By Jill Colvin
MANHATTAN — A young Dutch design student has a vision: a Times Square with modern art pieces replacing the multitude of advertising billboards, transforming the "crossroads of the world" into a giant outdoor gallery space.
And while the plan, hatched by Amsterdam's Justus Bruns, may sound far-fetched, it has been gaining ground, with supporters already donating enough to pay for Bruns' ticket across the Atlantic to introduce the idea to New York.
Bruns, a 22-year-old industrial design engineering student, said he has always been intrigued by the idea of replacing ads with art. While he doesn't have a problem with billboards, he said, being surrounded by art inspires people to come up with new ideas and put them into action.
That's where "Times Square to 'Arts Square'" was born.
"I think it's going to be even more mind-blowing [than the current square]," he said of his vision.
Last week, Bruns came to the city to talk to residents and meet with groups like the Times Square Alliance to discuss the plan.
While he knows it's unlikely he'll get all of the companies who own billboards to donate space, he said that if he can get just a handful to lend their spaces — even if just for a few minutes — he will have accomplished his goal. He is also open to the idea of paying.
Glenn Weiss, the Times Square Alliance's manager of public art and design, said that while he is not actively working with Bruns, he wishes him well.
"I think the idea is fantastic," he said, adding that he especially likes the focus on empowering ideas.
Weiss said the project's biggest obstacle will likely be gaining access to the billboards, since most are leased on long-term contracts.
Still, some companies have donated space for events in the past, including Broadway on Broadway and Earth Day, he said. And Times Square is already home to several recent art projects, including artist Molly Dilworth's "Cool Water, Hot Island," which saw the square's pedestrian plazas painted bright blue.
Bruns said that while he recognizes the hurdles, he's not dissuaded.
"We shoot for the moon every day," he said.