NEWARK, NJ — The Newark Symphony Hall’s (NSH) 19-member board of directors will be headed by a new chairperson.
As New Jersey’s largest Black-led arts and entertainment venue, officials from the symphony hall announced on Thursday that Newark’s Arts and Cultural Affairs Director fayemi shakur was elected to chair of the board. As board chair, shakur is aimed to provide strategic fundraising and programming counsel on community programs, virtual events and racial justice initiatives.
“Newark Symphony Hall’s vibrant cultural history deserves to be celebrated,” shakur said. “I’m excited and humbled to chair its board of directors – comprised of such talented professionals, who have worked tirelessly to preserve and support the venue’s growth and long-term sustainability. This is important and joyful work.”
The symphony hall has already begun its first phase of a three-phase, five-year $40 million renovation project intended to create 500 jobs and assist 50 local businesses. shakur and the NSH board are planned to provide counsel on the venue’s various fundraising goals for the renovation.
Elected to her new role as chairwoman, shakur has served as a leader in the Newark arts community for more than 15 years.
She has held several notable positions in the arts community, which includes executive director at City Without Walls gallery; marketing and public program manager at Aljira, a Center for Contemporary Art; and co-founder of The Annual Lincoln Park Music Festival.
“fayemi’s reputation demonstrates a commitment to cultural organizing, mentorship and engaging programming that explores art that challenges the way we see and experience the world, ourselves and each other,” NSH President and CEO Taneshia Nash Laird said. “We’re thrilled to have her as chairwoman of our board and value her input. Overall, we anticipate success in the months ahead – in everything from enriching new programming to several community and economic development initiatives.”
As an arts and cultural affairs director, shakur launched the city’s first arts fund, the Creative Catalyst Fund, for flexible grant support during the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, a selection committee recommended 120 artists, art collectives and cultural organizations for funding; $800,000 was awarded to 120 individual artists, collectives and arts groups.
In 2019, she also founded "A Womb of Violet," a project-based collective created to celebrate the work of Black women writers, poets and interdisciplinary artists. She even served as a visiting lecturer in Rutgers University-Newark’s Department of Art, Culture and Media.
As a culture critic and interdisciplinary artist, her writing has been featured in publications including the New York Times, CNN Style, and more. With NSH, she has helped champion new virtual programming set to begin this month, which includes two new features, “Seen” and “Homegrown.”
“Seen” is a part interview show and part masterclass for local artists. At center stage, as the instructors, are Black, indigenous and people of color creatives in the live and filmed entertainment industries.
Similarly, “Homegrown” will share the stories of prominent artists and entertainers born and raised in Newark. Guests for this interview-style series include household names – each of whom will describe the impact and legacy of the Brick City, along with their contributions to the entertainment industry.
“Newark Symphony Hall’s historic stage represents the cultural backbone of our city, and I’m pleased that fayemi shakur, Newark’s arts and cultural affairs director, has been elected to preside over its board of directors,” Newark Mayor Ras Baraka said in a statement. “Her sound counsel on the venue’s arts programming and fundraising efforts will have a dynamic and positive impact for years to come, enhancing our city’s luster as a center for the arts and ensuring that residents and visitors alike enjoy world-class quality performances at Symphony Hall.”