Middlesex County News

New Brunswick, Highland Park, Rutgers, Use Art to Team Up Against Hate

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"Windows of Understanding" drew in participation from New Brunswick's Esperanza Neighborhood Project. Credits: Courtesy of the Zimmerli Art Museum

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - Hate incidents across the country have been on the rise in the past year, and New Brunswick has been no exception.

That’s why city officials will be partnering with ​the Borough of ​Highland Park and the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University, for a month-long arts project meant to promote peace, love and understanding.

“Windows of Understanding: We See Through ,” as the project is titled, will kick off on ​Dr. ​Martin Luther King​, Jr.​ Day, ​on ​Jan. 15 and will continue for the next month. 

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Roughly two dozen ​businesses ​in the borough and city, are taking part. Many of those businesses line the streets of the downtown areas; Raritan Avenue in Highland Park, and George and French ​s​treets in New Brunswick.

For the entire month, they'll display artwork on their windowsills aimed at promoting counter messages to many of the hate and bias incidents which have been on the rise in the past year.

During the official kick-off​, the organizers will host a series of hour-long walking tours in New Brunswick and Highland Park to showcase the art.

That aspect of the project is meant to mirror similar community-wide events hosted in Highland Park in years prior.

Namely, there’s been the Highland Park borough-wide art crawl, where residents could see art put on display on the windowsill​s​ of different businesses on ​Main ​Street, according to ​Highland Park ​Councilwoman Stephanie Kim.

The idea for the next month is to "create literal windows of understanding,” said co-founder and organizer Cassandra Oliveras-Morena, an administrator at the Mason Gross Visual Arts Department.

Oliveras-Morean added that the project will use “art as a language, to communicate and respond to this negativity,”

“Our hope is that this really communicates solidarity,” Oliveras-Morean said.

Artists, of which there are about 20, were individually assigned to particular businesses; then they’d meet and exchange ideas about the mission of ​each particular store.

The artist takes that info, using it to guide them on how to answer the question, “How do we see through hate​?​”

“It’s challenging organizations to think about themselves in a different way in this political climate,” Oliveras-Morean said.

One artist, Claudio Mir, coordinated with the Rutgers Center for Latino Arts and Culture (CLAC) to display the “America Is” art piece, which he said will be in response to white supremacist, anti-immigration flyers posted around New Brunswick in December.

“​The flyer​ claimed that America is a white country, calling undocumented immigrants criminals, and providing the telephone number of ICE,” Mir said. “I am using that idea, reclaiming it in the favor of diversity, claiming it as a positive value in our society.”

Another artist, Highland Park resident Amee Pollack, said her piece is in response to anti-Semitic incidents which have been on the rise ​at ​Rutgers University.

She’s been coordinating with the Rutgers University Allen and Joan Bildner Center for the Study of Jewish Life,

“Behold…. The Library,” Pollak writes. “Given that the Jewish people have been known as the “People of the Book,” this art intervention has taken the form of a library, an embodiment of the value and importance of education in the world.”

“Knowledge + values + inquiry = community + empowerment.”

Throughout the month, organizers will host a slew of other events coordinated across New Brunswick, Highland Park and Rutgers University.

TAPinto New Brunswick is partnering with ProPublica to track hate crimes in the region. The partnership is part of a nationwide project to track and report bias incidents across the country.

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