Bloomberg Philanthropies picked New Brunswick and Newark for a $25,000 art installation program dedicated to improving street safety, revitalizing public spaces and engaging residents, the nonprofit announced Sept. 29.
The two cities were picked alongside 24 other areas for the 2022-23 Asphalt Art Initiative after a successful inaugural 2020-22 iteration, which transformed nearly 86,500 square feet of streets with artwork in 16 cities.
“Asphalt art projects help cities reclaim public spaces, make them brighter and safer, and build community – all-important goals, especially amid the continuing hardships of the pandemic,” said Michael Bloomberg, founder of Bloomberg Philanthropies and 108th mayor of New York City, in a prepared statement. “Cities that tap into the power of public art bring new life and energy to city streets, inspiring residents and fostering a shared spirit of neighborhood pride. There can be real civic strength in public art, and this program helps cities capitalize on it.”
This program is inspired by work done to improve pedestrian safety and revitalize New York City streets during Bloomberg’s mayoralty from 2002-2013, and the work of Bloomberg Philanthropies’ pro bono consulting arm Bloomberg Associates advising cities on implementing asphalt art projects, according to the announcement.
The Asphalt Art Initiative grant program, which also provides cities technical assistance from urban design firm Street Plans Collaborative, is intended to create vibrant new public spaces, build local interagency collaborations, and increase each city’s capacity to work with artists as well as community groups on projects involving transportation infrastructure.
In Newark, the project will focus on pedestrian plazas and public space improvements; and in New Brunswick, it’ll focus on intersection and crosswalk murals.
Inspiring community action
Twelve of the 16 cities in the inaugural program implemented their projects this past year, and collectively they have transformed a combined 86,476 square feet of streetscape with artwork and engaged nearly 5,000 residents and 171 artists in the design and installation process, Bloomberg said. Among the improvements the projects have made, the redesign of a problematic intersection in Kansas City, Mo. reduced overall vehicle speeds by 45%, cut pedestrian crossing distances in half, and increased the percentage of pedestrians who feel safe crossing the intersection from 23% to 63%. In Reno, Nev., 18,000 square feet of underutilized concrete was transformed into a vibrant event plaza that’s now a home for festivals, food trucks, and green space. In Chattanooga, Tenn. a parking lane was repurposed into a colorful gathering space near a new supermarket in a neighborhood that has historically been a food desert.
“Our first round of grantee cities has shown the unique value of creativity in addressing long-standing issues with the public realm,” said Kate Levin, who leads the Arts Program at Bloomberg Philanthropies, is principal for Cultural Assets Management at Bloomberg Associates and a former commissioner of the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs. “Artists can inspire collaborative, effective community action resulting in safer, more vibrant streets – and regenerating a sense of local identity as we work through the impacts of the pandemic.”