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For immediate release: Sept. 26, 2005
For further information contact: Nancy Einbinder 732-981-2166

Original Artwork to Be Unveiled at Middlesex County Courthouse

Note to Editors: Reporters and photographers are invited to attend a private reception at 3 p.m. on Sept. 29 to view exhibits. To make arrangements, please call the number above.

New Brunswick, NJ - A new art installation has opened in town, but not in a location most would expect. Thanks to the efforts of graphic design students and faculty at Rutgers' Mason Gross School of the Arts, the Middlesex County Courthouse, at 1 JFK Square, has become the latest member of the New Brunswick arts community.

The students recently completed two semester-long projects in the courthouse: an art installation in the Arbitration Area, where parties attempt to resolve civil disputes without going to trial, and a hallway exhibit on the New Jersey 1947 Constitution and Convention. These displays are complemented by a third exhibit composed of copies of historical documents, maps and photographs selected by court staff from the Special Collections and University Archives of the Rutgers University Libraries. All three exhibits will remain on permanent display in the courthouse.

A committee of judges and courthouse personnel commissioned the Mason Gross design project, and three professors-Gerry Beegan, Jacqueline Thaw and Brian Janusiak-offered guidance throughout the process. The goal was to provide law-related education and artwork for the courthouse while giving the design students a comprehensive practical experience.

For the Arbitration Area project, the students spent some time learning about the arbitration process before compiling a collection of original photos depicting people having conversations. From a distance, the pictures seem out of focus, but as the viewer draws closer to the conversation things become much clearer, reflecting the clarity that comes from effective communication. In this manner the exhibit emphasizes that good communication may resolve disputes.

Students expanded the concept of conversation to include the layout of the room itself, moving furniture and décor into arrangements that encourage the people in the room to talk to each other. "What really struck me was how uncomfortable it was," said Graciela Meza, who worked on the project. "Most of the people coming in here weren't even sure what arbitration was, so they were scared to begin with."

Assistant Professor Jacqueline Thaw agreed that the room needed to be redesigned. "We actually went further than just dressing up the walls," she said. "The students treated the whole environment as an installation."

For the Constitutional Law Project, the students selected historical photographs from the New Jersey State Archives to accompany a script provided by Civil Division Presiding Judge Amy Piro Chambers. To highlight the rights provided by the Constitution and apply them to modern life, they commissioned a photo shoot to express the concepts visually. The result is a concise, inviting visual display that informs the viewer about the 1947 Constitutional Convention and about important provisions in the State Constitution.

Judge Chambers expressed her enthusiasm for the exhibits: "The Mason Gross students, along with their professors, have produced works that are visually attractive and convey a law-related message appropriate for the courthouse environment. We were thrilled with the creativity, enthusiasm, and careful thought they brought to these projects."

Both student groups benefited immensely from learning how to plan and execute a design from start to finish while working under budgetary and time constraint-for a real client. They presented ideas, contracted student photographers, ran photo shoots, and worked with vendors to produce and install the project.

"Experience designing in a group, and working with a client's vision, is something that you usually don't get much of an opportunity to do in design school," said Chris Johanesen, who worked on the Constitutional Law Project. "While most of our design classes taught us invaluable design and conceptual skills, I think that having this real-world experience gives us a great advantage professionally."

The exhibit created by court staff highlights the history of New Brunswick and the courthouses that have served Middlesex County through the years. The items in the exhibit are accompanied by panels that describe the images and offer a history lesson on New Brunswick, which beat Perth Amboy in a close election to become the site of the Middlesex County Courthouse. The Middlesex County Cultural and Heritage Commission provided the funding for this exhibit.

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