Public Art Takes to the Streets in Newark
Two of Newark’s busiest streets were painted with enormous messages promoting racial justice and equity on the weekend of June 26, 2020. The murals were produced in collaborative partnership with the City’s Division of Arts and Cultural Affairs, Rutgers UniversityNewark Graphic Design Program, New Arts Justice at Express Newark, and local muralists Malcolm Rolling and Laqya Nuna Yawar. Nearly 300 students, artists, organizers, and residents helped paint the messages throughout the day in 2-hour shifts as they practiced social distancing.
On Martin Luther King Boulevard between the Essex County Historic Courthouse and the Veterans’ Courthouse, the words “ABOLISH WHITE SUPREMACY” were installed and painted in bright yellow traffic paint from curb to curb. On Halsey Street, east of the Rutgers campus the words “ALL BLACK LIVES MATTER,” in the same font as the MLK street mural, taking up a city block.
At the MLK site on Saturday, Mayor Baraka took up a roller and put down a few coats of the yellow paint, which is resistant to traffic wear.
The project was executed in solidarity with global Black Lives Matter protests and inspired by recent policy changes. Mayor Baraka drafted an ordinance approved by the City Council creating a permanent Office of Violence Prevention, and declaring white supremacist groups as terrorists outlawing their activity in Newark.
“The convergence of art and protest is an age-old practice, especially pronounced in African-American culture,” explained the Mayor. “Poetry, music, graphic arts, and street murals are all public avenues to have our voices heard. “Newark is a movement city as well as a city of artists, and our community is one that advocates for equity and social change not just here but for the entire country.”
The murals were designed using the MARTIN font by VocalType, named for Martin Luther King, Jr. and inspired by the signs “I AM A MAN” carried by Memphis sanitation workers in 1968 during their strike for equal pay and equal treatment. Dr. King addressed the strikers the night before his assassination on April 4th.
The idea to develop the street murals in partnership with the City’s social justice public art initiative was proposed by faculty from RutgersNewark’s Graphic Design Program and the New Arts Justice Program.
“Our community street murals made a statement and model a solution,” said Professor Salamishah Tillet of Rutgers University-Newark and the director of New Arts Justice at Express Newark. “Through this unique collaboration between the city, community artists, and the university campus, we brought Newark, and our nation, one step closer to making the long-deferred dream of racial justice a reality.”
The working group arrived at “ABOLISH WHITE SUPREMACY” and “ALL BLACK LIVES MATTER” as the messaging selected for the project, taking cues from the recent ordinance.
Participants on Halsey Street waved the LGBTQ and Trans Pride flags proudly in celebration of Global Pride Day. All Black Lives Matter is a statement of inclusivity that brings more awareness about the Trans and Queer community, which has one of the highest murder rates in the nation.
Other partners in the project included the Newark Downtown District (NDD), Newark Arts, The Land Collective, DreamPlay Media, FORSA recordings, and the Sherwin Williams Paint Company.
— City of Newark & TPC Staff