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Bloomfield College & Montclair Art Museum present a step back in time

Remember life before cell phones? Many young people today have never known the feeling of stepping inside a phone booth, the overhead light miraculously coming on the moment the door was closed, and trying to root around in purse or pockets for the correct change. They’ve never known the hesitancy of passing a booth and wondering if they should pick up the ringing phone. They’ve never tried to cram shopping bags and small children into the booth made for only one person. In fact, many of today’s young people have never seen a real phone booth beyond what is depicted in movies and photos.

A collaboration between Bloomfield College and the Montclair Art Museum will change this. Together the two institutions initiated the Bloomfield Avenue Prize, offering an opportunity for an artist to create an innovative public art project that spans both the College’s campus and the Museum’s venue. Proposals were also to include plans for community programming. The selection committee was composed of Laura Nova, associate professor of creative arts and technology at Bloomfield College; Alexandra Schwartz, curator of contemporary art at the Montclair Art Museum; and faculty and staff from BC and MAM. Artists Karina Aguilera Skvirsky and Liselot van der Heijden were selected from 35 proposals to erect their project involving live phone booths at each location.

Titled the Bloomfield Avenue Hotline, the project concept is about nostalgia and communication. According to Aguilera Skvirsky, the project will encourage people to experience another community and develop understanding during conversation. Two phone booths will be installed; one at the College in the College Library and one at the Museum in Lehman Court, the museum’s main entrance hall. The user can pick up the phone to hear pre-recorded messages based on conversations the artists have had with members from each community. The user can also leave messages that can be heard by others when using the phone. The artists will be editing the messages for appropriate content. The concept is experimental and designed to discern what people will say under the cloak of anonymity. The resulting messages will become a portrait of that specific location.

“This joint venture brings together two institutions that value art as a way to unite communities,” said Marion Terenzio, vice president of academic affairs and dean of faculty. “We are creating greater access to arts and education for the public by pooling our resources and expertise.” Lora Urbanelli, director of the Montclair Art Museum, said: “We’re delighted to be a partner in this first-ever collaboration between the Museum and Bloomfield College, and on a public project that unites not only our two institutions but our larger communities as well. The nature of this innovative project also offers a wonderful opportunity for people to connect in a very personal way.”

The public opening will be on Thursday, April 4, 2013, at 4:00 p.m. at Bloomfield College and 6:30 p.m. at the Montclair Art Museum. Both locations will offer the public opportunity to interact with the exhibit by using the phone for listening and offering messages to the other community. The exhibit will run for three months.

The Bloomfield Avenue Prize is funded by the Predominantly Black Institutions (PBI) Formula Grant.