Charles Village’s Newest Public Art Project

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In case you have’t noticed, there have been a lot of changes happening around North Charles Street, near the Hopkins campus.

The two-year, $25 million Charles Street reconstruction project remade the Charles Village streetscape between 25th Street and University Parkway. The primary goals of the construction were to make the streets safer for ambling college pedestrians, and to improve traffic flow–but they also managed to sneak a little public art in there, too.

Optical Gardens is part plaza, part public art, and part landscape architecture, located on Charles Street between 33rd and 34th streets. At a cost of $254,000 it’s one of the largest and most expensive works of public art in the city’s history, and was funded through the city’s One Percent for Art program, which requires that public works projects set aside 1 percent of their budget for public art.

Although it may not be clear at first glance, the new park/plaza is in part inspired by Johns Hopkins researchers, “with references to everything from astronomers seeking other life-bearing planets, to geologists searching for underground streams, to scientists at work in the laboratory,” according to the Hopkins Hub.

“I think the most successful public art has a conceptual side and a formal side. It has to be conceptually strong,” said Kim Domanski, public art specialist for BOPA. “This has so many layers. Some are related to Hopkins. Some are related to water filtration. It’s a really well-thought-out project. People are going to come to it and make their own conclusions, and that’s great.”

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