Franciscan Volunteers start Peace Art Project in Camden

CAMDEN — A mural that depicts what peace means in the neighborhood was unveiled June 21 in Cramer Hill’s Von Nieda Park as part of the Peace Art Project.

The mural’s unveiling was held at the Cramer Hill Little League concession stand in the county park, the centerpiece of a rally that drew some 80 people from the neighborhood, and was part of St Anthony of Padua Church’s Peace Art Project celebrating specific pledges from Camden City, County Park Police and County Parks Department to maintain and patrol Von Nieda Park.

The Peace Art Project is an after-school program and the idea for the mural was put together by these students and the Little League, according to Anna Perkins, Peace Art coordinator.

The after school students of St. Anthony of Padua School along with the Little League players were told of the positive influence of art in the community, said Perkins. They determined the mural’s subject and helped artist Dressler Smith paint the mural on the outside of the Little League’s snack shack. Smith is with the Rutgers Center for the Arts.

“The kids have an understanding of what peace means in our neighborhood,” she said. “They already see changes in the park. The mural depicts peace-making already happening, along with a community garden, and the kids included a tree in the mural, which is hope for growth. There are so many symbols of hope depicted.”

The Peace Art Project was begun earlier this year by Perkins and Norma Dhanaraj, both St. Anthony of Padua Franciscan Volunteers. Funding for the project came from the county’s Cultural and Heritage Commission which receives funds from the State Council on the Arts/Department of State.

They collaborated with St. Anthony of Padua Church, the Little League, and Camden Churches Organized for People (CCOP), and other community leaders.

Perkins noted that when the focus centered on the revitalization of Von Nieda Park, one of the largest parks in the county system — which is across the street from St. Anthony’s — then local people and parishioners spoke out about the drugs and public drinking and other activities that occur evenings and weekends.

A representative from the mayor’s office and city police officials showed up at the rally but minutes before they were to join their city counterparts, county police officials had to cancel, said Perkins.

“CCOP had already met with police about problems in the park after hours,” said Perkins. “The police, both county and city, expressed their desire to improve policing of the park. The rally was the start of that so the people in the neighborhood wouldn’t be surprised by the larger police presence.”

Perkins noted that people in the area feel the park belongs to them.

“There’s a big soccer field there, for instance,” she pointed out. “Parking has always been a problem along with public drinking. When the changes are made many people will be affected, hopefully for the good. Our CCOP committee reached out to police so they could reach out to the community around the park so they could have a feeling of ownership in some of changes.”

Father William Jud Weiksnar, pastor, said the parish received a commitment that trash will be picked up three times a week.

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