The Economic Lens of Black Music and Culture in Newark

By Della M. Walker, Jr., Director, Newark 2020 Newark Alliance

Black music is the heartbeat of American society. Distinctive rhythms, harmonies, and blues notes connect us to our African roots and ground the Black experience in America. The City of Newark has a rich history of music and music spaces that provided opportunities for Blacks to gather and express their happiness, sorrow, triumph, and rebellion. Built in 1925, Newark’s Symphony Hall is “New Jersey’s oldest and largest showcase for the arts, education, and entertainment programming.” Newark is also home to the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, the Prudential Center, and the Grammy Museum.

Black musicians have served as activists and our muse. Through their music, they tell our story authentically and unapologetically. Moreover, Black music is intertwined throughout all cultural and economic aspects of the city: visual arts, government, tourism, commerce, spirituality, education, and recreation.

A vibrant music economy creates value for cities by fueling tourism, economic growth, nightlife, job creation, development, and artistic growth. In addition, cities with a thriving music economy are well-suited for corporate attraction, resident retainment, and business development, strengthening the brand and desirability of Newark. The music economy also reaches across several industries, including construction, entertainment, film, technology, manufacturing, retailing, consumer services, and the public sector.

The City of Newark and the Cultural Affairs division have taken significant steps to create a vibrant music and arts ecosystem, including establishing the Newark Artist Accelerator, curating music programming and education throughout the city, and implementing creative placemaking strategies, ensuring that artists and musicians have access to ample spaces and places to create and showcase their talent. The city has also partnered with local and regional developers on building housing for musicians and artists and actively supports the revitalization of Newark’s Symphony Hall. With an “arts mayor” in Mayor Ras J. Baraka, it’s no wonder the City of Newark is intentional about collaborating with local performing artists and arts institutions to foster artistic and audience development while engaging the support of the music community at large.

At Newark Alliance, we are most proud to be at the table and help integrate the “Hire, Buy, Live Local” economic development strategy into the local music and arts economy. As The City of Newark rebounds from the pandemic, it is vitally important that we support the rebirth of our music and arts community through training and hiring local talent, ticket purchases, donations, support of local music festivals, and fostering diverse music spaces. Music has the power to uplift, unify, connect, calm, and move us into action. We must show up for Black music the way Black music has shown up for us.