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By: Caroline Cummings

Dumbo / Brooklyn, NY
photo: Ricardo Barros

In late June I sat down with Peter Krsko to discuss his non-profit public arts organization, Albus Cavus. Albus Cavus is a collective of artists who work together with local communities and city organizations to advance the practice of public arts. Through public art installations and murals, Albus Cavus seeks to beautify neighborhoods and instill the residents with a sense of pride, ownership, and responsibility for their communities. Albus Cavus curates the Raritan River Art walk in New Brunswick, New Jersey. The Raritan River Art Walk is a 1.8-mile footpath that runs between the river and a highway. For many years it was underutilized and dilapidated. With the approval of the city and the Department of Transportation, Albus Cavus took the initiative to clean the river walk and invited artists as well as the community to cover the path and its walls with uncomissioned works of art. In May 2008 Albus Cavus spearheaded the Concrete Alchemy Show. Concrete Alchemy was a tour of 15 visual artists visiting 5 major urban centers on the East Coast over 7 days. It is the first tour that creatively combines gallery shows, public panel discussions and numerous murals to present the artists' unique approach to public arts. This type of innovative thinking makes Albus Cavus a perfect interview for Stay Thirsty.

Thirsty: How did you get involved in the arts and public art in particular?

Peter Krsko: I have always been interested in social and physical interactions of living organisms with their environment. This took me into a couple of different directions. Though I've received a Ph.D. in materials science and biophysics, I've never stopped being interested in a role of urban public space on community life. Also, it's been always very important to me to have interesting and creative people around who are involved in diverse things. I don't just limit myself to friends who are scientists. I don't even think it's necessary to label people and call them a scientist or an artist. I enjoy friends who are imaginative, innovative, and not afraid to question and do something unique, such as study nature, improve our lives, create art, garden, do crafts… So, that led me somehow to a community of artists and people who aren't afraid to do crazy projects and work big. They don't confine themselves to a canvas, but work with their audience that is invited to touch and step into their artwork.

Raritan River Art Walk
(click to enlarge)

Thirsty: How did you get started with Albus Cavus?

Peter Krsko: I came to New Brunswick in 2002 and discovered that there was no place for artists to show their work. So, my friend Nicole Wines and I decided to start having biweekly exhibitions in our basement and these were great fun. A year later, the city found out and decided to shut us down. We looked for a new location and began working at the train station. It was great working in this public space because it brought art to the viewers and it was accessible and actually reached people who didn't even expect to go to an art exhibit during their daily commute. From that point the artists formed a collective that wanted to specialize in public spaces, as well as include the people in the neighborhood and, especially, the kids in the schools.

It wasn't just about the art. Albus Cavus pointed out the flaws in how public space is designed. If the space is well designed it will bring people together, but if it is not well designed, people stop caring for their neighborhoods and neighbors don't reach out to each other. That is not ideal.

At this time we approached the City of New Brunswick to give us permission for an experimental outdoors gallery. We chose a bike path that wasn't maintained for years. It was overgrown and slowly falling apart. This project is still going on. It's still not perfect, but it's an excellent space for experimenting with interactive visual arts. People are just allowed to do whatever they want and it is self censored. If there something offensive on the wall, it gets painted over.

The last event we organized happened in May last year. We had about one hundred and fifty artists come from all over to paint. The next painting party is scheduled for September 20-21st, 2008 and this year it will also feature DJs, bands and performers in adjacent park provided by the Rutgers University.

If you consider a triangle that includes the artwork, the artists and the audience and you mix it all up, so that you can't tell the difference between the audience and artist anymore… that is what we are trying to push in the context of our projects and especially the Art Walk. Everyone is invited to come over and contribute to the final artwork.

Thirsty: And how did Concrete Alchemy evolve?

Peter Krsko: That was a decision inspired by Werc's who is based in LA to come to the east and paint walls in various cities. So I decided to bring some of my favorite artists together and provide them with resources so they could spend time together and collaborate. There had to be something deeper than just the work and their perfect artistic skills. They had to be truly interested in the project for the right reasons. And I couldn't wait to see what would be produced in that constellation.

This was in late March that I started working on the logistics and we did it in May, so planning process was very intense and now it seems like it was meant to happen. Everything fell into place. Mr. Max Moses (aka Pose 2) came up with the name. First he mentioned the idea of alchemy and we sat on it for a little while. Then we just figured why not, we are sort of alchemists, we take one element and beat the crap out of it so it becomes another element. We turn the grey sterile streets into something colorful and powerful. So the name Concrete Alchemy says what we work on and specifies that our art turns things into something better.

Concrete Alchemy was meant to be a marketing tool for Albus Cavus and the work that we all do in our neighborhoods. Most of us are teachers and spend a lot of time giving to the communities, trying to make them better places. In that sense, I think that the tour was really successful. And it was nice for us, we care a lot about our audience and it was great to see how these fifteen artists integrated and reacted to each other's influences. A lot of the art that they produced was new to their perspective as well as the graffiti art scene in general.

Dumbo / Brooklyn, NY - Full Wall

Wall in Philadelphia (click to enlarge)
photo: Ricardo Barros

Thirsty: Did the artist work together in planning the murals?

Peter Krsko: The artists didn't spend too much time discussing the murals before getting to the wall. They had to be standing in front of the actual wall in the time and the space. What was interesting was seeing how the artists interacted with one another. Though some of them worked with each other in past, this was for the first time that all fifteen of them collaborated together. Because they had so much freedom in terms of space and materials it was interesting to see what came together. What I really enjoy about art in general is the process, how artists plan it then execute it. In this sense the collaborations within Concrete Alchemy were fascinating. Their language was non-verbal, and they communicated on a visual level with the spray cans and brushes.

Thirsty: During the Concrete Alchemy Tour you had gallery exhibitions and parties along the way. Were these successful?

Peter Krsko: The exhibits were a way to showcase the work that is off the streets. It's different that the murals but captures the essence of each artist's work. The canvases were produced during the tour in a warehouse donated to us by Garden Homes Development and using supplies given to us by Sabotaz, Liguitex and Winsor & Newton. The parties were awesome. They featured DJs and also live body painting that involved our audience. And the discussion panel in Princeton was very interesting. A lot of the people there were familiar with street art so the questions moved past trying to define street art and instead we focused on the working process of the individual artists. The questions were answered by Vyal, Crol, Demer and Leon Rainbow.

By Cern at Greenpoint / Brooklyn, NY
(click to enlarge)

Thirsty: I’ve never run across somebody who connected not for profit with street art.

Peter Krsko: It came about organically. It makes sense because young kids are attracted to street art and it is a good way to get them look at the street they live on from a different perspective. It encourages them to be creative, do their own stuff or at least ask questions about improving their neighborhoods. Public art is a loaded issue. It includes questions such as who should be allowed to put art in the places that everybody sees and are controlled by different entities. It's an issue that affects the neighborhood. Who is supposed to control what the blocks look like? The contemporary street art is a great way to attract young people and make them involved in this process.

Thirsty: I wanted to ask about Public Art 2.O, which seems to be a new way of looking at public art.

Peter Krsko: The idea is inspired by web 2.0. The content of these interactive websites is created by the users themselves. And that's exactly what happens in the streets. The entire sections of walls in certain neighborhoods are just these huge art collaborations. And that is exactly what our projects are about. For example, when people come to the Art Walk, they are encouraged not only to look at the art, but more importantly contribute to it. Everyone is pushed to put something on the wall and make the whole experience happen. We are still experimenting with this process but slowly trying to implement it into other neighborhoods.

Thirsty: Are you guys going to do this again?

Peter Krsko: I don't think Concrete Alchemy ever finished. Already there are new walls being produced in New Jersey, California and New York. Crol is putting together an amazing show "More Than Meets the Mind" in San Diego at the end of July that will feature all Concrete Alchemy artists that live in California. Leon Rainbow is planning Jersey Graffiti Jam in Trenton, NJ for August 9th, Col and Veng are currently working on coordinating Meeting of Styles in New York City on September 5-7th and two weeks later we will all paint in New Brunswick NJ during Streets 2k8 event. And in the meantime I am going to bring everyone back for another project in DC. I am spending a lot of time in that area and I've been able to secure a lot of very cool partnerships. In particular Words Beats & Life ( is an awesome organization that does a lot of great work for the kids in this city.


All opinions expressed by Caroline Cummings are solely her own and do not reflect the opinions of Stay Thirsty Media, Inc.

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