For Newark-based artist and entrepreneur Gary Campbell, the responsibility for building a just and inclusive community is not one limited to City Hall officials.
Campbell says the city’s artists have been taking on key roles as change makers for a long time. The community at-large just needs to take notice.
To help community members do just that, Campbell, who counts writing and music among his artistic pursuits, has added director and documentarian to his list of vocations with the production of his YouTube series The Artist Recreates the World, which documents his conversations with artists in Newark.
The title of the series, paraphrased from James Baldwin’s anthology, The Cross of Redemption, describes both the work of the interview series’ subjects, and Campbell’s work via the series itself.
“When I started going to open mics in the city, I realized that we have so many talented artists in the community, but they’re in their own little circle. I said to myself, ‘these artists need more exposure,'” said Campbell.
In videos that run from less than a minute long to a little over an hour, Campbell seeks to offer that exposure by conversing with these artists — ranging from poets to painters to professors — to discuss what art means to them and to the communities they address. For the vast majority of the participants, the community in question is Newark.
These candid conversations are recorded simply. Campbell turns a webcam turned on himself and his subjects in locations throughout the city: on a bench in Penn Station, or in Military Park, or in the artist’s own space. In plain language, Campbell and the artists unpack questions of race, responsibility and remuneration, and how these factors reveal themselves in the process of creating art.
Campbell’s series aims to educate viewers on what it really means to be an artist from the artist’s perspective. Using a diverse array of people simply creating heartfelt work, Campbell shows that there is no one way to be an artist. He also argues that art’s innate responsibility is as a tool for social change. “Artists are the ones who know what need to be done in the community,” said Campbell.
In 2013, Campbell quit his job at the United States Census after working as a supervisor for over 10 years in order to focus on being a full-time artist. “I wanted to create my own career,” explained Campbell.
Since then, Campbell has tirelessly championed for avenues to highlight the work of the artists in the community in hopes that it will lead to more sustainable conversations and partnerships that will uplift local artists. “I call the artists in the city a ‘Newark-modity’. They are a social commodity that need to be utilized and supported in order to bring about real change,” he said.
Although the year is coming to an end, Campbell is only about halfway through creating his series. After challenging himself earlier in the year to release 365 videos in 365 days, Campbell just released a complication of the first 60 videos in his 365 series on YouTube.
Campbell said he is committed to creating in as many formats as possible. Whether he’s writing, filming or singing, Campbell said digital media will be central to increasing community engagement with his work.
“I’m making the art public and accessible to everyone, and I know that by doing that, I’m bringing value to the community,” he said.
View Cambell’s The Artist Recreates the World series on his YouTube channel.