Green Camp

An A.R.T. Project

Control this slideshow with your keyboard arrow keys (see the upper left corner).

Cooper Union sold it a few decades ago, but working against tuition brought us together with alumni who had actually been there first hand. They told us all the stories. Green Camp wove seamlessly into the philosophy of our school: a modest set-up activated by a community working together. They told us about the bus that would deliver them into the woods, where they could escape the concrete and brick of the city. They told us how ideas and collaborations spurred on the lawn or by the river. They told us how Green Camp was as important as the school itself to their education.

There was something special about those woods—something they can't seem to really describe: something we wouldn't ever really understand, apparently.

"I'm sorry you'll never get to experience that place"

Green Camp would appear spontaneously in conversations about Cooper's array of problems. Someone says something reductive: they have a solution to some issue, any issue. "If only we cut the president's salary, we would be fine!" Someone else nullifies the solution with context for a larger issue, then they reductively offer a solution to larger context. "It's not just this president. George Campbell's retirement package topped Top 5 lists. We need to trim down the whole administration!" Then it repeats. "It's not just cutting spending, it's bringing in sustainable revenue. Why are we always making one-time sales?"

Then someone mentions Green Camp.

If we had never sold Green Camp, we would be okay today

“Green Camp was just one casualty of Cooper’s ‘Financial Plan’. To them it was just a drop in the bucket.”

“No, Green Camp was a first! They fought for Green Camp and it worked! They won!”

“It worked until they convinced them they won. Then two years later they sold it, and no one said a thing”

“Sounds fucking familiar.”

“It’s not that I don’t care...”

“No, I know. I feel the same. It’s like there are not proposals, there are orders. And there are not discussions, there are wars of attrition. Who can last the longest through a 5 hour meeting after a full day? But really, all along the decision has been made, and we’re doing what we’re doing, we just need to have that facade. I’m tired of it. I’m tired of being just a body in a room.”

“I’m just busy with my studio work.”

"First Green Camp, now the whole school!"

Green Camp became a premonition of the soon-to-be New Cooper Union. It was a destroyed utopia. Green Camp was something good turned in for money. We felt that once Green Camp had been lost, it could only exist in a youthful idealism.

Yes, obviously a Green Camp would be great, but pragmatically it just can't work. The poetics are nice, but the fact of the matter is that Green Camps cost money—money we don't have.

And then it became apparent that no one talked about present-day Green Camp. Maybe Green Camp still exists somewhere, out there. Maybe Green Camp exists for another institution. If we can find Green Camp still exists, maybe our other idealisms won't seem so far-fetched. If we can find Green Camp, maybe I will feel grounded.

But a destroyed utopia? Let's be frank here, free education is nice, but Cooper Union was no utopia.

A meritocracy? What is our concept of merit? Money buys you merit, then.

So we began a search for Green Camp inside of Cooper Union. Green Camp the actual may have been lost—forfeited—but traces of it still existed inside the institution. Alumni made books about it. We found a silent film in the library film archives.

"This is an image of it! That's what it looked like? They look like us! That looks like Troy!"

Somehow the images were shocking. I wanted to think Green Camp was real, but somewhere deep down I must have convinced myself Green Camp was impossible. But here it was! This was Green Camp recorded on film! This record proved me simultaneously right and wrong!

Another film advertised Cooper in the 1950s. It boasted of Green Camp: it was a selling point!
Landscape surveying! Painting! All this and more!

But they were, after all, archives. These documents proved Green Camp existed, but we already knew that. They weren’t enough to satisfy the yearning we had for Green Camp. We tried to find ourselves in the films, but we couldn't do it seamlessly. We wanted so badly to understand that Golden Age. And it became clear: Green Camp needed a new document. Maybe we had to seek out Green Camp in existence—the place itself.

No one seemed to know what Green Camp was presently. No one could say what happened to Green Camp after it was sold. The institutional memory simply stopped after 1973. If for no other reason, we wanted to find Green Camp for closure. We were so used to finding another container, a larger trouble, a bigger boss. We needed an end to something, for once.

What if Green Camp is an artist residency program now?

What if Green Camp was once free but because of continuous structural deficits it has no choice but to charge fees to its residents—leading to a massive drop in applicant interest because artists who can pay for residencies will go to programs that offer more in return than the woods?

Green Camp could be a park. At least in that case it would be available for everyone. Green Camp could offer its ethics and inspiration to everyone. It may not be the grounds for collaboration for a university, but maybe that's for the best. Maybe more people will benefit from the Green Camp experience. Maybe this is a more perfect form of education: a modest space that everyone can activate, not just those who were admitted. Green Camp's sale might have opened its doors! Not closed them!

It's possible that another Cooper exists our there... There could be some other institution offering a free arts and sciences education to young people exclusively on the basis of merit. They could have picked up where Green Camp left off. I wonder if Green Camp simply changed hands. Maybe nothing has changed but the owner.

I bet NYU bought it for its Art-as-Activism, Community Practice, and Public Relational Aesthetics MFA Program

For all we know, it's possible Cooper Union never even sold Green Camp! Maybe it was just too expensive to maintain, and they abandoned it. It could still belong to Cooper, we've just forgotten it. We're so in love with our memories of Green Camp that we forget we still have Green Camp! It could still be there! Waiting for us!

Oh god, what if Green Camp is one of those public parks that's private to a certain type of public: like a public lake that's landlocked by private properties so there's no public entrance, or a park that removes all its benches and trashcans so the homeless won't spend too much time there.

What if Green Camp is entirely private property? What if Green Camp is just a bunch lake houses and the tennis courts are for the winding housing development that wraps around it.

Or maybe some multi-millionaire industrialist bought the whole thousand acres and is just sitting on it until he thinks of a use for it. You know, maybe the multi-millionaire industrialist is some type of closeted philanthropist. We could find him at Green Camp and appeal for something!

We could take over the space as a headquarters for a student union, or a neutral space for organizing against tuition. We could even build an entire new school, rooted in the foundational philosophy: a derivative school of a lost philosophy planted in a lost space!

Or we could set up something to make the school some money. That for-profit residency program didn't sound so bad. Or we could sell Sunday-painting classes to the local senior citizens. Or start a gallery to represent some graduates! It's ground just waiting to be developed.

CV check: did you go when it was free or not?

We used the archived material and the stories we heard to find Green Camp.

And so we began our search for green spaces on a map.

We searched the landscapes for things we knew were a part of Green Camp.
There was a bridge and a dam that alumni had built as a gift to space.

I don't suppose we ever considered it could have been torn down for condos or a Wal-Mart.

We drove from green shape to green shape, checking every one against what we imagined Green Camp to be.

And then we found this.



This must be the place!

Driving down Farm Road—just as it was getting dark. At one lane, we had to roll down the hilly road slowly, our excitement peaking as we thought we'd finally reached Green Camp.

After the last hill, the road stopped. There was a building like we'd seen in the archives, green spaces like we'd seen on a map, but all behind a "Do Not Enter".

We weren't simply going to give up, we parked the car back a ways and walked up.

The tennis courts! The basketball courts! In the windows! Bunks! Kids in bunks! This is the exact spot!

We headed back to the entrance to knock on the door, or get information, or something—anything to interact.

Green RCH: New Jersey Law & Public Safety Juvenile Justice Commission

We recoiled—not in defeat, but in caution. The inheritance of the space was confusing. For the first time, we began to question what we were actually doing at Green Camp.

Our only instinct was to retreat to The Ringwood Manor, Peter Cooper's historic home. We fantasized about the romance of finding refuge where our school's founder lived. How fitting should it be that when a part of the institution goes astray—when we lose something—we may return to the foundation and build it again.

It almost made more sense that we could go searching for a missing piece and end up finding the core of the history. Such poetry!

And yet, at some point, you must admit defeat.

Green Residential Community Home
1311 Sloatsburg Rd.
Ringwood, NJ 07456
Superintendent: James Doone, Jr.
973-962-4525 (Fax)

Green Residential Community Home is located in rural Passaic County on the grounds of Ringwood State Park. It is a residential facility for younger male juvenile offenders between the ages of 13-16. The center serves a maximum of 32 residents.

The program’s goal is to provide a safe, secure, and structured environment where program participants learn to modify their behaviors and reactions; utilizing A.R.T. (Aggression Replacement Training), and other proven treatment modalities. Through these concepts, residents learn to adapt to change, accept accountability, and develop self-discipline. Individual and group counseling is provided by a contracted Psychologist and Psychiatrist.

The staff, acting as role models, instill a sense of espirit de corps [sic], teach realistic goal setting and promote responsible decision making. The residents learn to adapt to change, accept accountability and develop self-discipline.

Through a contract with the Playwright's Theater of New Jersey, residents are instructed in the writing and performance of one-act plays. Performances take place at the Playwright's Theater in Madison, New Jersey.

In addition, residents perform daily community service work on the grounds of Ringwood State Park and Ringwood Manor. The young men of Green RCH also provide assistance to the municipal government, ambulance corps, fire department, a local battered women's shelter and maintain one of the town's main roads through the Adopt-A-Road Program.

Is it ironic that Green RCH hopes to teach esprit de corps: to maintain belief in an institution? Green Camp tried, but it only worked for a few years. After a few years, people lose that conviction. Everybody insists on doing the past better than ever before.

Do you think Green RCH has that same kind of collegiate esprit de corps that has been the hallmark of traditional undergraduate institutions? Green Camp lasted 34 years before the esprit de corps faded out. Green RCH has been around for 39 years. Maybe the same thing will happen to them soon. Maybe the state will start questioning why they want to create more playwrights and performers, and they'll slash funding for Green RCH.

I suppose these places exist in generations.

But maybe there's some economic opportunity in these young offenders. They are categorized as misbehavior and sent to Green RCH, where they are instilled A.R.T. and esprit de corps. The theaters and the parks get free labor from these young men's personal enrichment. Then they discover a passion for the arts, and they apply for an arts university. Then they are handed a $200,000 bill and a BFA.

Announcing a partnership for profits: the prison industrial complex meets the education industrial complex: art schools as prisons!

All the while, we have a sense of esprit de corps.

Green Camp is now a juvenile corrections home? Is Green Camp a prison? Green Camp used to be a place of artistic experience and interdisciplinary collaboration! A symbol of free and open education! A social good! A community!

Now? Now it’s Green RCH? A place to help young offenders learn to modify their behaviors and reactions? To instill a sense of esprit de corps? Who gets sent here? Who pays for this? Is there a home test application to get into Green RCH and apprentice with the Playwright’s Theater of New Jersey? Is it free?

A camp is a camp, I suppose.

It's hard to react to this. We didn't know how to judge Green RCH as an incarnation of Green Camp. Maybe these young men are genuinely benefiting from an exposure to art. Perhaps the overall benefit the juvenile offenders receive from Green RCH is greater than that of Cooper Union students in the 1950s. It's possible that Green RCH is a progression of Green Camp's philosophy.

It's hard to say. We can't even image it.

They told us how Green Camp united students from all three schools. Green Camp provided an intersection for arts and sciences. People came to Green Camp and discovered interdisciplinary opportunities.

After all, Green Camp started as a place engineers could practice surveying. Then they started letting artists go to Green Camp to be inspired by the scenery. Everybody came together at Green Camp.

Green Camp was 1000 acres of woods to explore. They told us about reaching epiphanies only when entirely separated from the city grid. Something about Green Camp unlocked solutions.

If we had never sold Green Camp, we would be okay today.