The following story was written by Dan Bracaglia and published on April 6, 2009 in Johnsonville Press. Dan spent the entire day interviewing us and taking pictures as we were painting tagged garages.
The photos, taken by Dan, can be viewed at higher res on his blog The London Broil.
To thirty year old Slovakia native Peter Krsko, art and science are virtually the same thing. “I did science for a while and now I am more interested in art, you know it really doesn’t make sense to me to separate the two. It seems to me that [art and science] are just really differences in the language.”
Perhaps it is this ability to blur the line between different practices that has allowed Peter and the socially conscious art group he founded, Albus Cavus, to be so successful.
What started in a New Brunswick, New Jersey basement as an exhibition space to provide a setting for local artists, has evolved over the past few years into a large group whose aim is to improve everyday life by beautifying public space through art. A term the group sometimes uses to define this new movement is “Public Art 2.0”, referring to the intentional social implications of their work. “If you’re familiar with how Wikipedia works, it is basically the users who create the content. [The idea behind Albus Cavus] and Public Art 2.0 is basically that the users of public space should have more involvement in the decision making process, like what is going to be in the public space, what kind of art is going to be there and how you are going to design the entire environment, so that it is beneficial for all the users.”
Albus Cavus, which literally translates to mean “White Cave” in Latin, refers to the original exhibition space the group had for a short time in their basement, where the movement started in 2003 as a way to provide much needed gallery space to New Brunswick residents. “I looked for a name that is not really too defining, it’s just a name that people seem to remember…it wasn’t formed as an organization, it was very spontaneous.”
The group, originally started by Krsko and 3 others including Eric Kennedy, Nicole Wines and Leon Rainbow, grew quickly from its originally roots, as the demand for more space and the number of artists involved grew. “Like everything we have been doing, [taking our art out of the basement] has been a response to a demand. We did the basement because people wanted space to show their artwork. Then we started getting all of these emails from people saying lets do something outside on the walls. It is like bringing the art to the audience, not really relying on the audience to come to the art.”
From there, Albus Cavus began doing large scale projects all over the city and eventually incorporated in 2005 as a nonprofit group. It wasn’t until 2006 that the group began gaining quite a bit of attention from the local community and media with their first annual Raritan River Art Walk. Now going on its third year, the Art Walk is literally a three mile stretch of wall that runs next to Route 18 the length of New Brunswick along the Raritan River. The continuous mural is the largest on the East Coast and last year the group had over 100 artists from around the country come to participate in the project. The project also plays a dual role, like all of the projects the group does, in helping the community, by drawing city and statewide attention to the dilapidated walking path.
“The property is owned by the New Jersey Department of Transportation, so the city played a very supportive role in [The Raritan River Art Walk] when they helped us to communicate with the DOT. The city is also supporting the project to help clean up [the area]. They have a crew that comes through to keep it clean, and it is very beneficial for them because it makes New Brunswick look like a very interesting place to be.”
To Peter, the Art Walk project really defines Albus Cavus and the mission of the group. Unlike the murals and other projects the group does, the Art Walk is far more open for the community to continually use as a public space for creating new artwork all year round. “The Raritan river art walk is kind of an experimental area for us because it is open for people to come and paint. People paint over each others and into each others artwork and that’s public art 2.0, people create the final art by actively participating in it.”
After the success of the Art Walk, and other local projects, the group began expanding and doing projects in cities all over the East Coast, including New York, Philadelphia, Washington D.C. and Rochester. Leon Rainbow, who first met Peter through a random Craig’s List ad that Peter posted, looking for someone to paint the shutters of his house, has been a vital part of this expansion. Leon is currently one of the main organizers of the group and seeks out new events to be hosted all over the East Coast. “[In places like] Trenton, Camden, Philly, people love [our artwork]. They love it like crazy especially in the rougher areas. When we were in Trenton, we were painting this wall on Martin Luther King Boulevard and it was getting dark and some local woman came out of her house and was holding a flashlight for us to finish. It is something when the people of the neighborhood appreciate what you are doing.”
One of Leon’s favorite projects the group has done is the Concrete Alchemy tour, held for the first time last summer. The two week nonstop tour features a variety of artists who travel up and down the East Coast, painting murals and giving talks on community development through art. “The tour was just an incredible experience. We had 15 artists and we did shows in New York, we did a talk in Princeton, we went to DC, NY, Philli, and we did walls and murals. Half the artists involved were from the West Coast, and half of them were from the East Coast. To me, we get a lot of different diversity because everybody does things a little bit different and you learn different techniques. Some of the walls were some of the best walls I think I have ever done, or ever been a part of even.”
In a move to help gain financial and community support as a nonprofit group, Albus Cavus has more recently begun working with the Washington D.C. based marketing firm, Massey Media. Sarah Massey, who owns and operates the firm, says she saw something special in Albus Cavus, which is why she is representing the group for free.
“We adopted Albus Cavus as our pro bono client this year. Every year we adopt a young nonprofit that otherwise would not be able to afford us. Obviously we think this group has a huge potential to positively affect the human spirit and create great urban spaces that people want to live in.”
As a nonprofit group, much of what Albus Cavus is able to do is a direct result of funding and donations from the community. As the group continues to expand, Peter feels it is necessary to have someone outside of the group help represent them and make them look appealing to the general public. “[Sarah is helping us with] a general communication plan. It is the most beneficial thing we have gotten so far from the mass media, that they review who we are and express it to our audience and help us to make it clear. We paint. We don’t really know how to tell people what we do.”
As the group enters its sixth year of existence, a lot more now goes into Peter’s job like planning for events, writing grants, seeking out local organizations to donate and support the cause and dealing with various city governments to get permission to host events. Despite this, the pressures of running the legal aspects of the nonprofit haven’t kept him from what he loves. “Now, because we have so many more opportunities to do what we do, we have to really sit down and plan and see what resources we have and which projects are interesting to us. Right now, we are really working on increasing the capacity of the organization, so it involves a lot of grant writing and writing business plans. In order for us to have an opportunity to do this, paint, we have to also go do the administrative work, but it is fun because we feel a lot of people are going to benefit from it. That’s the point of the organization, to create an environment for people who want to paint on the street; they just come to us and we give them the opportunity to do that.”
While working on expanding the influence and size of Albus Cavus, Peter still finds time to go out and participates in the events; his work can be seen on walls throughout the country and even in foreign nations like Dubai. “This is my main thing, Albus Cavus. For some reason everything is working out fine for us. We are really approaching things for the right reasons. We are not confrontational; we just do it for having fun. It’s always about giving from our side and in many cases we get it back.”
As the influence of Albus Cavus continues to expand, and the number of communities positively affected continue to grow, one can only wonder what would have happened if Peter Krsko had followed his original life path of being a scientist. Lucky for the art world, science helped lead Krsko to art and ultimately Albus Cavus.
Check out Dan’s Website, to see more photos like this at www.thelondonbroil.com