Arts & Entertainment

Newark art scene in flux as redevelopment changes city landscape

Ryan Monroe, a freelance photographer, is moving to Newark's Lower Broadway neighborhood. Credits: Mark J. Bonamo
Lisa Conrad, executive director of the Newark Print Shop, is now looking for another space. Credits: Mark J. Bonamo
Express Newark, an arts incubator conceived by Rutgers University-Newark in collaboration with the local artist community, opened in early 2017 inside the refurbished Hahne & Co. building. Credits: Mark J. Bonamo
The Aljira Center for Contemporary Art, a Newark mainstay for more than three decades, is going through a reorganization. Credits: Mark J. Bonamo

Artists were urban pioneers in locales like Williamsburg, Brooklyn and Jersey City, setting the stage for the economic infusion that dramatically changed the landscape.

With the same surge now happening in Newark, local artists are surveying the scene, wondering what will come, and searching for ways to stay.

"When I moved to Newark, I moved into a very active, inspiring, and underground arts space," said Lisa Conrad, 36, founder and executive director of the Newark Print Shop. "Now, it's a vastly different downtown Newark. Every time that yet another artist space is lost, some will stay. But the city will also lose artists."

Sign Up for E-News

Artists who have helped to lay the groundwork for Newark's ongoing revival are worried that positive change will pass them by. Many of the small galleries that dot downtown are now threatened by rising rents that could force them to close or move.

When Conrad first moved to Newark from Philadelphia eight years ago, the city’s downtown was still affordable. She paid just $187 a month in rent for a share in a combined residential loft and artists' studio above a fried chicken joint on Broad Street across from Military Park.

Since then, the park has been completely refurbished, Prudential’s new office tower opened and the long vacant Hahne & Co. department store has been transformed into an residential and retail destination anchored by an upscale Whole Foods supermarket.

The renovated Hahne & Co. building also includes Express Newark, an arts incubator conceived by Rutgers University-Newark in collaboration with the local artist community. The 50,000-square foot facility includes space for the Newark Print Shop. The shop was founded in 2012 and landed at Express Newark after it opened in early 2017. But now the shop will be on the move again - the time-limited residency that allowed it to have space at Express Newark is up.

"We understand that the Newark Print Shop made a great contribution to the vibrancy of Express Newark and the Hahne’s building and we are thankful for that," wrote Anne Englot, a professor at Rutgers-Newark and the co-director of Express Newark, in an email, noting that the print shop contractually only had a limited year-to-year period of residency at the facility.

"We wish the Newark Print Shop well, we plan to continue to support them, and we will be thrilled to see them succeed as they “graduate” from this incubator because we truly think they are ready," Englot wrote.

Conrad is now readying the print shop for its fourth move in just over five years.

"We're focusing on how we can continue to be a long-term resource for the arts community," she said. "The thriving dynamic here in Newark came from the grassroots, ground up. But our mantra is the same as it's always been - how to find funds and space."

The endless artist search for funds and space has spurred many to move from places like Brooklyn and Jersey City.

"I'm purchasing a whole 1,500-square-foot building in Newark for less than I sold my one-bedroom condo in Bed-Stuy," said Ryan Monroe, 35, a freelance photographer who also works in finance, who is moving to the Lower Broadway neighborhood. "There are still plenty of neighborhoods in Newark that are very affordable. They may not be downtown, because it's a gold mine now. But there are still a lot of opportunities elsewhere."

Monroe believes that if artists want to maintain an active presence in Newark, they literally have to own it.

"There is only one way to avoid being priced out - you have to own. The arts drives redevelopment, and when you own, you get to participate in that redevelopment," Monroe said. "If you have a group of three or four artists, you can purchase a place in the South Ward. I empathize with those who are having a hard time. But you have to ask the right questions about grants and about how the government can help you. If you ask the right questions of the right people, you're not completely helpless."

"Newark is never going to be any more affordable than it is today," Monroe added. "You're going to have to make a decision."

Jeremy Johnson, the executive director of Newark Arts, noted that several arts organizations in the city are going through transitions. The Aljira Center for Contemporary Art, a Newark mainstay for more than three decades, is going through a reorganization. City without Walls (CWoW) has closed its doors, although a movement is in the works for it to reemerge in the Lincoln Park area.

But Johnson also noted that if artists radiate from downtown, the move could give them the best chance to benefit from Newark's revitalization.

"Newark is undeniably in a period of growth and change. I’d like to emphasize that Newark Arts is interested in the arts across our city - not only the arts district downtown, but in neighborhoods in all five Newark wards.  We are working to seed a stronger arts presence, for example, in Clinton Hill, Fairmount, Lincoln Park and more," Johnson said. "Artists and arts organizations have long been at the forefront of the city’s growth. We look forward to working with all partners to ensure Newark remains a city of the arts."

When asked what it's going to take to allow her to remain, Conrad pointed out that ultimately, artists in Newark have to count on themselves.

"Artists need to organize and learn how to access capital that working-class artists don't have - we have to band together and own our own spaces," Conrad said. "That's the only way that artists will not continually have to move around. Otherwise, we're at the mercy of the market. If we can tap into our own creativity and resiliency, we're going to survive and thrive."

TAP Into Another Town's News:

Sign Up for E-News


He Grew Up In James Baxter Terrace. Today, He Ushers in a Newark Condo Complex

July 19, 2018

NEWARK, NJ - Hassan Keith grew up in the city’s James Baxter Terrace public housing, and now he's come back to unveil a 24-unit condominium complex on Clinton Avenue he helped build. 

Keith teamed up with the NFL's Mike Adams to form the Mid-Atlantic Investment Alliance development company along with two others. Today, they cut the ribbon on the new Lofts at ...

Mothers Mobilize in Newark to Protest Trump Family Separation Policy

June 22, 2018

NEWARK, NJ - A group of New Jersey mothers took time to come to Newark with the kind of loved ones recently taken from other mothers: their children.

"It's unconscionable that our government is stealing children from their parents and locking them up in cages," said Christina Liu, a Montclair mom holding her baby daughter, commenting on President Donald Trump's recent ...

Market Street Patrol Building May Be Named After Late Undersheriff

June 28, 2018

NEWARK, NJ — The death of Essex County Undersheriff Kevin Ryan on June 20 was a "devastating loss" for the department and for the county’s sheriff, Armando Fontoura.

“He was like a son to me. He was always the first one on the scene. He was always there to help. It’s just devastating. There is not much more I can say," Fontoura said in a ...

Girl Scouts Heart of New Jersey Opens Camp DeWitt Conference Center and Activity Building

July 2, 2018

HILLSBOROUGH, N.J. – If you don’t know by now, Girl Scouts is much more than cookies, crafts, and summer camp.

In fact, the Girl Scouts Heart of New Jersey say they should host your next professional business conference, special event, or any other big celebration in which you are looking to seriously impress.

Look no further than Camp DeWitt in Hillsborough, the site of ...

Upcoming Events


Fri, July 27, 10:00 AM

Lincoln Park, Newark

Lincoln Park Music Festival Sustainable Health ...


Thu, August 16, 5:00 PM

Branch Brook Park, Newark

Movies Under the Stars

To Our Current and Future Representatives

July 17, 2018

To Our Current and Future Representatives - Wherever They May Be:

We can never forget we are a nation of immigrants. 

We cannot fall prey to fear, ignorance and anger when we  have been historically driven by freedom and justice. 

We must have the courage and will to fight hate, bigotry and prejudice. 

We must not wake up to what we hoped was a bad dream and ...

A Statewide Solution on Disposable Bags Aids the Fight Against Litter

June 29, 2018

The New Jersey Clean Communities Council (NJCCC) just released the results of a year-long visual litter study that shows that nearly 10 percent of all litter on our roadways and highways is in the form of plastic and paper bags.

There is no doubt that these bags are of significant and ongoing environmental concern, creating an even more difficult job for our clean communities volunteers across ...