By Madeline Orton
A stretch of road just over two miles long links Bloomfield College and Montclair Art Museum. These two institutions share more than just Bloomfield Avenue, they share a broader community.
“Montclair has a very different socioeconomic spread, although Bloomfield has a wide spread, too,” said Montclair teacher Bonnie Reed. “I think it’s a great idea to bring them together. Also, each town has different cultural backgrounds and I think it brings that together as well.”
The college and the museum held a joint competition with a call for artists to create a public art project that spans both locations — the first annual Bloomfield Avenue Prize.
Out of 35 submissions, artists Karina Aguilera Skvirsky and Liselot van der Heijden’s proposal for the Bloomfield Avenue Hotline was selected.
Two phone booths — one at Montclair Art Museum and one at Bloomfield College — provide windows into the towns through audio archives.
“In Montclair, you hear people from Bloomfield. They’re answering about 10 questions. You can listen to their answers here in this booth. When you go to Bloomfield College, you can listen to the same answers, but they are from Montclair residents,” explained van der Heijden.
“I think that it really encourages people to think about the place where they live and think about their relationship to the place, and also think a little bit beyond where they live, just to the next town,” said Alexandra Schwartz, Curator of Contemporary Art at Montclair Art Museum.
Creative placemaking, the idea of shaping a community through the arts, isn’t just taking place in Bloomfield and Montclair. The concept is one of the newest major initiatives out of the National Endowment for the Arts.
Marion Terenzio, Dean of the Faculty of Bloomfield College, said, “If you take diverse communities and show the similarity through the arts, creative placemaking can be a way to get to the next step of communities thriving.”
Members of the community seem to agree.
“I was listening in the phone booth and I had to laugh about some of the things that people said about ‘The Avenue,'” said Sharon Burton Turner, council member of the New Jersey State Council on the Arts. “Bloomfield Avenue was always known as ‘The Avenue,’ so whenever you said ‘The Avenue,’ everyone knew exactly, regardless of where they lived, they knew exactly the street you were speaking of.”
Montclair’s Bonnie Reed added that it was “a great idea to bridge a gap with different towns in general.”
Audiences are encouraged to not only listen, but to also participate by calling in and recording their own answers as part of this ongoing Bloomfield Avenue archive.
Major funding for NJ Arts is provided by The Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation and the F.M. Kirby Foundation.