Looking Back to the Future

Ever since the construction of I-280 cut through the heart of Orange, New Jersey, in the 1960s, it has been a city divided. Montclair State anthropology professors Christopher Matthews and Katherine McCaffrey are members of a team headed by Valley Arts to help mitigate the divide. The Orange community arts organization has received a grant from ArtPlace America for a multifaceted research, arts, culture and community development collaboration.

Painting of a house literally divided by a highway with the inscription "The House that 280 Built."Guided by the idea that to know the future of a place you need to know its past, the professors will work with Valley Arts, the free University of Orange, ORNG Ink, HANDS, Inc. and the City of Orange on the project titled "Unearthing the Future: The Art of Reverse Archaeology — Interstate 280 in Orange."

Many American cities have suffered from disruptive and poorly planned highway development. Says McCaffrey: "If we can propose some creative community-driven solutions in Orange, we could potentially contribute to national conversations on repairing our nation's urban fabric."

"When the center of Orange was bulldozed, it ruptured social ties and devalued the community. The destruction of the community continues to reverberate today in the roar of the six lanes of traffic coursing through the city's former core. We're building a counternarrative that emphasizes people's resilience and creativity in the face of indifference, neglect and harm that will help fuel an understanding of new possibilities and alternatives to the historic destruction," she says.

According to Matthews, a historical archaeologist, the excavation for the I-280 route exposed an archaeological site that has yet to be interpreted. "We will draw from the city's past and present through historical and ethnographic research and public art," he says.

"This excavation removed a great deal of the history and culture of Orange," says Matthews. "Through our work, some of this can be put back, making this an archaeology in reverse."

Matthews and McCaffrey will conduct primary research, from oral histories to interviews, and collect visual materials that artists will interpret and represent visually with artwork and performances.