Cultural Plan Newark

If you recall, back in January, I reported on Newark’s community info session for the conversion of a long dormant bank building on South Ward’s Clinton Ave. into an artist’s housing and creative community center. That session, and the details shared, is just one of the multi-pronged efforts Brick City is making to revitalize every ward in Newark, not just the downtown area. It’s also a part of Newark’s efforts to brand itself as a “city of the arts.”

And last week, those efforts continued. On Thursday, February 22nd, Newark Arts partnered with Brick City Live to request more input from the community on what ways the city can focus their arts and culture goals for the creative set that call Newark home. It was another way in which residents are doing it for themselves and making sure any gentrification in the city benefits them just as much as newcomers.

Meeting in the Kilkenny Alehouse‘s second floor space, creative professionals, students and interested parties came together to brainstorm and share their ideas on what they think should be included in Newark’s new cultural plan to expand the artistic experience here in the city. In attendance, there were undergrad and graduate students, marketing pros, indie artists, bloggers, journalists, and other media savants who volunteered their insight in how communications + cultural expression can facilitate more opportunities for all.

After introductions, the session started with the request for answers to three questions. The first question asked (paraphrased): “How do each of you personally contribute or engage the artist community in Newark? And how can arts and culture be better leveraged as a resource in our community?”

The answers to that one were fairly simple and educational. As we went around the room, it was clear that not one person duplicated the efforts of another, which speaks to the diversity of the city’s cultural community.

Second photo of CP Meeting

Second question: “What do media professionals want to see happen in the arts and creative sector that would help community revitalization in the next 3 years?” The response to this question ran the gamut:

  • More programs spearheaded by the Newark Museum (and other institutions) to engage children and teens interested in arts-related careers
  • Newark’s own version of  “Silvercup Studios” to invite more TV and film productions to utilize the city as a convenient alternative to shooting in NYC
  • Better use of the relatively new Rutgers/Barnes & Noble bookstore as a proper bookstore that the community will feel encouraged to use as much as University Heights students
  • A stronger bridge between the tech startups and entrepreneurs at NJIT’s Entreprise Development Center and the artist community to build cooperative partnerships where the tech-focused can help the art-focused and vice versa
  • Convert the historic, yet nefarious Little Theater into an art-house movie theater and performance space
  • A centralized cultural communications system to share all the arts and culture-related events around the city

It quickly became clear that the last suggestion struck a chord with many of the attendees. A common thread that the ran through the entire conversation for this question was, unsurprisingly, communication. Based on the nods and murmurs of agreement, Brick City creatives feel as if there’s a definite need for artists to have a central hub for communicating what’s happening around the city to not only the local community, but to other artists. Many at the meeting believed that a website or network that made it easier to share event information, as well as help facilitate networking and workshops would be a major boost to the success of artists supporting themselves with their art.

Building on the momentum from that last one, we were ready to tackle the third question. More of an activity than a question, based on all the suggestions on what the city could be doing better, the attendants were then asked to select, via a colored dot system, which of the multiple initiatives recommended should the city pursue first. We were asked to keep in mind that our votes should go toward suggestions that could be pursued and made into a reality within the next 3 years. The top 2 recommendations with the most votes would move on to become a part of the city’s cultural plan.

Lauren Kim and other participant

Our winners:

  • A centralized cultural communications system to share all the arts and culture-related events around the city

and

  • Convert the historic, yet nefarious Little Theater into an art-house movie theater and performance space

From there, we were divided into 2 groups to brainstorm the next steps on how to kickstart each of our winning suggestions. Although the attendees recommendations on pursuing each initiative may have been more wishful thinking than practical thinking, many of the ideas showed a clear desire to engage the city with a holistic approach to the arts.

For the centralized communications system, it was recommended that the city approach students at NJIT working on app development projects and encourage their participation. Getting students and budding entrepreneurs involved with developing a cultural app also helps build the very bridges that one person suggested in his response to question #2. The app would be combined with a physical electronic bulletin board in a prominent location as well, perhaps maintained by Newark Arts or the Greater Newark Convention & Visitors Bureau.

To convert the Little Theater, which as of November 2017, is available for lease, the process may be a bit more layered as public perception of the space could keep residents and tourists away. So many of the group’s suggestions for next steps involved media coverage on the history of the venue, as well as kickstarting an interest in restoring the marquees of all of Brick City’s classic theaters, including the Newark Symphony Hall marquee. As one group member stated, “If New York can turn the Times Square of the 1980s and ’90s around to what it is today, we can certainly do it for one tiny theater.”

After sharing our mini-brainstorm recommendations, we were thanked for participating and the session ended with a little impromptu networking. According to the outlined roadmap for the new cultural plan, our suggestions will now be incorporated into the design for the city and the plan will be refined. The timeline has an official launch of the citywide Master Plan set for June 2018.

With the promise of generating more economic growth for the city, as well as more opportunities for artists and creative entrepreneurs, the plan has a lot of groundwork to lay. Yet the reward for all that hard work will only move Newark forward for decades to come.