Landscape-architecture artist Athena Tacha wrote to the State of New Jersey with a question: Could someone look after her work?
She wasn’t prepared for the state’s response.
Tacha is responsible for “Green Acres,” a landscape architecture feature commissioned by the state in 1985. The piece—a site-specific “step-sculpture”—comprises the courtyard of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) in Trenton, N.J. It’s a 77-by-85-foot landscaped series of brick step forms, a major work for Tacha, built with a budget of more than $400,000. The work was commissioned as part of the N.J. State Council for the Arts “% for Art” program, and according to Tacha, the bricklayers who built it won an award in 1991 from the state for the feature’s innovative brick masonry.
The feature has seen better days. It was restored in 2005, Tacha says, but in January, the D.C.-based artist and University of Maryland instructor wrote to the department to note that Green Acres has since suffered “brick cracks, chipped corners and sunken slate slabs.”
She wrote them twice, Tacha says. “No response whatsoever!”
Months later, New Jersey’s Division of Property Management and Construction got back to her. In an April 18 letter, deputy director and chief of staff Guy C. Bocage responded to tell her that DEP wouldn’t be restoring the work—they would be replacing it.
The reason was twofold. “As you know, the State of New Jersey and the DEP has long recognized the value that the public arts projects bring to enhancing the lives of its citizens,” the letter reads. “However, in the current austere economic times, that value is balanced with the scarcity of funds available for the repair of public art.”
In his letter, Brocage recognizes that the state of Green Acres has deteriorated. But he then cites a different reason that Green Acres must be replaced. “Be advised that in the event of emergency evacuations from the DEP headquarters, the sculpture is used as a means of passage from the courtyard and away from the building,” the letter reads. “Due to its current state of deterioration, Green Acres now poses a public safety risk to the occupants and visitors of the DEP headquarters because it impedes the safe and expeditious evacuation of the building. As a result, the Green Acres [sic] needs to be removed from the site.”
The letter to Tacha states that New Jersey is “willing to accommodate your removal of the sculpture at your own expense,” providing a July 31 date to accommodate the removal.