"The noblest function of art"
Declaring that “the noblest function of art is to oppose what is ugly,” Newark Mayor Ras Baraka launched the Newark Arts Festival with an eloquent description of the power of art in raising people out of the “ugliness” of poverty and prejudice.
Newark Arts Director Jeremy Johnson had a more precise definition of the benefits of the arts: he told CivicStory that according to a recent Newark Arts survey, the nonprofit arts scene in the city has generated 5,000 jobs and $187 million in revenue. Johnson credits the smaller studios as well as venerable institutions such as the Newark Museum and Performing Arts Center.
The venue for the festival’s opening reception was itself a symbol of Newark Rising: Express Newark is a modern, spacious and open collaborative workspace that anchors one corner of the spectacularly-renovated Hahne building downtown. In explaining the mission of Express Newark, co-director Victor Davson said the collaboration between Rutgers-Newark and the City of Newark was about “democratic discourse - using the arts to change the narrative through performances, lectures, and engaged scholarship”.
Ask the artists about discourse, and you’re likely to get as many different answers as there were stops on the Arts Festival preview walking tour. More than 70 events were listed on the website, with additional popup exhibits over a four-day period in every ward of the city.
“I’m proud to be part of this art journey,” says Genesis Tramaine, the artist whose “NeNe” painting was selected to represent the arts festival logo this year.
“I try to turn trash into treasure,” explains a visual artist who goes by the name ChromaDonna.
At the Newark Library, a display of common artifacts of Hispanic life in America, called “Are Latinx Transforming the US?” was curated by associate librarian Juber Ayala, who says they entitled the exhibit as a question to spark a dialogue with visitors.
Gwen Moten, Executive Director of the Mayor’s Office of Arts, Cultural Development and Tourism, summed up the Newark Arts Festival this way: “This is a very, very great cultural leap for our city. Besides sheer size there is a change in tone - more inclusiveness, more variety, and having other artists come from great distances and want to be here.”