Tomorrow, Cooper’s Ferry Partnerships is holding a press conference to announce an artist in its #ANewViewCamden initiative. That is part of a Bloomberg grant to use arts to address social issues and is highlighting illegal dumping in Camden. It’s fantastic work. Which brings up an interesting challenge for our polarized times. Cooper’s Ferry Partnership is clearly a political actor in the city. Can an organization (or a person) be more than one thing in Camden?
I’ve been following #ANewViewCamden for quite some time. I find the concept — of using art to highlight and address social challenges — to be intriguing. I’ve enjoyed the note the initiative has hit in talking about Camden, finding that line that highlights the beauty of the city without feeling like its papering over or erasing people’s challenges or lives. In short, tomorrow is the type of event (and programming) that I think is worth supporting, and is important for the city.
But, that’s complicated. Because Cooper’s Ferry Partnership is also a quite political organization with goals that extend far beyond those mentioned above. A WNYC story gets to the ways that Cooper’s Ferry is both a political entity, and has been in the middle of some of the controversy over real estate on the waterfront (1). The end of the article gets to the nonprofit’s interconnectedness with political actors in the city:
“Today, Cooper’s Ferry pledges what it calls “inclusive prosperity” that benefits neighborhoods and residents as well as corporations on the waterfront. The CEO is a Norcross ally, and the board of directors includes many businesspeople affiliated with the companies that the Norcross brothers brought to Camden with the help of the tax break program, including Cooper University Health Care.”
In the South Jersey political climate, many involved in Camden and the region feel like they have to pick sides. And I know more than a few folks that would refuse to support an initiative like #ANewViewCamden because Cooper’s Ferry Partnership is also doing deeply political work.
But I think that’s a mistake. I think we need opportunities for good work to happen even in problematic organizations, and that a Camden without #ANewView is a worse Camden. More importantly, supporting initiatives while still asking that organizations be accountable to residents provides a path forward. It may be too much to change an organization all at once, and these types of initiatives should be seen as progress and responses to critiques. In other words, progress can come in small steps.
I know there are folks who see these initiatives as tokenism. But Iook at the great work folks at #ANewViewCamden are doing think it’s possible to be more than one thing in Camden. And that it may even be necessary.