NEWARK, NJ — Community support has given Akwaaba Gallery owner Laura Bonas-Palmer an injection of hope after the COVID-19 pandemic nearly shuttered her business just three months ago.
When the pandemic forced Bonas-Palmer to close the doors of her West Ward art gallery in March 2020, a cancelation of shows, inability to rent gallery space and produce outdoor events severely impacted her revenue stream.
After the business also missed out on several funding aid opportunities, a GoFundMe campaign and recent grant from the city now has Akwaaba ready to welcome artists and visitors into its gallery space once again.
“I feel [the funding support] has validated what we are doing,” Bonas-Palmer told TAPinto Newark. “Sometimes you do this and are not sure how it’s being received, but to see the kind of support we got feels really good and that the community cares about what we are doing.”
Since the launch of Akwaaba’s GoFundMe page, outreach from the community and beyond has helped raise more than $37,000 for the West Ward gallery. Just several weeks ago, Bonas-Palmer said that she also received a $15,000 grant from city officials to help support her business.
Now, with some financial backing and more lenient restrictions giving way to people being able to rent gallery space, the owner said she already has 10 bookings scheduled just between May and June. Since March, the gallery has also hosted several other events such as fundraisers, birthday celebrations and art exhibits.
When Bonas-Palmer opened up her West Ward location along with her husband Ray in February 2019, she said that her mission was to provide a place where artists could sell their work and make a sustainable living on the pieces that they create.
Located along South Orange Avenue, an area with multiple run-down properties surrounding Akwaaba, the owner said her intent was to become a “beacon of light” in the West Ward. By opening up her business, she hoped it would become a starting point to attract other entrepreneurs to the ward.
Since then, the gallery has hosted various exhibitions, art classes and outdoor gatherings, becoming a “window to the community,” the owner said. Not only has the gallery been a popular place for locals to visit, but the owner said she met visitors from all over the country as far as Georgia, Ohio and Arizona as well.
As an immigrant from Trinidad and Tobago, Bonas-Palmer has been a Newark resident for 18 years. She originally moved into the Central Ward, but eventually moved to the West Ward to be “on the ground, in the community, making a difference.”
Even when faced with the brink of closure this year, the West Ward resident stood her ground to be a staple along South Orange Avenue.
“It would be so easy for me to close and give up, but I don’t want to,” she told TAPinto Newark in March. “I want to be here. I am a part of the community.”
Looking ahead, Bonas-Palmer said she is most looking forward to hosting more events, including a reading and arts program for children that she plans to launch this summer.
“People care about the arts. They are buying art and coming out to see it,” she said. “They are excited to be out again.”
This weekend, Akwaaba will host an exhibit, “Soul of a Badass Warrior,” which will open Saturday and feature 16 women artists. The event will run from 2 to 8 p.m.