Many arts councils throughout the nation are examining how best to connect with their respective communities, especially when their budgets are modest or non-existent. I believe we can all learn a lot from the success of Newark Arts, the 37 year-old, nonprofit organization at the center of the massive and innovative Newark Arts Festival, which opens this coming Thursday, October 10, 2019.
The key to the festival’s growth and expansion this year is a collaboration with real estate developers, which was spearheaded by the organization’s Executive Director Jeremy V. Johnson. He cultivated partnerships with developers to activate and convert seven unoccupied downtown spaces into temporary art exhibits that will showcase local arts and culture during the festival. Because artists are constantly looking for exhibit and performance space, this collaboration is a win-win solution for everyone.
“By converting vacant storefronts to temporary showplaces, we can attract art buyers, generate foot traffic, and even spur interest in long-term leases,” Mr. Johnson noted. “Most importantly, Newark’s art and culture can continue to bloom as artists enliven otherwise quiet streets.”
The event’s lead curator, Adrienne Wheeler, a Newark-based multi-media artist and arts educator, said the expansion to seven downtown properties enables the festival to have a larger footprint to display a broad array of visual arts and present live performances by emerging and established creatives from Newark, the region, as well as internationally.
This year’s festival will be one of the best yet and will showcase the work of more than 200 artists. I had the opportunity to conduct a brief interview with Mr. Johnson and learn more about this inventive effort to expand the Newark Arts Festival. I am happy to share this conversation with the readers of Arts & Culture Connections:
Donna Walker-Kuhne: Why is the Newark Arts Festival important for Newark?
When you combine cities and arts, a powerful thing happens. People become engaged. They come out of their digital silos to experience art and to experience each other. Artists are making statements that are relevant to our times.
Newark Arts is proud to produce the four-day festival in partnership with our title sponsor Prudential, official airline United, the City of Newark, the New Jersey Performing Arts Center’s Women’s Association, as well as scores of artists, additional sponsors, developers, institutions, nonprofits, and volunteers!
Donna: What makes the Newark Arts Festival different from other festivals?
Jeremy: The Newark Arts Festival has something for everyone–visual arts, spoken word, film, theater, music, performance art, dance. The visual arts have historically been at the heart of the festival, which started 18 years ago as the Open Doors Studio Tour. We still include a tour for the public to visit artists’ studios around town. But the festival is now four days and has expanded into a celebration of all the arts across the entire city.
Donna: How are the artists selected?
Jeremy: We started soliciting for participating artists in June, working with a panel of jurists from the visual and performing arts worlds. The lead curator is Adrienne Wheeler, a Newark-based multimedia artist, art educator and advocate for social justice. She’s working with some outstanding curators for our pop-up exhibits, including Terry Boddie, Cheryl Mack, Kween Moore, Atim Annette Oton, Armisey Smith, Onnie Strother and Mary Valverde.
Donna: Why do you think you were voted New Jersey’s Favorite Visual Arts Festival by jerseyarts.org?
Jeremy: The festival is an all-encompassing umbrella of all the great arts happenings during one exciting weekend in October. The museums and studios are in overdrive with up-to-the-minute installations that reflect the real world we live in. Newark is a diverse city, and the festival artists mirror our history, our up-and-comers, and established icons, too. People relate to the festival’s authenticity and passion.
Donna: The schedule is overflowing with exciting events! What do you recommend for the newcomer?
Jeremy: Start with Newark Arts “Spotlight events,” which are one-of-a-kind happenings in one-of-a-kind spaces—there are seven such locations in the downtown area this year. Also, I can’t overemphasize the galleries, which are a mainstay of the art scene, year in and year out. Check them out. And don’t forget to venture to the cultural hubs in our neighborhoods. Three of the newest are Akwaaba Gallery in the West Ward, RyArMo Photography Studio in the Lower Broadway area, and Cement Gallery in Lincoln Park. These black-owned and black-run spaces are helping redefine Newark’s vibrant arts scene.
Donna: Please share information about some of the partnerships developed for the festival that all visitors should be sure to check out.
Jeremy: There’s an amazing outdoor collaborative project, A Call to Peace, on display in Military Park. The project was the result of a partnership between New Arts Justice’s Salamishah Tillet (who also is the Rutger University’s Henry Rutgers Professor of African American and African Studies on the Newark campus) and Paul Farber, co-founder of Philadelphia’s Monument Lab. They invited renowned visual artists Manuel Acevedo, Chakaia Booker, Sonya Clark, and Jamel Shabazz to create works that responded to the prompt, “What is a timely monument for Newark?”
We also are partnering with historic Newark Symphony Hall, converting their front window space into a pop-up exhibit. The hall’s black box theater will feature a major performance art experience by Daryl Stewart and voiceover work by Newark’s own MJ Rodriguez of the renowned television show, “Pose.”
We are happily linked to other arts happenings during this “art-sy” weekend: NJPAC’s free Authors Expo, featuring authors Mikki Taylor and Rekesha Pittman. And the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra’s opening night will honor Curtland Fields, President and CEO of the Turrell Fund, a perennial supporter of the arts and early childhood education.
And we are especially proud to partner with Making Strides Against Breast Cancer to encourage survivors and supporters to be “art-ful” during their annual march Sunday morning. March participants will find respite afterwards in the galleries and studios—the free Open Doors Studio Tour runs Sunday afternoon. There’s also the Newark Museum’s calming exhibit “Beyond Zen,” which sounds perfect after a march. The museum is the fitting site of the festival’s closing event, featuring performances and refreshments.
Donna: What’s going on with Newark’s murals?
Jeremy: Every year, Newark adds to its portfolio of murals and public art. Every single ward boasts imaginative art that evokes the spirit of the community. On Saturday we’re offering Murals and Mojitos, a guided bus tour led by a long time Newark booster Khalil Chaneyfield Nass, and curated by Jo-El Lopez, an artist, muralist, and mentor to some of the city’s youngest street artists.
Donna: And please share information about activities for families with children.
Jeremy: If you have kids, Saturday is a must. We’re continuing our festival-within-a-festival—Open Doors Kids. This event includes a variety of family-friendly fare at schools, the Newark Museum, the Newark Public Library, and more. All of the Open Doors Kids events are free.
Donna: Thank you, Jeremy.
The Newark Arts Festival kicks-off with a free street fair, that you absolutely don’t want to miss! My friends know how much I love arts festival. You definitely will find me taking in the sights this weekend, including spending time at the Authors Expo, as well as attending the Wonder Woman Champagne Brunch, sponsored by NJPAC’s Women’s Association.
The brunch will feature an exhibition of empowering works by women artists, and will be held at One Theater Square, a new 22-story, 245-apartment complex across the street from the performing arts center. The building has devoted space on its ground level to celebrate the arts.
I look forward to seeing you there! And if you have a favorite art festival that you’d like me to know about, share your comments below, or send me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org.