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Group Plans to Transform a Princeton Alley into a Public Arts Space

A rendering of the entry to the Design at Dohm Alley.
A rendering of the entry to the Design at Dohm Alley.

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.

Ingrid Reed and Peter Abrams chat next to a model of the Design at Dohm Alley.
Ingrid Reed and Peter Abrams chat next to a model of the Design at Dohm Alley on Sunday. Photo: Krystal Knapp.

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.”

To support Design at Dohm Alley, make a donation to Princeton Future via Paypal or email donate@dohmalley.org for more information. All donations are tax deductible.

Krystal Knapp

Krystal Knapp is the founding editor of Planet Princeton. She can be reached via email at editor AT planetprinceton.com. Send all letters to the editor and press releases to that email address.

  • catharine

    Really happy to hear of this new public art project which will transform an alley into an experience. more more more!

  • Randy Ponce

    Yeah, um, good luck with that.

  • wendy ludlum

    I love the whole idea. Never understand why Princeton Future and others including our current Mayor are determined to make/ identify Princeton as a city It is nice to have a town and rural areas. The best project for Sustainable Princeton would be to put creative energy, $$$ to make Trenton a magnificent urban place again. Picture the U. of Penn. in the 80’s and 90s before all the major new building projects. You can start to envision that campus plan as a model for remaking city of Trenton in the 21st C to be THE city of our region. Why destory and town’s identity when our attention should be to the city around the corner.

  • Robert Dana

    Whatever Mr. Soderman is – and who really cares – it sounds like his great idea will enhance our already pretty downtown.

    Thanks though Neil. (Can’t get one past you bro.)

  • krystalknapp

    We updated the article to accurately reflect his title. Thanks.

  • Jan Hempel

    The article doesn’t say Pete Soderman is a landscape architect. It says he is a landscape artist, which he most definitely is.

  • Neil

    Peter Soderman is not a landscape architect as described in the article. Landscape architects require specific schooling and state licensure, neither of which he has. Mr. Soderman is not even a licensed landscape contractor.

  • SFB

    sounds pretty good. Kevin Wilkes & co have been throwing variants of this idea around publicly since at least 2009. I’m glad that something is finally happening, even if it is incremental and will only last 6 months. previous installations like this have not come back “year after year”. Let’s hope this one is a success because that alley right now is a total waste of space.

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