Writers Block Set for a Curtain Call? This Time, Part II Could Be a Reality

Matthew Hersh

Princeton Writers Block, the popular 2004 outdoor installation that married literary themes with architectural innovation, could finally be due for its long-awaited encore.

Organizers of Quark Park, the planned science version of Writers Block that would create an outdoor garden on a vacant Palmer Square lot using mathematical and scientific themes for a series of "follies" or garden huts, are gearing up for a retrial of a project originally set for 2005. A lack of proper fund-raising, however, quickly sent the entire project back to the drawing board.

This year, the principal organizers of Writers Block say they are ready to get moving with Quark Park, but again, the bottom line is, once again, about the money.

A presentation at the Arts Council of Princeton's conTEMPORARY Arts Center at the Princeton Shopping Center last Thursday put a real face on a -concept that, some thought, would never get off the ground.

"We've been making pitches to individuals and local corporate businesses," said Kevin Wilkes, a principal of Princeton Design Guild, and a "co-conspirator" of the 2004 Writers Block. For that project, as is the case with Quark Park, Mr. Wilkes will work alongside landscape architect Alan Goodheart and landscaper Peter Soderman, ultimately looking to pair noted area scientists with noted area architects (think Congressman and rocket scientist Rush Holt with local architect Ron Berlin) for garden folly designs.

First, however, the aim is to raise $150,000 to $200,000 for the entire project. The organizers are hoping to solicit 50 percent of the funds privately, with the other half coming out of corporate sponsorship. The expenses, which would be fully absorbed into the project, would offset the cost of an approximate $5,000 stipend for each team, and finance materials and other labor.

With the last Writers Block, each design team, including the architects and builders, shouldered the costs themselves. And while the project resulted in a beloved community experiment, it also levied a financial burden on the organizers. That project, $150,000 in total cost, only brought back in $23,000 at an auction when the Writers Block closed in November 2004. While the community effort is, as they say, priceless, $123,000 is a lot to swallow, organizers said.

But this time, things are different. Quark Park has assistance in fund-raising from Colorado-based World Hope Organization (WHO), a group that primarily supports science projects for Native American children. A not-for-profit, 501(c)(3), organization that is run by Mr. Soderman's brother, WHO is effectively serving as Quark Park's "father" Mr. Wilkes said.

Mr. Wilkes said if Quark Park can receive $60,000 in pledges by June, the project will move forward, and if that aim cannot be met, the project will proceed to another location next year. The current vacant lot on Palmer Square along Paul Robeson Place is the future location of a luxury-housing complex, but will likely not get underway until late 2006. Palmer Square Management has again agreed to donate the land for the outdoor project.

Besides featuring a series of structures representing the work of the scientists who inspired them, Quark Park will also include some sort of water feature, a small performance space with seating for up to 45 people, and a mural. Unlike Writers Block, Quark Park will be equipped with low path lighting for evening use.

One way or another, however, organizers are convinced that this project is too good to pass up.

"It's either going to be a grand slam, or we're going to shelve it for now," Mr. Soderman said. "This is just something we have to do."

Mr. Goodheart displayed a similar attitude: "Why are we doing this? Because we have it in our heads to do this."

Rep. Holt (D-12), who is featured in an all-star list of scientists including Princeton University's David Dobkin and President Shirley Tilghman, said he was on board not only for the scientific outlet, but also to see how community arts projects can impact the entire town.

"It's a little hard to describe: it's the kind of intellectual art that tends to draw people in and grab their attention. To me, that's good for a community," he said.

From a scientific perspective, Quark Park poses an "interesting challenge.

"I want to encourage this to go forward, and the challenge is part of the fun of it."

Civic participation and a willingness to be involved, Mr. Holt said, are essential for projects like Quark Park to succeed. But a little money doesn't hurt either, he said.

Donations can be mailed to: Quark Park, c/o World Hope Organization, PO Box 545, Princeton, NJ, 08542. The Quark Park steering committee is chaired by Keeva Kase, who can be reached at KeevaKase@yahoo.com for information about pledging or volunteering.

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