NEWARK, NJ - As the Newark Arts Festival takes over the city, those who make and back the arts want to take over Newark's narrative.
"Arts and cities go together. When you take creative communities and you bring them together in cities like Newark, you get vibrancy. You get people whose voices get heard in ways that are not getting heard. Issues are revealed that need to be revealed," said Jeremy Johnson, executive director of Newark Arts, the nonprofit cultural organization that is the driving force behind the annual festival. "The arts itself, plus the economic development that it helps, creates places where people want to be, where for years people have not wanted to be. Now people are staying and returning here. The arts are very important for that."
The vital role that the arts play in Newark's civic life was underscored by the scope of the festival, which began on Wednesday and ends on Sunday. Over 500 artists are showing their work in more than 100 locations concentrated in Newark's revitalized downtown but spread throughout the city.
The wide-open cultural institutions like the Newark Museum and the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, galleries and parties serve as a powerful reminder that the arts play a critical role now in the city. In fact, it always did.
"Arts High was one of the very first schools that focused on the arts nationwide. Newark Symphony Hall is older than the Apollo Theater," said Ericka Régine, the co-producer of the Newark Arts Festival, who moved from Brooklyn to Newark five years ago. "This festival is about re-education. The city itself is art."
For those who make art, the festival is an affirmation of who they are and they work to do.
"For me, art is coming home to myself. My mother inspired me, and I just keep going," Smith, a Newark artist and educator. "It's important that the arts are recognized as a force for personal and artistic growth. It definitely has been for me."
Smith held a champagne brunch celebrating the exhibit she is curating, Spread Spectrum - A Modulation of Women Artists Speak, on Saturday at One Theater Square, a high-rise luxury apartment building facing NJPAC in downtown Newark, the first of its kind built in the city in decades. Standing outside on a beautiful fall afternoon, Johnson looked around him at what he hopes people see when they see Newark.
"If you haven't been in Newark for a while, you may have one concept of Newark. But in Newark today, I see plenty of beauty," Johnson said. "Newark is in a really pivotal time now. We can see what has come before. We're starting to see what is coming after. And the arts are right in the middle of it."
Please click here for a full schedule of Newark Arts Festival events.