Plans are in the works for an alley in the heart of downtown Princeton to be transformed into a creative space that will be part public park, part multi-media art gallery.
Dohm Alley, the 10 foot by 80 foot space between Landau and Starbucks on Nassau Street, will be converted into what organizers are calling a “sensorium” that will feature plants, digital artwork, audio, and video displays.
The sensorium, a parklet on steroids, is the dream child of landscape artist Peter Soderman and architect Kevin Wilkes and is being sponsored by Princeton Future.
This is not the first time Wilkes and Soderman have cooked up an idea to make creative use of an unused space in Princeton.
In 2004, the pair teamed up for the first time to transform an empty lot on Palmer Square into the Writers Block, a garden filled with inventive structures that paid tribute to several Princeton University professors, including Paul Muldoon, Cornel West, and Emily Mann.
After the wild success of the Writers Block, the duo worked together again in 2006 to turn a vacant lot behind the Hulfish Street Garage on Paul Robeson Place into Quark Park, a space that featured playful garden sculptures evoking the serious research of Princeton scientists.
A decade later, the sequel to Quark Park is finally on the horizon, with Wilkes anticipating a late June opening if all goes well and the project meets its fundraising goal. The group has already raised enough money to start purchasing some materials.
About two dozen people attended a gathering at the home of Pulitzer Prize winners Peter Kann and Karen Elliott House Sunday where Wilkes unveiled the plans for Design at Dohm Alley (DaDA! for short), including a model replica of the alley turned art gallery.
Princeton resident Peter Abrams, an artist who builds structures with reclaimed materials, is fabricating the steel arches for the installation. Abrams has been involved in various art projects in Trenton and Princeton, including Quark Park. Other design team members include Wilkes, Soderman, Rob Gorton and Richard Chenoweth, who are all donating their time for the project.
The alley will feature two galleries with rotating digital art installations. The space will also feature interviews and oral histories in video and podcast form. Wilkes said he envisions screens in one gallery showing short films about the history of the John Witherspoon neighborhood, for example.
“Imagine you’ve climbed inside a radio,” Wilkes said of part of the experience organizers hope to create for visitors.
People who attended the unveiling said they hope the alley could draw more people to the Nassau Street, giving a boost to the business community while making good use of an empty space. They imagine it as Princeton’s version of Tin Pan Alley. There are examples of converting empty spaces into successful arts projects. The New York High Line is perhaps the biggest example. In Ann Arbor, Mich., an alley has been turned into an art space. Closer to home, the old Roebling Wire Works in Trenton transforms into a giant art exhibit and music festival for 24 hours every June. The event, called Art All Night, draws thousands of people.
“It could be Princeton’s virtual community center,” Former Princeton Borough Mayor Marvin Reed said.
Partners in the project include the Princeton Public Library, the Princeton Entrepreneurial Hub, and the Princeton University Community Based Learning Initiative. Stanley Dohm, owner of the alley, has given the group permission to use the space until Thanksgiving, when the installation will be taken down. The owners of Landau are also supportive of the project, and will provide electricity for the multi-media components and lighting.
“We’re trying to create a unique, urban installation,” Wilkes said. “If it is successful we hope we will be able to come back year after year.”
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