Tucked between Starbucks and the Landau clothing store on Nassau Street, Dohm Alley has been unremarkably empty for much of its existence. However, thanks to the work of the Design @ Dohm Alley team, the alley has been transformed into an outdoor art space and is hosting its first installation: the English Romantic Poets.
Design @ Dohm Alley is a project of Princeton Future, an organization comprised of Princeton residents with diverse backgrounds, interests, and talents that works to assist the municipality to take a forward-looking, comprehensive approach to planning and development that takes into account social, cultural, economic, factors, as well as architecture.
According to its website, Design @ Dohm Alley will showcase “art, sculpture and ideas in an open air gallery setting ... Part garden, part classroom, this dynamic sensorium will invite pedestrians into a lively and interactive experience unlike any sidewalk engagement previously witnessed.”
An impressive moon gate leads into the 80-foot-long alley. Currently, a number of sculptures honoring the Romantic poets, like Lord Byron and William Wordsworth, adorn the alley walls. In contrast stand several other landscapes, representing the Industrial Revolution against which the poets rebelled. A creative water feature also wraps around the alley, flowing through pipes into a limestone basin and back. Plaques give information on the Romantic movement, lending an educational value to the alley. Occasionally, the alley hosts music performances, as it did last Sunday. Typically, hundreds of people pass through each day, with many slowing down to appreciate the art and learn something.
According to Peter Soderman, a member of the team and a landscape designer, the idea for the alley had been on the backburner for the past nine years. It is the third project that Soderman has been part of in the town, after “Quark Park” in 2006 and “Writer’s Block” in 2004. With Dohn Alley, Soderman and his team’s goal was to transform a bare alley in the town into a space where visitors are robbed of wide angle vision and forced to watch and listen. Soderman calls it a “cerebral carwash”, a place where people can quickly walk in, learn something, and walk back out.
Michael Mahoney, a member of the team who designed the chimney installation and the stone walls, thinks that this concept has been successful. “When teenagers walk into the alley, they put their phones down, look around and have conversations with others about the poets!”, he said. “A great thing about the alley is that everyone shares their abilities, so it’s an inspirational place to be. You can’t walk past anybody.”
According to Richard Chenoweth, another important member of the team and the designer of the alley’s metal arches, which are reminiscent of the University’s gothic architecture, says that realizing the project has been hard work. “It’s difficult to put a project together like this on a tight budget, but it really took off when Princeton Future got involved with financing it”, he says. He’s pleased with how the “negative space” of the alley has been well adapted for the installation.
Though Dohm Alley’s current installation focuses on Romantic poets, the alley’s format means that there is great potential for promoting all kinds of important causes, ideas, or simply time periods, he said. “We want to promote ‘literacies,’” said Soderman. “[The Alley’s focus] could be climate change literacy, financial literacy, etc.” He noted that there have been talks about hosting a climate change exposition in the alley.
Soderman wishes that the University administration would pay more attention to the exhibition. “I would love for someone from the University to come down and take a tour [of Dohm Alley]!” he said. He touted the Alley as an opportunity for the University to get involved in the town’s happenings and perhaps eventually sponsor or host an exhibition.