near the Princeton Arts Council.

By Anne Levin

The Princeton Arts Council (ACP) has sponsored numerous pieces of public art in recent months, mostly in the form of murals. Thanks to a resolution passed by Princeton Council last week, the CPA plans to add 20 4ft by 2ft banners to the mix, on poles along Paul Robeson Place, John Street, Birch Avenue and Witherspoon Street .

These vinyl banners are digital representations 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 many events at Princeton, in particular
involving residents of the Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood. They come from a collection acquired from his family by Princeton University, which gave the ACP 20 collages in digital format that were used to create the banners.

“We’ve exhibited his collages here in our gallery every summer for about eight years,” said CAP Executive Director Adam Welch, “usually 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]it was something that really interested me.

Last month, the CPA held a “Naming Party” to help identify the friends, family and neighbors depicted in the Broadway 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,” Welch said. “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 piece of public art that showcased the art , but also brought the community together.

Welch pointed out that collages aren’t just snapshots pasted on paper. Broadway manipulated, cut and arranged them, taking into account the history of the neighborhood. “We see them not only as works of art, but also as a kind of documentation of the ongoing history and conversation with the people of the neighborhood,” he said. “There are all kinds of playful connections you can make in these collages. You’ll see Malcolm X, James Brown and others in newspaper clippings, as well as images of local residents.

Having art displayed on banners “is a very visible way to do that and one that will lead people down a path. We encouraged outdoor exploration,” Welch said. “We want to bring people outside, have them walk around, see and think about art, and come together as a community. People can look at these great collages and see the funny and dated old photos and clothes; ancient rituals such as Tom Thumb’s wedding; 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 community dignitaries, including the Broadway family,” said Welch, when 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 testimony of a neighborhood that has changed radically over the decades, and from year to year. So there’s a 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, owners of the poles. Once cleared, the banners will stay up for six months, “unless there’s a mad rush to keep them up,” Welch said.

He is particularly pleased that the CPA has worked with other local organizations to make this happen. “It’s great to be able to do something together that is both artistic and instills pride in the community,” he said. “We hope to create more partnerships, so we have all these organizations helping each other to make this possible. That’s what it’s about.

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