Yvonne Onque has watched the transformation of Washington Park go from a place she frequented as a child to an area of Newark later neglected.
“I’ve lived with this park,” Onque said. “This is part of my DNA.”
On Thursday afternoon, Onque, 68, was among two-dozen people painting the bases of solar panel poles punctuating the park as part of an art installation that aims to revitalize the space.
Onque, one of several artists involved in the project who were born and raised in Newark, called it part of “the renaissance of this park.”
The base of the solar light poles – resembling that of floor lamps – are part of the park’s Sensory Lab, a pop-up art project consisting of an amalgam of turquoise and yellow seating modules and planters laid out throughout the park. Audiobook company Audible, which occupies office buildings off Newark’s Broad Street, installed the lab in June.
Amrisa Niranjan, who lived and worked in Newark at an asset management firm for two years, said when she first moved in Newark in 2015, she used to walk through the park – but with caution.
“It seemed like a shame that it wasn’t, at the time, a place that I felt comfortable walking through alone,” Niranjan said.
Niranjan, 30, was painting two hands overlapping a blossoming flower on one of several bases where she had laid out sketches. She said she hoped the project would draw people to the city, not keep people away because of the reputation it is sometimes known for.
“I hope by investing in the community and building things like this that that stigma starts to get removed and people see it as, basically, a cultural hub,” Niranjan said.
Audible Public Policy and Community Affairs Vice President Colin Newman, who was also at the park Thursday, said dozens of the company’s employees volunteered to join the artists and paint their own bases.
Audible offers its employees several incentive programs to volunteer in the community, spend their lunch break at eateries in the city and pays extra for people who choose to live in Newark instead of in surrounding suburban areas.
Newman said the art installation was a way the company aimed to “breath new life into Washington Park” because, in part, it is located in the office’s front yard.
Eight local artists were tapped to paint the bases. They were chosen by local curator and teacher Kween Moore, who managed the project. Moore said she chose the artists based on those who had shown in her exhibitions during the Newark Arts Festival. Some of the artists were paired with volunteers from Audible.
Andrece Brady, an artist also born and raised in Newark, said she’s seen the neighborhood transform just in the last year alone. Brady, 25, includes text in some of her work including short phrases such as “City of Growth” and “Newark needs you.”
She said her goal of being part of the project was to “blend and merge cultures and ideas.”
“And also to beautify the park,” Brady said. “I remember when there was nothing here and it was just gravel and grass.”