NEWARK, NJ — In Saturday’s sweltering afternoon heat, artist Kween Moore and her team layered the colors of a sunset with rollers and paint in Newark’s Central Ward, stopping periodically to indulge in juice and water from a cooler.
Moore, the project manager for a new community-based mural art initiative called Hope Box, was one of a number of artists tasked with decorating the Central Ward’s electrical boxes this past weekend.
Introduced by councilwoman LaMonica McIver through Newark Arts, the beautification project aims to place a spotlight on each neighborhood’s unique culture.
The theme, “Current,” is meant to send a charge of creative initiative throughout the surrounding areas where the electrical boxes are located. The first pilot program recruited all female-led artists and teams for the conceptualization and designs.
“It was a beauty to be able to call on all women for this first round, and for the second pilot we will move about and move in more and more artists,” Moore, also a curator for Femme Arts and a teacher, said. “Without artists, we’re not really telling the story of the people.”
Moore said that her design, which will include a sunset on one side, a night sky and a Black woman with a head wrap, will reflect the neighborhood’s Muslim community and African people.
At a time when Newark is still recovering from COVID-19 and the world at large is consumed by political and social turbulence, the permanence of Hope Box sets out to represent the positive spirit of the community.
“It’s an opportunity for us to expand arts and culture into the neighborhoods. One of the ways to continue the work that we’re already doing is to bring some light to the electrical boxes in our community,” McIver said. “We’re really excited about it.”
Sponsorship from the LaMonica McIver Civic Association helped finance the cost of the project, McIver added. Hope Box is part of the Central Ward’s annual Community Cleanup.
“We put this into it because it’s more than just cleaning up, it’s about beautifying spaces in the community,” she said.
Artists Suliman Onque and his mother, Yvonne Onque, of 3 Arts Way said turning something that looks desolate into something beautiful is part of the joy of creating public art. Following the theme, their electrical box on Springfield Avenue and Bergen Street incorporated water, spoken word and family.
“What’s happening right now is definitely going to affect 20 years from now, how we understand art, culture and our city. Art is really a healing modality, and it’s healing not only the artist that’s creating it, but the people who are seeing it,” Moore said.